Why the Transfiguration?

Raphael’s Transfiguration

If you heard it once, you heard it a thousand times in seminary, Mark is all about the Messianic Secret.  Despite beginning his Gospel “Here begins the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,” (NLT) the Jesus that Mark portrays is very much worried with keeping his identity a secret until, as he hangs on the cross, a sign above his head reads “The King of the Jews.”

This is what makes the story of the Transfiguration such an oddity in Mark.  Jesus takes his three most trusted disciples up a mountain for what the Bachelor’s producers would call a “three-on-one date.”  Mark makes extra effort to let us know that they are alone, by themselves, when Jesus is transfigured before them.  They see this dazzling image of Jesus so beautifully expressed by Raphael in the painting above, they hear Moses and Elijah and God the Father Almighty speaking with Jesus, and when it is over, as they head back down the mountain, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

Why?  Why go through this who Transfiguration thing if you can’t tell anyone about it?  Proving that I’m not crazy for keeping all of my notes from undergrad, seminary, my DMin, and everything I’ve taught in almost 8 years of ministry, I pulled out my old New Testament notes to figure out what John Yieh had to say on the topic.  He suggests, and I have no reason to disagree with him, that Jesus is intent on keeping his Messiahship a secret for three main reasons.

  1. Literary Suspense – Mark wants his readers to think hard about what it means that Jesus is the Messiah.  He wants us to have an answer for Jesus’ question in 8:29, “but who do you say that I am?”
  2. Theological Purpose – Jesus needs to deconstruct the traditional expectation for a glorious Messiah.  The splendor and power displayed in the Transfiguration is exactly what the people of Israel were expecting, but that isn’t what Jesus will offer.
  3. Taking the Long View.  Jesus doesn’t say that they can never tell what they say, but rather that they should wait until the Son of man is risen from the dead.  No one could understand the true nature of Christ’s messiah-ship until his passion.  Once the story is complete, then the people will understand fully who and what Jesus is.

Eventually word will get out.  We have account of it in all three Synoptic Gospels.  It helps us understand the fullness of Christ’s divinity, but the world needed first to realize the depth of his humanity in his suffering and death on the cross before the rest of it could make any sense.  Now that we know the whole story, we have no reason, no excuse to keep the secret, but rather to go and tell the world “Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”

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