When does Luke say Jesus descended with the disciples from the Mount of Transfiguration? See Luk 9:37. What do his words indicate about how long it took them to descend, and hence how far they must have gone? What did Jesus command them on the way down the mountain? See Mat 17:9. Why did He command them so? Think: the rest of Jesus’ ministry would contrast the humble Christ’s kingdom with men’s mistaken expectations of a worldly ruler, and within 6 months He would be crucified and die as a sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of the world; under these circumstances, how believable would the vision seem to others? Although Jesus’ transfiguration would serve to carry those who experienced it through the events about to take place which would turn their expectations upside down (cf. Luk 22:31-32), how might only the report of it do just the opposite for others who didn’t experience it? What does this teach us about the perfect wisdom of God in the different aspects of what He reveals about Himself to different people in different circumstances and at different times in the unfolding of His eternal plan? Is it possible that like the disciples in the first century, parts of our own understanding may be mistaken? In light of our hindsight view of the events about to unfold, should we despair and lose faith if our own expectations should be turned upside down? In light of the hidden mysteries and subtleties of God’s plan that are such that even angels long to look into them (1Pe 1:12), and which are especially foreign to our fallen human nature, what should our response be if and when our understanding and expectations turn out to be mistaken? See Job 13:15. What does this teach us about the primacy of a humble faith in our walk with God? Cf. Luk 1:38.
In spite of Jesus having just a short time before told the disciples He must suffer and die and rise again (Mat 16:21), what indication do we have that they could not conceive of what He was saying? See Mar 9:9-10. Did they have any expectations that Jesus whom they believed to be the promised Messiah would die literally? What then would they have supposed rising from the dead might mean? How would they have associated that with the establishment of His kingdom they were expecting? What question did they then ask Jesus? See Mat 17:10. What is the connection between what they asked, His command to tell no one of the vision until He had risen from the dead, and their uncertainty about what Jesus meant about rising from the dead? Think: when they presented their understanding from the Scribes that Elijah must come first, who and/or what did they have in mind would come second? Think too: who had they just seen speaking with Jesus in the vision, and who in their minds had come on the scene first?
Why did the Scribes say that Elijah must come first, prior to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom? See Mal 4:5-6. What was their expectation for how this prophecy would be fulfilled, and how is that similar to the way most Christians today expect Christ’s kingdom will be established? From the manner in which prophecies have in the past typically been fulfilled contrary to the way people thought they would be (cf. Num 12:6-8), should we understand prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled as a guided roadmap to the future? Is the purpose of prophecy to foretell the future, or to communicate the certainty and ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises, as a means of calling His people to repentance and obedience today?
In what two-fold way did Jesus answer the disciples’ question? See Mat 17:11-12, Mar 9:12-13. Consider Malachi’s prophecy written over 400 years before that God would send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord; how would a person who hadn’t thought very deeply about it have supposed he would recognize Elijah when he came? How is that like so many today who suppose that in spite of there being no pictures or paintings of Jesus and the fact that His own disciples didn’t always recognize Him after the resurrection, that they will immediately know Him for who He is? What is the great danger of supposing we will recognize Jesus by sight as we imagine Him to be? See Jer 17:9, 2Co 11:14, Mat 24:4-5,23-25, 2Th 2:8-9. Since we cannot expect to recognize the appearance of such personages by physical sight, how then are they to be recognized? See Mat 7:16 and consider again the possibility that the appearance of such people must be recognized not by face but by spirit—i.e., not by physical appearance but by spiritual appearance. In what sense then did Elijah come in the person of John the Baptist? See Luk 1:17. From Jesus’ words in Mat 17:11-12, should we suppose that Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah has been completely fulfilled? When Elijah does come again to restore all things before the day of the Lord, how will we recognize him? Cf. Rev 11:6. What indications do we have from Jesus’ words about a two-fold coming of both Elijah and the Messiah? See Mar 9:12.
In Mar 9:13 Jesus says that Elijah came and “they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him”; what exactly was written about him, and how was this fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist? See 1Ki 19:1-2, and consider that John the Baptist smote with the sword of God’s word the false prophets of his own day who were in league with the political rulers and would not speak out against such sins as Herod’s adulterous relationship with Herodias; as a result, the same spirit of Jezebel that sought to put Elijah to death also filled Herodias and sought to put John to death. In John’s case they succeeded; in Elijah’s case the spirit of Jezebel that is still in the world has not yet succeeded, but see Rev 11:7-8. What does this help us to understand about the layers of meaning in God’s word and how passages that are not strictly prophecy are still prophetic?