As Jesus and the three come down the mountain the sun is rising. They have been on the mountain all night. Each is wrapped in his own thoughts, they are silent and awed, processing. Then Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you saw until I am risen from the dead.”
Why does he keep talking about death? they wonder. Finally one of them gets up his courage and asks, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah comes first?”
Jesus answers, “Elijah does come. Actually, he has already come, and they did what they wanted to him. Like him, the Messiah will suffer at their hands.”
They realize he is talking about John the Baptist. More confusion. The reference is clear, but then what was that on the mountain?
As they reach the bottom, they see a large crowd gathered. Scribes are there questioning and taunting the other nine. One look at them, and Jesus asks, “Why are you harassing my followers?”
A man steps forward, “I brought you my son who has a mute spirit. It makes him grind his teeth and foam at the mouth and tear himself, but your disciples couldn’t cast it out.”
Jesus sighs, his eyes piercing through the hearts of the sporting scribes, but comforting his confused disciples. The contrast between Moses and Elijah, and the attitude of these Pharisees jars Jesus’ spirit, “Oh faithless generation, how long do I have to stay and put up with you?”
Embracing the father, he says, “Bring your son to me.”
Mark 9:9-19, Luke 9:37-41, Matthew 17:9-17
The answer to Jesus prayer brought more than asked.
The disciples awaken and reorient to their surroundings. They see Jesus radiant and glowing with light like they’ve never seen. As their eyes adjust, they see him speaking with Moses and Elijah. They’ve never seen them, yet they know them. This must be the rescue they’ve anticipated–Elijah has come to set up Christ’s kingdom!
Peter, overcome with joy, says, “Thank you for sharing your good news with us! If you want, we’ll set up a base of operations on this spot.”
But they missed the conversation; God has sent two humans who understand what it is to feel lonely and misunderstood to encourage his Son. Both of them suffered greatly here, and have been speaking with Jesus about the importance of his mission, assuring him that all heaven is focused here, is cheering for him, and he will succeed.
This was while the disciples were sleeping–they missed information God would’ve shared to help them. So now, a bright cloud envelopes them, and a voice says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am very pleased. Listen to him.” And then it is gone.
Terrified, they are on their faces on the ground.
“Get up” Jesus says, touching them, “Don’t be afraid.” And they look up and see only Jesus. The light and the visitors are gone. Only the memory, wonder, and awe remain. It went too fast! God wanted to share more with them, but they were sleeping.
Matthew 17:3-7, Mark 9:4-8, Luke 9:30-36
A week after his disturbing death revelation, Jesus calls Peter, James, and John, and leads them across fields and up a rugged mountain path. They have been walking, teaching, and healing all day and are tired.
The sunset lights the path with brilliance and then fades and they continue in twilight and darkness. The three wonder why this climb, now? but assume it is for prayer.
Soon Jesus says, “Let’s stop here; pray with me,” and then steps aside and begins to pray.
He pours out his heart with tears, asking that he will have the strength to go through the test before him and not fail. He prays for them to have understanding and acceptance. He has seen their grief, their gloom of disillusionment, and longs to relieve it.
They join him in prayer, but soon, overcome by fatigue, fall asleep.
Jesus asks for some manifestation of his divine glory to comfort and convince these followers that his horrible death is part of the plan he must fulfill, that he is who they believe he is.
His prayer is answered. Radiance shines from the heavens and covers him bowed on the ground. Agony gone, he rises shining like the sun in godlike majesty, to meet two guests.
Moses and Elijah are sent from heaven to comfort and encourage Jesus. Elijah represents those to be translated, and Moses those resurrected. Eager angels aren’t given this privilege, but two humans who were close to him as Adonai during their own difficult lives (before he became Jesus).
Matthew 17:1-2, Mark 9:2-3, Luke 9:28-29
For six days the disciples are depressed, talking sadly together, questioning each other in low tones, afraid to ask Jesus more.
He gives them time to process their feelings, knowing their difficulty.
They can’t see the cosmic view of two laws in conflict: the Law of Death, and the Law of Life. Satan has activated the Law of Death with his choice to rebel against God. Pretending to love brings death, but finding your true self in being loved and giving love brings life.
