The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

His identity having been established (8:27-30), the Lord began to instruct His disciples regarding The Cross and Glory (8:31-9:29). Suffering precedes glory. The next stage in God’s program was not the setting up of the physical, earthly Kingdom predicted in the Old Testament but the rejection and death of the Perfect Servant.

The Lord called the people to associate with Him in His suffering. Those who would be ashamed of Him, refusing to associate with Him presently, would not enjoy His future glory. He would be ashamed of them when He would come “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:38).[1] This warning is for those who would refuse to become His followers because they are unwilling to associate with Him in His rejection.

So, as we have discovered, the Cross must be Chosen (8:31-38). This is a hard saying. The disciples had been building their hopes on the ushering in of the promised Kingdom and their association with the Messiah in His glory. Now they were being told that their Messiah would be rejected and killed, and that they must accept a similar path. Thankfully, the Lord did not leave them with this. He went on to provide encouragement by showing that the Coronation is Certain (9:1-13).

The Coronation Is Certain (9:1-13)

A Promise Is Made (v1) – Jesus “said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (v1). Among the group who listened as the Lord revealed the stringent demands of discipleship were a few who would, prior to their death, witness “the kingdom of God come with power.”

The narrative that follows gives the fulfilment of this promise. The Lord did not anticipate the actual setting up of His earthly Kingdom during the natural life of His disciples. He predicted that some would be granted a preview of Kingdom glory.

A Preview Is Given (vv2-8) – A very short time later, Peter, James and John were led by the Lord up a high mountain to witness the Transfiguration. The Lord was transformed before their eyes. His “clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (v3 ESV). Peter later explained, “We … were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory” (2Pe 1:16-17). The Transfiguration revealed that this Perfect Servant who chose a path of suffering and sacrifice would one day receive Kingdom glory. He would be vindicated by God.

In the third of Isaiah’s servant songs, the Perfect Servant expressed confidence in His vindication, “For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me …. Behold, the Lord GOD will help me” (Isa 50:7-9). By resurrection, exaltation, and eventual manifestation in glory, the Lord would be honoured.

Alongside the Lord there appeared “Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus” (Mar 9:4). Peter joined the conversation, “‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (vv5-6 ESV). Peter’s words were an emotional reaction to an overpowering supernatural experience. He wanted to erect a shelter to prolong the Holy Mount experience because he was convinced that the Kingdom had now come. He hadn’t understood that this was simply a foretaste of the glory to be entered after suffering.

Immediately, a “cloud … overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him” (v7). This declaration of the Father not only distinguished the Lord from Elijah and Moses, but it instructed the disciples to hear and obey the Lord’s teaching. This teaching included particularly the fact that His cross would precede His coronation. This was what Peter had failed to understand and accept. Upon the divine instruction from heaven being given, the experience was suddenly over. There was only “Jesus … with themselves” (v8). Gone was the external witness to future glory, but Jesus’ companionship remained.

A Program Is Explained (vv9-13) – As they descended the Holy Mount, the disciples attempted to harmonise their experience with prior instruction received from the scribes. They had been told that Elijah would make an appearance before the setting up of the Kingdom (cf. Mal 4:5-6). The Lord affirmed this but again turned their minds to the cross. The same Old Testament that predicted Elijah’s ministry also predicted “of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt” (v12 ESV). The disciples, while grappling to understand God’s program, must be sure to embrace the full revelation God gave, not just those parts which agree with their previously held position.

The Lord continued, “But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (v13 ESV). Elijah had come, in the sense that Elijah’s moral character was demonstrated in John the Baptist. John was not Elijah personally, as John himself confirmed (Joh 1:21), but morally, toward the nation, John fulfilled the role of Elijah. And just as Elijah had experienced the antagonism of the leaders in Israel, so John experienced what was “written of him.” What the authorities wished to do to Elijah they achieved with John.

For the Perfect Servant, the cross was deliberately accepted. It was the work with which He had been entrusted, and it was the path of blessing for others. However, it was “for the joy that was set before him” that the Lord “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2). He would be “exalted and extolled, and be very high” (Isa 52:13). Every believer following in the path of sacrificial service can likewise anticipate with joy sharing in future glory.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.