Mark 9:1-13 - A rare glimpse!
First we get the tail end of the conversation left over from the last chapter. Mark wasn't the one who divided his book up into chapters and verses - that was done later. But even though there's six days between verses one and two, it does make a bit of sense to start this chapter with the heads up from Jesus that there would be more of his amazing kingdom to see. Maybe he was hoping his friends Peter, James and John would remember this when they saw even more amazing things!
Jesus takes the three friends to a solitary place and is transfigured. I'll be honest - I looked it up in the dictionary to see what it actually means and it's about someone's outward appearance changing to look glorious. That makes sense and we get a bit of description in the passage too - that Jesus was 'dazzling white'. More than this, Elijah and Moses from the Old Testament appear with Jesus for a quick chat! You can understand why even Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends starts gabbling about making little tents for them. It's ridiculous when you think about it. Why would they need shelter?! But what would you or I have said? Nothing that made much sense of it, I bet!
It reminds me of that moment in the film The Truman Show where Jim Carrey's character gets a glimpse behind the scenes of his world into the real world that exists. He's been absolutely oblivious to it but he gets unmistakable glimpses that freak him out and eventually open his eyes to a world beyond the one he's known his whole life. It's almost exactly the same thing that's happening to the disciples here. There's an eternal God and an eternity that exists beyond everything they've known so far and Jesus is showing them a privileged glimpse of his kingdom, just as he said he would.
On their way back, Jesus talks about rising from the dead and they can't figure out what he means. It seems obvious to us now but in that moment, like many people today, they must have automatically ruled out the possibility that he meant actually dying and coming back to life, never to die again! Even after what they've just seen, they don't consider that Jesus literally means dying then living again.
They ask him about 'Elijah coming first' because they remembered the words of the prophet Malachi who spoke 400 years before and is at the tail end of our Old Testament in the Bible. Malachi said that Elijah would come before the 'day of the Lord' (Malachi 4:5). Jesus says 'Elijah' has already been and gone and he's referring to John the baptist who prepared the way for him (Matthew 11:13-14, 17:12-13).
This glimpse is a big deal. People today sometimes say things like, 'Well if God's real then why doesn't he show himself?' After all we've read in Mark so far, we should instead ask, 'Has God shown up already?' and maybe even, 'If God's shown up once already, what right do we have to demand that he repeats it for us?' Expecting God to show up and do tricks to prove himself for us because we can't be bothered to explore the evidence for what he's done already is the deadliest kind of laziness. Mark wrote this stuff down for a reason and it's been faithfully preserved and accurately translated for a reason too! It's a big deal!