Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Cross, and the Crown

This past weekend, as we are working our way through the Gospel of Mark, our pastor, John Tischer, preached through Mark 9:2-13. This passage is Mark’s record of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on top of a mountain to witness a miraculous event. Jesus is transformed before their eyes, and His divinity was allowed to shine through His humanity. Out of nowhere, two figures, Moses and Elijah, appear and converse with Jesus. To cap off the experience, a cloud enveloped them all and the voice of the Father spoke, saying, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”

Now for a long time, I never really understood the Transfiguration. There are so many questions, that I never knew were to begin. Why Peter, James, and John? Why the voice in the cloud? Why go through the experience at all? Why now, at this point in Jesus’ ministry? However, this past Sunday, a few things clicked into place for me.

Let’s start here: why Peter, James, and John? Yes, these three are the innermost circle of Jesus’ disciples and leaders among the others. But check this out: they are also the three who we know by name had trouble understanding that Jesus’ mission meant taking the cross before taking the crown. Right before this event in Mark 8, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. Yet when Jesus explains that this means going to the cross, Peter rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:32) earning a rather harsh rebuke in turn. In Mark 10, it is James and John (along with their mother) who ask to sit at Jesus’ left and right in His glory. Like with Peter, this earns an admonishment:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:42-45

Moses and Elijah represent the Hebrew Law and the Hebrew Prophets, what Christians call the Old Testament. When Peter claims Jesus as the Messiah, he is saying that Jesus is the one two whom all the Law and the Prophets point. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. By showing up at this event, Moses and Elijah are reinforcing that the kind of Messiah the Law and Prophets point to is the Suffering Messiah, not the conquering Messiah Peter and the others expect.

The Father Himself challenges Peter, James, and John when He says, “Listen to Him.” When Jesus says He is going to the cross, “Listen to Him, Peter.” When Jesus says those who would be great should be servants of others, “Listen to Him, James and John.” When Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), “Listen to Him, Church.”

So for Peter, James, and John, as leaders among the disciples, it was imperative that they get the message. The cross comes before the crown. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, but He was the Suffering Messiah. Yes, Jesus is King, but He is the King who lays down His life for His people. This is the Way of Jesus Christ, our King. This is path He calls us to follow. The cross before the crown. Always the cross before the crown.

Published by Dr. Sam Draper

Sam has been with Greencastle Christian Church in Greencastle, Indiana since 2017. He is married to Jessie and they have one son, Joey. Sam completed his Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation in 2019. Sam’s favorite hobbies include biking, reading, playing board games, and eating Chipotle burritos.

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