The Experience on a Mountain | Daily Office Devotional 2021/8/5

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”

Mark 9:2-13

Many ancient cultures regard mountains as places of spiritual encounter. In the ancient near east, shrines to pagan gods and goddesses were usually built on mountains. These are referred to in the Old Testament as “high places.” Back then, people believed that divine entities actually dwelt in the heavens above the clouds and high mountains provided access to them. Similarly, the ancient Israelites believed that God’s throne was located in the highest heavens above the clouds. Descriptions in the psalms like “He bowed the heavens, and came down” (Ps. 18.9) testify to that idea. This explains why Moses met God on Mount Sinai, and why Elijah encountered God on Mount Horeb (both Sinai and Horeb are thought to be the same mountain).

If mountains are places that allow for human experiences of transcendence, then there is not a more suitable place for an intimate meeting with God than on one. Perhaps this was why Jesus brought Peter, James, and John up a high mountain to pray. Aside from the privacy the mountain afforded, it was also a fitting place for the revelation of Jesus’ divinity to his three dearest disciples. Yet, the experience would prove to be a harrowing one for them.

As they prayed, the light of Jesus’ divinity shone forth from him and transformed his appearance. Then the ancient saints Moses and Elijah appeared before him and conversed with him. Even more startling was the cloud of divine presence that overshadowed the gathering and the divine voice that spoke, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” What an overwhelming experience! Nothing could have prepared the disciples for it. No wonder they were terrified!

The transformation (or transfiguration) of Jesus was the revelation of the divine glory in him. Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew scriptures respectively, and their appearance before Jesus signified that he is the fulfilment of the scriptures and the perfect manifestation of God on earth. Hence, the command of divine voice from the cloud: “listen to him!” —who else is there to listen to save the Word of God incarnate? He is the glory of the kingdom of God coming on earth with power (Mk. 9.1).

Certainly, much more can be said theologically about this episode, but what is plain is that this theophany (divine manifestation) is not a mere light show with fancy holograms and smoke machines. It shows us that Jesus is God and reminds us to take his words seriously. Whatever spiritual experiences we may have on earth, if they do not elevate us to a place where we listen to Jesus more carefully and walk with him more closely, then they are just superfluous or even dangerous to our Christian faith. Listen to him!

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