Wednesdays on the Word: John Broadus on the Transfiguration

In today’s Wednesdays on the Word, John Broadus, second president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and acclaimed preacher, explores the event of the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-7. 

Matthew 17:5 [widescreen]

I. The Transfiguration. 2–13. (comp. Matt. 17:1–13; Luke 9:28–36.) The place of this Wonderful and impressive event was certainly not Mount Tabor, the traditional place, for the connection in all three Gospels clearly forbids, and the rounded summit of Mount Tabor was at that time occupied by a fortress and thus quite unsuitable for this scene. The connection makes it highly probable that they were still near Cæsarea Philippi, which was at the base of the grand mountain range of Hermon. Luke’s simple expression (9:28), “into the mountain,” would mean the adjacent mountain or mountain range. Matthew and Mark call it “a high mountain,” and Hermon would be both high and secluded. There is therefore little doubt that the Transfiguration occurred on some part of Mount Hermon. The time was a summer night. Luke says (9:37), “On the next day, when they were come down from the mountain,” which shows that they spent a night in the open air, and with this accords the fact he mentions that the three disciples were “heavy with sleep.” The season of the year was in all probability not long before the feast of Tabernacles (see the Harmonies), which would make it about August, when a night on Hermon would be pleasant. The whole scene is better understood when we see that it occurred at night. The immediate occasion appears to have been that Jesus had a week before told the disciples that he, the Messiah, was to be rejected and slain. This had shocked Peter (8:32) and must have disheartened them all. The Transfiguration would encourage three leading disciples, who would cheer the rest, though not permitted to tell what they had seen. And may not Jesus himself, in his human nature, have needed to be strengthened by the unearthly glory and the heavenly converse to go resolutely forward toward his cross and bitter passion, even as an angel strengthened him in Gethsemane? (Luke 22:43.)

2–8. The transfiguration itself. 2. After six days. So Matthew, while Luke says “about eight days after.” Eight days was a natural designation of a week, as the French call a fortnight “fifteen days.” The phrases “six days” and “about a week” are not in conflict All three Gospels take pains to show that the Transfiguration occurred within a week after the great confession and great announcement of 8:29–31. Peter, and James, and John. The same three accompanied him when he raised Jairus’ daughter to life (ver. 37) and will hereafter be with him in Gethsemane (14:33). A high mountain. See above. Apart by themselves. No one else was to witness the scene, and these witnesses were not to speak of it for a long time to come (ver. 9). Luke (9:28) says that he “went up to pray” and that the Transfiguration showed itself “as he was praying.” His altered appearance. Just what is meant by transfigured we cannot tell. We only know that the outward appearance of his person as well as his apparel was strikingly altered and made splendid and glorious.

3. After exceeding white the common Greek text (as in King James) adds “as snow,” but the evidence requires its omission. A fuller was one who dressed and colored or bleached cloth.

4. The heavenly visitants. Elijah is the Old Testament form of the word, and it is better, as a rule, to retain such forms in a translation of the New Testament. Luke (9:31) says Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory”. Elijah was the greatest of the early prophets and regarded by many Jews as the prince of the prophets. Thus the glorified representatives of the law and the prophets come to attend and converse with the founder of the gospel. Talking with Jesus. Luke adds (9:31) that they “spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” The thought of that predicted departure (8:31) burdens the heart of the Saviour as well as of the disciples (comp. Luke 12:50). This conversation doubtless strengthened both him and them. See introductory remarks above.

5. Peter’s proposition. The three disciples were “heavy with sleep” (Luke 9:32), but, shaking off the drowsiness, they clearly saw the glorious scene. Presently the two heavenly ones “were parting from him” (Luke 9:33), slowly withdrawing. Then Peter, wishing to prolong indefinitely this exalted experience, makes his proposition. Three tabernacles. More exactly, “booths” (Margin), shelters made of boughs of trees, such as were made all around Jerusalem at the feast called the feast of Tabernacles and such as soldiers in summer often prefer to tent or house. In these three booths the three glorious ones might abide; never mind about the three disciples, they could sleep on the ground. Answereth. As in many other passages of Scripture, this means only a response to the suggestions of the occasion, not necessarily implying that a question had been asked. Rabbi, i. e., “teacher.” He is their teacher, and they continue to use that familiar appellation, though now satisfied that he is Messiah and awed by this unearthly glory. Peter’s eager proposal was unsuitable and presumptuous and ver. 6 apologizes for him. Not long could Jesus and his three followers enjoy this exalted and transporting scene. They must soon go down amid the sufferings and unbelief of men (ver. 17, 19).

7. The voice from heaven. This resembles the voice at the baptism of Jesus (1:11), but with a difference: there the second phrase expressed only the Father’s pleasure in his Son, here there is added (comp. Matt. 17:5) a call on the disciples (and so on all) to hear him. The cloud out of which the voice proceeded corresponds to the scene on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16 f.)

Did you enjoy Broadus’ commentary on Mark 9? A number of his classic works are featured in the J.A. Broadus Preaching Collection or in any of our Baptist Base Packages. Check back here next week for more Wednesdays on the Word!

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