Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).
The story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John to a high mountain where he is “transfigured” is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – and at exactly the same place: right after Peter confesses, on behalf of all the disciples, their faith that Jesus is the son of God.
Mark opens his gospel with the announcement that with the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom (or rule) of God has come near (1:15). This has a positive consequence for the believer as the next nine chapters unfold: There is no reason for the disciple of Jesus to fear in the misfortunes of life, nor the challenges that life may present nor the demonic powers who may present them. Jesus is superior to them all and ready to deliver.
But there are responsibilities: the disciple must not try to cram his discipleship into his old life. He must live a new life. Second, old rules and traditions must be jettisoned in favor of a new way of living, and that way must be lived according to the word of God. On the Mount of Transfiguration, for the third time in the book (see Mark 3:35; 7:1-13; and here), this point is made. In all three gospels the point is the same: those who confess Christ must do as He says. Put another way, the benefits of the Kingdom of God belong only to those who are subject to its king.
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Chapter eight of Mark’s gospel is the hinge of his book and features a turning point. There, Jesus reveals to the disciples for the first time his impending death. Mark says Jesus spoke “plainly” about it and Mark himself is equally “plain” that the disciples didn’t get it – underscoring their denseness three times between 8:31 and 9:32.
Interestingly, while they focus on the “rising from the dead” part, Jesus focuses on the “dying” part. Nearly seventy years ago one writer penned these words: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 99).
But the call is not just to die. It is also a call to live anew. We die to who we are, that we might become the likeness of our resurrected Lord. Yet, there can be no rising without the dying.