If you offered law-abiding Jews the chance to meet Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah together, and to listen to their conversations – you’d sell a lot of tickets! Today’s readings describe this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, received gratefully and for free by Peter, James, and John. Mark 9 begins with an obscure comment by Jesus: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”. The action cuts to the Mountain of Transfiguration and Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah – his clothing and appearance shining brighter and “whiter than anyone could bleach it” – Jesus was in the spotlight and the others were overshadowed.
Moses had previous met with God up a mountain. Elijah had given that great demonstration of prophecy and miraculous power on Mount Carmel too. And here we are up another mountain, with Moses, the greatest of the Lawgivers, Elijah, the greatest prophet, and Jesus, the Greatest of All.
The meaning of this event? I believe it was a powerful demonstration by God the Father that his Son was superior in every way to Moses and Elijah – both whom the Jews virtually worshiped. It is also significant that Jesus himself had already claimed to have come to fulfil everything written in the Law and the Prophets. Both now eclipsed by the Son. Luke 9:31 says that “they spoke about Jesus’ departure…” – literally this word departure is “Exodus” in the Greek – a very suitable subject for Moses, in particular to comment on! God then removes the other two, leaving Jesus alone, and affirms him as his beloved son who always pleases him. Everyone needs that kind of encouragement from time to time!
Coming down from the mountain the next day, Jesus drives out a demon from a young boy who had been made deaf, mute, and having epileptic symptoms. This was a very specific type of demonisation with physical effects, and certainly not just medical epilepsy (something that Doctor Luke would certainly have picked up on in his gospel). Demons can inhabit the bodies and minds of people who have dabbled in occult practices or have been abused or badly treated in many ways. They have a separate personality to the poor imprisoned soul and generally speak with very different, and intimidating, voices.
So, Jesus does what his other disciples could not do (much to his frustration!) and after a show of protest, the demon departed, and the boy was healed. “This kind can only come out by prayer” – in other words, the disciple has to first spend quite some time in communion with God before obtaining the power, insight, and authority to eject certain classes of demon.
The chapter ends with what seems like a dose of hyperbole: better to be drowned in the sea or to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye – rather than to miss out on entering the Kingdom of God. The prospect of Hell is portrayed as terrifying and chilling; to be avoided at all costs, whatever it costs! So perhaps what Jesus was saying was not hyperbole after all!
EXODUS 39 and 40
If you wanted to get a reputation for trendy dressing, then being a priest in the Hebrew Tabernacle was a fast-track way to do it! Beautifully dyed yarns, strands of pure gold woven into the materials, multi-coloured precious stones in elaborate gold settings, twisted gold rope, and so on… and all assembled by the most skilful tailors of the day.
It is important that, in the New Covenant, the priesthood never rests with specific individuals, but all believers are part of it – all are priests (1 Peter 2:9). If anyone stands out as special, it is Jesus himself, now our Great High Priest, who lives to represent us forever (Hebrews 3:1-6). No longer do we need a special professional to represent us to God, we are meant to draw close ourselves and meet the Lord face to face.
Moses then inspected the materials of the Tabernacle and approved all the work that was done – on behalf of God, the architect. The Tabernacle was then carefully assembled, starting with the Most Holy Place, and the Ark within it. One useful web site (below) gives diagrams of the layout of the Tabernacle…
Finally, when everything had been assembled, the glory of the Lord came down in the cloud, filling the Tabernacle and preventing anyone entering for a while. The purpose of that Tabernacle was to ‘house’ the presence of God, the King of Kings, and to provide a way of all Israel gaining access to his presence. There is now no earthly tabernacle – neither for the Jews, nor for us; we have access to the Lord via the everlasting High Priesthood of Jesus, in a tabernacle which now resides in Heaven (Hebrews 8:3-13). This earthly tent of meeting was only ever meant to be temporary and is now obsolete. The only way to obtain forgiveness is through the heavenly high priesthood of Jesus.