The closer Jesus was to the cross, the more intently He gave Himself to the twelve. Crowds enjoyed Jesus’ early ministry, but only those nearest Him would understand the significance of His last days. The latter portion of each Gospel contains the most pointed lessons on discipleship. As the disciples followed Jesus to Jerusalem, Jesus more fully disclosed the message of the kingdom of God. Jesus was “on the road” (Mark 8:27) with His followers, a phrase Mark repeated to signify progress in discipleship (Mark 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52; 11:8). The road would end in Jerusalem, at the cross. Jesus’ mission looked forward to Calvary but also looked back to God’s revelation of Himself to Israel in the Old Testament. In Mark 9, references to Moses, Elijah, and the prophecy of Isaiah portrayed Jesus’ mission within the framework established by the Old Testament.
(1) In Mark 9:2-8, Mark wrote that Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured and standing beside Moses and Elijah. God established Moses and Elijah to reveal His greatness and call Israel to faithfulness to the law. These leaders served the Lord by calling Israel to forsake idolatry so that the nation might worship the Lord from a pure heart. The Evangelists recorded that the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:1-8//Mark 9:2-8//Luke 9:28-36) followed shortly after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt 16:13-20//Mark 8:27-30//Luke 9:18-21). Seeing Jesus in His glorious state—accompanied by Moses, Elijah, and the heavenly voice—provided Peter, James, and John with the rationale for Jesus’ radical teaching and miracles. The transfiguration of Jesus was intended to further clarify for the disciples Jesus’ person and mission. Jesus’ glorified state and fellowship with two of Israel’s most prominent leaders showed the leading disciples the glory of Jesus as the Son of God.
(2) In Mark 9:48, Jesus quoted Isa 66:24 to warn His disciples that they must seek to edify one another lest they be cast to eternal punishment in hell. Isaiah concluded his prophecy by describing the day when the Lord would gather His people together with some from all nations and languages to see His glory in Jerusalem and worship Him. When those who are not part of this united, multi-national gathering leave from Jerusalem, they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against the Lord. “Their maggots will never die, their fire will never go out,” Isaiah said (Isa 66:24). Jesus used Isaiah’s phrase to describe the eternal punishment that will come upon all who rebelled against His call to discipleship. As Jesus and the disciples traveled toward Jerusalem, Jesus exhorted them to pursue unity with one another (Matt 18:1-11//Mark 9:33-50//Luke 9:46-50). When the disciples began to quarrel with one another over who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-37), Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). His concern was that the disciples avoid behavior that would cause a brother to fall away from following Jesus on the road of discipleship. Jesus cited Isaiah’s description of hell in Isa 66:24 to warn the disciples of the consequences of taking their community casually. He said, “Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).