took Peter, James, and John and
led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And
he was transfigured before them, and
his clothes became dazzling white, such
as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then
Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and
they were conversing with Jesus. Then
Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi,
it is good that we are here! Let
us make three tents: one
for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He
hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then
a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from
the cloud came a voice, "This
is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly,
looking around, they no longer saw anyone but
Jesus alone with them.
they were coming down from the mountain, he
charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except
when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So
they kept the matter to themselves, questioning
what rising from the dead meant.
--Mk 9: 2-10.
As usual, today's gospel is a funny bit. The punch line is Peter's
offer to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one
for Moses. Elijah and Moses; long dead. How could they need tents to
shelter them from the elements? And he knows very well who they
are—he cites them by name.
The gospel says he is confused; but what is he thinking?
One would necessarily assume that a dead person is an entirely
spiritual being, would one not? If there is survival after death, it
is only the spirit, and not the body, that survives. We see the body
rot. The natural assumption, therefore, on Peter's part, should have
been that Moses and Elijah, if they have reappeared, have done so
purely as apparitions—visions, wraiths, ghosts, that sort of thing.
The point of his offer, and perhaps of his confusion, must be a
strong impression, nevertheless, that these men before him were not,
in fact, apparitions. To all appearance, they must have been plainly
there physically, solid flesh. The impression must have been so
strong as to overcome the obvious assumption that they were
Rather like the man the apostles met, later, on the road to Emmaus,
who actually ate with them, as an apparition could not.
The passage notes that Jesus himself, undeniably still in the flesh,
was “transfigured.” In what way the gospel does not say, but his
clothing became supernaturally white—a perfect white. Might it
therefore be that Jesus here assumed his perfected body, as all our
bodies will be perfected at the Resurrection. As the cosmic Christ,
he was of course capable of doing this; and after his own
resurrection from the tomb, he seems to have assumed just this
transfigured, perfectged body. This body was able to eat, but could
also pass through walls, or be in two places at one time.
But given that Jesus had been transfigured onto his post-resurrection
body, what about Moses and Elijah? Might, they too have appeared in
their perfected post-resurrection bodies, and so be genuinely
This seems to be what the gospel suggests. But then, what are Moses
and Elijah doing in their post-resurrection bodies before the
resurrection? Jesus can do these things; he's God. But they are just
men. Or, indeed, what are they doing popping up at all before the
resurrection of Jesus? Isn't everyone supposed to be in Hell, or in
Sheol, until Jesus harrows it, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday,
cancels the stain of original sin, and opens the gates of heaven?
It all has to do, I think, with the nature of eternity. Eternity is
not, cannot be, an infinite extension of time. All real, as opposed
to theoretical, extensions into infinity are logically impossible, as
is demonstrated by the Kalam cosmological argument. So that is not
what eternity is. But what it is seems perfectly obvious. It is a
state of not being bound by time—in which time is perfected, and
has no limits.
In our temporal, earthly, physical experience, we can move through
time in only one direction, from the past through the present into
the future. Isn't that an absurd limitation? It is as though we could
only walk in one direction. Conceptually, then, eternity is a simple
matter of being able instead to move at will from past to future or
future to past. Or, indeed, to jump suddenly about, out of any
necessary sequence. That would be a genuine eternity, but does not
require the logical contradiction of an infinite extension in time.
This is how Jesus is able to assume at any time his post-resurrection
body. This is how Moses and Elijah, too, can assume their
post-resurrection bodies, before Jesus opens the gates of heaven, and
before the Last Judgement.
It explains what happened to the righteous who died before Jesus was
crucified: the grace of his sacrifice effects the past as well as the
It explains a lot more that is otherwise puzzling in the Bible. This
is why Jesus might say, “it is given to man once to die, and then
the judgement.” There is no distinction between the particular
judgement, that we each face at the moment of death, and the general
judgement that comes at the end of time. At death, we enter eternity,
and have immediate access to the end of time.
It explains how he could say, two thousand years ago, “the kingdom
of heaven is at hand,” and that the Kingdom of Heaven shall appear
on earth before all of his listeners, the present generation of his
time, would pass away. This was no failed prophecy: it was the
literal truth, and remains the literal truth for every generation
that reads the Bible.
And it explains how Jesus could say on the cross to the good thief
that he will join him that very evening in paradise, despite a prior
engagement harrowing hell.