“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9, ESV)
Strange instruction, these. I mean, if I were Jesus I would want to get the word out about myself. Peter, James, and John had just been witnesses to something incredible. Not only had Jesus been transfigured [more on this later], but Moses and Elijah had suddenly appeared and they had both been dead and/or gone for at least 700 years! No wonder the three disciples didn’t know what to do, although interestingly enough they all understood with whom Jesus was talking.
Why didn’t Jesus want his disciples telling anyone what they had seen? We have a little hint from Peter’s reaction to the transfiguration.
“Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.” (Mark 9:5–6, NLT)
I love the way that NLT translates here: “he didn’t really know what to say.” There is a hint of humor in the text, and Peter must have embraced his own actions in humility after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension because church tradition holds that Mark wrote this gospel under Peter’s supervision. Bob Utley comments succinctly: “Whenever Peter did not know what to do, he talked!”
The point is that neither Peter, nor James, nor John was prepared at all to begin telling people about this great event which they had witnessed. They didn’t understand it well enough and wouldn’t fully understand it for awhile. We do know, however, that the time would come when they would understand and would tell anyone and everyone what they knew. Indeed, when we look at what the disciples proclaimed when they did tell people, we discover how thoroughly they had grasped what had happened and what the purpose of Jesus life was.
Let’s watch Peter as he describes what the life of Jesus implies in Acts. The events around the transfiguration were remarkably similar to the events surrounding Moses on Mount Sinai [more on this later].
“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:13–15, ESV)
Peter preaches to the “Men of Israel” and tells them that God “glorified his servant Jesus.” This was a glory which Peter, James, and John had personally witnessed at the transfiguration. Notice Peter’s emphasis: “To this we are witnesses.”
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” (Acts 3:19–22, ESV)
Moses pointed forward towards a greater prophet than himself who would come and accomplish what Moses alone could not accomplish: the blotting out of sins.
Peter and the rest of the disciples eventually understood the meaning of the transfiguration and the purpose of Jesus life. When they did understand, then they would go out and tell others. These twelve would change the world through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Amazing.
John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was at one time in his life a slave trader, indeed at one time he was a slave to slaves! He was, by the grace of God, saved out of the misery of sin to faith in Jesus. He eventually became a preacher of the gospel. At the age of 82 he wrote: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” You can visit his tombstone today. The epitaph reads: “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
What was the purpose of Jesus life? Why the transfiguration? So that men like John Newton (and I…and you, dear reader) could have hope that in Jesus all that we have done is wiped clean with this simple message written across our sorry record of sin, selfishness, and self-love: Paid in full.