Luke 9. The Climactic Center of Jesus' Ministry.

Key Notes: The first mission of the apostles was successful. Jesus fed 5000 with food for two. The Transfiguration shows the future. Taking up the cross. The disciples failed to heal.

This chapter centers on the Transfiguration, a crisis point in Jesus' life. At this point He turned from ministry in Galilee and began moving toward Jerusalem and the Cross. The chapter divides into three parts and three messages:
9:1–17 Jesus sent out the twelve apostles on their first missionary journey and received them back for debriefing.
9:18–36 Jesus revealed His primary Messianic task and showed Peter, James and John a vision of Himself.
9:37–56 The disciples failed to accomplish a healing.

Jesus sent out twelve disciples.
9:1–6 Jesus had previously demonstrated miracles, measured the edges of social rules, taught the ethics of the Kingdom in The Sermon on the Mount, and explained the Kingdom in the parable of the sower and the seed. He showed them His attitude toward believing women, His power over wind and wave, over multiple-demon possession,  and His power over death and sin. Then He gave the disciples authority over demons, power to heal, and instruction to preach the Kingdom. He sent them out without provisions, to be cared for by village hospitality. To our surprise, they were apparently successful, for they went everywhere preaching and healing.

9:7–9 Meanwhile Herod suffered from bad conscience, and asked the question that will come up again: Who is This Man?

9:10–17 Part of the disciples' debriefing was to deal with a new problem: how can we feed 5000 men at the end of the day? (Note Jesus' ability to attract men; the total crowd was perhaps 20,000.) The disciples found a small lunch. Jesus told them to feed the multitude. That was beyond their comprehension. Jesus prayed, blessed and broke the bread and fish, and the disciples carried out enough food to saturate the needs of the masses. Each disciple came back with a basket-full.

This fact challenges the liberal explanation that each family had food that they had not brought out until Jesus put out five small loaves and two small fish. If they had only enough for themselves, they would not be donating basket-fulls after dinner.

Why did the disciples fail the test? They had healed and cast out demons. They saw Jesus calm a storm, but they looked at 1–2 meals and could not imagine making 20,000 meals. They lacked the ability to see ten thousand fold more than they had. Their God was still too small. They could deal only with what they could see. Jesus' miracles were beyond their imagination.
Often we also are limited by our short-sightedness. {Bill Bright's vision for Campus Crusade for Christ was beyond my comprehension, so not every Christian is short-sighted.} May God grant us largeness of vision and great faith.

Jesus transfigured.
9:18–36 is the second unit in the chapter. It begins with Jesus uncovering the disciples' understanding of who He was. Peter had the answer: "The Christ of God." 9:18–27
Then Jesus went immediately to explain to the disciples what this meant: the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed and resurrected. The Messiah is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, not at once the Reigning King of Isaiah 9:7.

He followed this first announcement of the Cross with an application. Anyone who follows must take up the cross, lose a life in order to gain it and would be approved before the angels of Heaven.

He predicted that some would see the Kingdom of Heaven before they died. Many explanations of that statement have been offered, such as:

a. He was thinking of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem;
b. He believed the Kingdom was soon to come, but He was incorrect;
c. He is speaking of His Resurrection and Ascension;
d. or Pentecost, the founding of the church;
e. or the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire;
but the context suggests that He is referring to the next event, the Transfiguration.

9:28–36 Jesus took Peter, James and John and went into a mountain to pray. I picture Him standing with arms raised. While He prayed, He was transformed before them into a figure of dazzling light. Moses and Elijah appeared.
Moses was the OT Lawgiver, Israel's Liberator from Egypt. He had been the patient leader of a rebellious generation of slaves, dying at 120 years and buried by God. He had served in leadership of Israel for forty years. He was a type of Christ. Deut.18:18
Elijah was the dean of OT prophets, a lonely, hunted man who single-handedly defeated Baal worship and turned his apostate nation back to God. He had defied Jezebel and Ahab, and was assumed into Heaven without dying.

They were discussing with Jesus His coming EXODUS in Jerusalem; that is, they were talking about Jesus' death and its singular importance. They were there presumably to encourage and strengthen Him, sharing their own spiritual struggles. It is hard to imagine otherwise. How could Moses and Elijah be talking, i.e. living? Moses had died more than a thousand years before. Jesus elsewhere reminded the disciples with regard to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt.22:32) that God is the God of the living, not the dead. Was Jesus not surrounded by "a cloud of witnesses"?