They don’t understand that God is on trial before the whole universe* and that the cross is necessary before the crown. They had been taught that Messiah would reign…their leaders had skipped that first he must suffer to answer the fraudulent charges against God, and show His character of unselfish, giving love to everyone.
They believe he’s been sent to rescue the Jews. It is beyond their comprehension that he is rescuing the whole universe from a misunderstanding of God and putting an end to evil. His mission is bigger than they can imagine.
It is unthinkable to them that Jesus would voluntarily go back to Jerusalem and accept what he has just told them will happen to him. How can he just allow his death and leave them?
It would be many months before each one would understand that Jesus’ disciple will deny the easily acquired false self, admit his own brokenness, and trust God enough to walk with Him through the refining fire into true self and true life that never ends.**
*Romans 3:4 (NEV is clearest, but most translations give this view–even KJV) **Luke 9:23-25
Calling those waiting, Jesus gives one of his hardest teachings. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Crucifixion was the cruelest Roman death, the lowest criminals required to carry their crosses to the site–a humiliation violently resisted.
But Jesus is willing to go through it. He doesn’t think heaven is a place to be desired without us. Conquering death and Satan is the only way to give us back our choices.
He tries to explain, “Whoever saves his life for himself will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake (gives it for love) will find it. What will a man gain by winning the whole world’s approval if it costs his true self? You have nothing else. And I will come in the glory of my Father, with the holy angels… and some of you will not see death until you see my glory.”
He finishes strong with what they do expect, but they can barely hear. “The cross” is stuck in their ears. There is to be no turning point? This life of loving and healing and poverty is all there is? –with death as the reward?
This is painful to all his followers, but especially the twelve. They love Jesus. Can it be true that he will not be crowned king–not sit on the throne of David? Death awaits him? On a cross? Surely there will be a rescue. They won’t give up hope.
Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-27, 1Thessalonians 4:15-18
Long before He came here, God saw and planned his path through our world. He chose to come, for the joy it would bring the universe, not caring about the pain of it.*
Now that His disciples believe he is their Messiah, Jesus pulls back the curtain on the future, and tells them that he is going to suffer at the hands of the priests and elders and be killed and rise again the third day.
They are grief-stricken. It doesn’t compute. He has just affirmed their acknowledgement that he is Messiah, then how…? They deny the pain, still expecting that something will turn their leaders around and Jesus will reign on the throne of David.
Peter can’t be quiet, jumping up he takes hold of Jesus as if to protect him from his words, “No Lord, this shall never happen to You!”
Peter speaks from love, but his words are not helpful to Jesus or the other disciples, and it brings a strong response from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan, don’t discourage me from accepting God’s way, wanting me to go the way of men.”
Jesus recognizes the true culprit behind the temptation that Peter’s blind love presents. Peter’s misguided love is used by Satan to again tempt Jesus to take an easier way, just as he did in the wilderness temptation.
Knowing Peter can’t yet understand what just happened, I imagine Jesus holding his wounded disciple, explaining for them all that he was addressing the one who inspired Peter’s words.
Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33 *Psalm 40:7,8
Jesus knows his time is limited. By the next Passover he will be crucified. But his disciples still have no true understanding of his mission. So he takes them up to the area of Caesarea Philippi where they will be away from Judaism and the large crowds. He wants to devote himself to preparing the twelve for the crisis ahead.
After spending time alone praying that their hearts would be receptive, he begins with, “Who do men say I am?”
“Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah…” Sadly they admit that Israel has not accepted their Messiah.
“But who do you say I am?”
Peter again speaks for them, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
“You are favored, Simon, for God has revealed this to you.” Jesus responds, strengthening their faith in Him. “Upon this rock I will build my church. And the kingdom of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Some read this to mean Peter is the foundation of the church. However, Jesus is called the foundation, the Rock, and the Cornerstone.* And the disciples did not teach or recognize that anyone had been set above the others. (Would they always have been arguing about who would be first if he had?) He and they taught the opposite–position yourself to serve.
Jesus never taught men to dictate what other men should believe.** He, himself, spent two years knowing his disciples were in total denial of the outcome of his true mission. He was clear but not demanding.
