Half of the English-speaking population on the Earth thinks that “transfiguration” is one of the classes taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And as much as I love J. K. Rowling’s novels (I really do; I’ve read the series multiple times) I want you to understand that “the transfiguration” long predates the Harry Potter series. It is written in Mark 9:2-9. And the book of Mark was written near the year 50 A.D.
The scripture contains a scene where Peter, John, and James climb a hilltop and witness Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah–the two theretofore greatest prophets of the Jewish people. Jesus’ clothes were dazzlingly white–transfigured from his earthly appearance. Then Moses and Elijah disappear; Jesus appears normally; and a voice from Heaven says, “This is my son. The Beloved. Listen to Him.”
The meaning of the passage is clear. There is very little code to unravel for you this time. It means that Jesus is something special. It means that he is supposed to be the greatest prophet the Jews have ever seen. A similar occurrence is mentioned in the books of Mark, Matthew, and Luke when Jesus is baptized and the Spirit descends from Heaven to rest upon Jesus. It is one of those rare passages where all three books contain the exact same words: after Jesus is baptized the voice from Heaven says, “This is my son. The beloved. In whom I am pleased.”
The obvious difference between the baptism scene and the transfiguration scene is timing. The baptism scene occurs near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The transfiguration near the end. The baptismal scene merely identifies Jesus as the Son of God and we are made aware that God is pleased with him for being baptized. In the transfiguration scene we are told to start listening–if we have not yet already begun. The difference, therefore, is of urgency.
To his disciples Jesus has been alluding to the fact that he will be facing the cross soon. His disciples really don’t understand what he is talking about, so they (in Mark) never really get it. Jesus goes all the way to the cross and is crucified before any of his disciples really start to listen. And the resurrection portion of Jesus ministry is nearly missing from the book of Mark.
Therefore, this admonition in Mark 9 is to us, not to his disciples. The author of Mark knew the disciples didn’t get it, but he knew his readers would. He knew his readers–20 years after the resurrection of Christ–would have an understanding of what Jesus’ sacrifice would mean. They knew he was giving Himself up for their sakes and for the sakes of future generations. Therefore in this passage, you–the modern disciples, not Peter, James, and John–are admonished to listen to Jesus before it is too late. Try to understand what the cross means prior to seeing it for yourself.