No sooner was the vision fading, than Peter spoke up and tried to intervene. He probably wanted to see more by delaying their departure. He perhaps thought the mountain could be made into a shrine. He mistakenly put Jesus on the same level with Moses and Elijah. A cloud closed in. The voice of God affirmed that Jesus was God's son, His chosen, and told Peter to listen to Jesus. After that, the disciples were quiet for some time. My guess is that they were flat on the ground, petrified, their ears ringing. Peter would talk about it years later. IIPet.1:16–18

In this climactic passage, Jesus described His future, and the disciples' relationship to Him as cross-bearing, crucifixion and death. But then He immediately introduced them to the glory of the Kingdom and His future likeness (Rev.1) in the context of His soon Exodus, His death in Jerusalem.

There have been many interpretations of "taking up the cross." The Cross is:
a. the load of daily suffering, physical illness, bad employment, unhappy family, and the dreariness of life.
b. the jibes of unsympathetic associates resisting the Gospel.
c. renouncing a life full of worldly pleasures to become a monk or ascetic.
d. a tour of evangelism or foreign missions.
e. suffering the life and death of a martyr.

To find a more correct answer, we must go to NT texts that speak of personal death or crucifixion.

• "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal.2:20)
•"...Our Old Self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed." (Rom.6:6) (The whole chapter is valuable.)
•"Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Col.3:5)

These passages are far from suggesting a dreary and sad future. They are God's way of liberating us from our sinful selves so that we may live now in freedom and joy. Death to the Old Self, the old life, our sinful nature, is accompanied by rebirth in the Spirit of God to life on the highest plane. So taking up the cross daily is to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. (Rom.6:11). It is our daily spiritual work, done in God's power. That is wonderful, not dreadful, but it does not deny that all of the disciples but one also had to drink of the cup of suffering and death as Jesus did.

Since Jesus compels us to take up this cross if we would be His disciple, we might also ask if the glory of the Transfiguration that follows may also have something to do with us.

•"I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Rom.8:18
•"...those whom he justified he also glorified." (past tense) Rom.8:30
"Eye has not seen , nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him." ICor.l:29
But these suggest a future glory beyond this life. Is there glory now?
• "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, and this is from the Lord who is the Spirit." IICor.3:18

So it is clear that glorification is also a part of following Christ. It progresses in this life as we fix our spiritual eyes on Him, and it will be completed in His presence. May our faces shine like Moses' face. IICor.3:15,16

Disciples still learn by making mistakes. The aftermath of the Transfiguration was quite a come-down. Since the disciples had had a very successful missionary journey, we expect them to continue to perform consistently from then on.

9:37–43 When Jesus and the Three came down the mountain, back to the other disciples, they found a messy situation. A father with a demonized child came for Jesus' help after the disciples had failed to heal the boy. The crowd appears to have been enjoying the embarrassment of the disciples because Jesus decried not only unbelief (in the disciples) but perverseness (in the crowd). Then He healed the child.

9:43–45 Jesus then gave the disciples the second prophecy of the Cross. They did not understand; it was hidden; they did not perceive; they did not ask. In other words, they were in deep denial.

9:46–48 But in their subconscious thoughts, it appears that they were planning the future after Jesus was gone, and how they would pick up the pieces. It led them to a contest for leadership: who is the greatest, and who will lead. Jesus put a child by Him and said that the least would be the greatest and receiving the least (a child) would be like receiving Him.

9:49–50 John saw someone using Jesus' name to cast out demons and he invoked copyright: if you're not with us, you can't use our Name. Jesus said such a person was working for them, not against them.

9:51–55 On his journey to Jerusalem Jesus went through Samaria. He sent messengers into a town to provide them with bed and board, but when the Samaritans heard that Jesus was going to Jerusalem, they refused. The Sons of Thunder, James and John, were furious and were ready to call down fire from Heaven to destroy the Samaritans for their insolence. Jesus cooled them down.

In a short time, the disciples had displayed:
•incompetence: we couldn't heal him.
•denial: Jesus can't die.
•pride: I am the greatest.
•intolerance: You don't have credentials.
•vengefulness: destroy the infidels.
For His disciples in training, we see human weaknesses that are common to all. Pride appears central, as it is for us.

9:57–62 But we can be comforted by the bumbling of an even newer group of would-be disciples. In each case, they make it clear that home ties were crucial.

*The first made an extravagant promise to go anywhere with Jesus. Jesus advised him to count the cost: He and the disciples were homeless.
*The second, when called, requested leave to bury his father first. In that culture, it meant that the son should remain at home until family obligations were met, and the older generation had died off, before becoming a disciple. Jesus said he must break ties with home. Jesus Himself broke ties with home because His family was in unbelief.
*The third, apparently also called, said he had to go back to say goodbye to the people at home. Jesus said he should never look back. Jesus Himself never looked back. "Remember Lot's wife." (Lk.17:32)

For new followers, it is clear that home and family were obstacles to becoming a disciple. In every society today, culture remains a major block to becoming a believer. Jesus offers no solution to the demands of the society except to simply recognize and act on the break that has already been made with the old life.