Matthew 16:13-23, Mark 8:27-33, Luke 9:18-22 *1Corinthians 3:11, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 62:7, Isaiah 28:16 **Matthew 23:8,10, Jeremiah 17:5
The thing is, the Pharisees and Sadducees have been given many signs that Jesus is who he claims to be–their Messiah.
First, they have had signs in the heavens: They were aware that angels had announced and celebrated his birth to shepherds. They had heard about the special star that guided the Magi to him. They had known about the dove of light and the voice from heaven at his baptism.
Second, they know the scriptures, that Jesus is doing the very work prophesied of Messiah: healing disease, casting out demons, raising the dead, preaching hope and God’s love to the poor. He is setting God’s oppressed people free.*
But the catch is that Jesus’ miracles rebuke them because they are so indifferent to human suffering–often causing it. He won’t give a sign at the demand of pride and unbelief.
Again and again, they have seen the prisoners of Satan set free. They witness the change in hearts as well as bodies, the transformation of character. But they miss the sign–the highest evidence that he is here as Messiah–the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering everything he says and does, revealing the character of God.
Their hypocrisy comes from their self-glorifying spirit. Exalting self is their purpose. Wanting an easier way than submission to God, they pretend holiness! (Truly NOT easier!)
But the religion of Jesus is authenticity. He lived on earth to show us what God is like. The keynote of His life was, “Father, glorify Your name. Make Your character shine.”
Matthew 16:1,4,12 Mark 8:11,12,21, *Isaiah 60:1
Jesus and company cross the lake to Magdala. Back in Galilee, where his greatest miracles were done, he is met by a deputation of Pharisees and Sadducees who have joined forces against him.
Typically, these groups hate each other. The Pharisees foster hatred for Romans; the wealthy Sadducees “kiss-up” to their Roman rulers. But as often happens, a common enemy unifies them.
“Master,” one speaks for them, “show us a sign in the heavens.”
The disciples are excited. Maybe this will convince them. But Jesus reads them, and knows that no sign will make any difference to their scripture-filled minds. Their hearts need makeovers.
So he answers, “If the sky is red at evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair weather.’ If it’s red in the morning, you say, ‘Bad weather today’. You pretenders! You can read the weather, so why can’t you read the signs of your times? No sign will be given this perverse generation but the sign of Jonah.”
There is only one more sign for them–crucifixion and resurrection. Even an Assyrian king and city known for their violence, repented for Jonah, who had spent parts of three days in a whale to bring them God’s message.
At that, Jesus, and his, get back in the boat and leave for the north shore. The disciples are silent–disappointed. Finally Jesus says, “Beware of Pharisee yeast.” (Yeast symbolized sin and evil.)
The disciples worry–they didn’t bring bread.
“Really?” says Jesus, “You don’t know yet that I can provide bread? I’m talking about their arrogant attitudes. Their closed minds.”
Matthew 15:39-16:12 Mark 8:10-21
After needed rest, Jesus and the twelve leave Phoenicia and sail across the lake to Decapolis between Gergesa and Gadara, where the demoniacs had been healed, and the people afraid of him. This time, word gets out that Jesus is back, and the people come looking for him.
Jesus heals a man who can’t hear or speak. Taking him aside, Jesus touches his tongue and his ears and sighs. Longing to open all ears who won’t hear him, he says, “Be opened.”
He climbs up a mountain to a wide level space, and the people bring their sick. He heals them all–Gentiles.
For days they come and stay, eagerly taking in his words, sleeping under the stars at night. After three days their food is gone–4,000 men plus women and children. Jesus calls his disciples saying, “I can’t send them home hungry. Some are far from home.”
Again he hears, “Where would we get bread…? It’s impossible…” from his disciples. (These are Gentile pagans! Surely God won’t feed them!)
But they follow Jesus’ directions to bring what they have, and find seven loaves and two fish. Again, Jesus blesses it, and the disciples distribute, and everyone eats until satisfied. Again, he has them pick up the fragments so nothing is wasted–seven baskets!
But this time, the people leave, grateful; Gentiles “glorifying the God of Israel.” Jesus himself is refreshed in spirit, “pagans” have received him with gladness and faith.
Crossing the lake, he returns to those given the most, his own people, supposed “believers” in God–and their unbelief.
Matthew 15:29-38, Mark 7:31-8:9