Mark 9:11 (KJV) And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?
As a stand-alone verse, Mark 9:11 will leave you high on a mountain and confused. There was history, prophecy, and current events in that question. I will try to be focused, but there is so much to be talked about.
Scribes In the simplest explanation, scribes were people who used pens to write things. Many times, they worked in the palace documenting the business of the royal court. It is reasonable that Herod had scribes. The scribes in Mark 9:11 would have been the ones associated with the Pharisees and Sadducees, each group had its own. The Sadducees were more focused on the Five Books of Moses than the history and prophets.
Jentezen Franklin preached a sermon about scribes. He used Deborah and the tribe of Zebulun (the mountain may have been in their land) in the sermon. Judges 5:14 talks about the tribe of Zebulun either being scribes or having a commander’s staff. The translators are all over the battleground with that one.
The Question Just to be clear Elias = Elijah. The three disciples had just seen Elijah, so this question just had to be asked. The root of this question is in three scriptures:
- Isaiah 40:3-This verse does not name Elijah but does describe what John was doing in the wilderness. It also made a great song.
- Malachi 1:3-Again no mention of Elijah but a messenger who will have the people give righteous offerings. John did come before and prepared the way for Jesus by preaching righteousness and baptizing the people as a sign they had repented.
- Malachi 4:4-6-This mentions Moses and Elijah. Elijah will be sent before the day of the Lord to restore our hearts. This will lead to the question of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelations. Personally, I believe Elijah will be one of the two, he never died but was taken in the chariot of fire. Moses will not be one because he died and was buried.
Jesus with Moses and Elijah Since I was born again, I have heard that these two men appeared at the transfiguration to represent the Law and the Prophets. Luke 9:30+31 adds that they were there to talk about His death in Jerusalem.
May I add another layer (possibly) to this story? From the test, that they failed, these men had a testimony. In Numbers 20 Moses did not honor/trust God’s holiness enough to speak to the rock. Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, feared for his life at Jezebel’s threat and ran for his life. (That makes me wonder if Satan showed up in the Garden to make Jesus afraid of dying.) I believe both of these men spoke to Jesus about not being afraid because His Holy Father would bring Him through this ordeal. Your test, pass or fail, will be part of your testimony.
Luke has a word in 9:32 that is nowhere else in any of these narratives- synestōtas. It is translated as standing with or together. This comes from the root word- synistēmi. In many of the places where forms of this word are used, it may be “recommend”. (Mounce Interlinear was a reference for this thought.)
Before the Mountain of Transfiguration (See Luke 911) Jesus fed the 5,000 and is in a private time with the disciples. Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus tells them He is going to Jerusalem to die and Peter argues with Jesus. (See Jesus Knew and Told the Disciples) He ends the conversation by saying that some of them would see His kingdom’s power before they die (James died first as part of the prophecy). Matthew, Mark, and Luke document this event.
6 or 8 Days Each of the three Gospel writers have slightly different details. Matthew and Mark say six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain. Luke has eight days later. None of these writers were present for this meeting on the mountain. (I am sure the tale was told during Jesus’ last forty days on earth.) Matthew and probably Mark were present with the group that was left behind. So, who did Luke talk to in getting his version of the story? We do not know. My guess is that they were praying for two days before Jesus was transfigured and talked with Moses and Elijah. That would make all three of them right. Metaphorically, six is the number of man and eight presents new beginnings. Add these to your sermon thoughts. This location was probably “the mountain” in Galilee that the disciples were to go to after the crucifixion (Matthew 28:16).
God Spoke-The Father spoke to the three disciples from the cloud that surrounded them. Moses had that experience several times. Elijah had God speak to him in the cave. It is left to our imaginations as to how Jesus and the Father communicated when they were together.
The Gospels record three times when the audible voice of God was heard.
- At Jesus’s baptism-Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22. The message was you are/this is my Son, and I Am pleased with Him. It is really hard to tell how many, if any, of the Twelve Disciples were present for this.
- On the Mount of Transfiguration-The message is much the same as at the baptism except that the three writers all have, “Listen to Him”.
- The third time is in John 12:28. Jesus has just fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah for Daughter Zion and rode into Jerusalem. The Voice agreed with Jesus about glorifying the Father. Jesus added that this was for the disciples and that the world and its prince were now open for judgment.
After the Voice, Elijah and Moses were gone from sight and the question of Mark 9:11 was asked. So, what did John the Baptist restore that Elijah had given?
I believe that the road John was paving for Jesus was one of righteousness; so, we would return to the Father. God loves righteousness, our being right with Him on His terms not on ours. 1 Corinthians 5:18-21 states that we are to be reconciled to God as righteous. Jesus walked that road and paid the price so we could be with the Father again in righteousness.
Luke, once again, has a specific thought about when they came down the mountain. In Luke 9:37 he adds “the next day”. I have a feeling that we got a summary statement for what was a great time of fellowship.
Mark 9:15 is when Jesus approached the crowd. I believe that he was in that crowd and was “overwhelmed” or ekthambeō with them. (Mark seems to be the only writer that uses this word. This is the first use and he uses various forms of the word three more times, ending in the Garden with the angels speaking to the women. I have to wonder if Jesus was still glowing. Moses had to wear a veil when he was in God’s presence. Another question to ask when we get to see Him.
Going to the next level. Start with Mark 9:11 and build a narrative of your own using all of the Gospel accounts.