Mark 9 – The Transfiguration & The City of Sepphoris

I think it might make people wonder why Sepphoris wasn’t mentioned in the Bible since Jesus probably spent a lot of time there, let alone that’s where his mother was born.  It wasn’t mentioned because there’s no purpose to mention it.

Excavated streets in Sepphoris; Joseph and the young Jesus, from nearby Nazareth, may have worked here as builders.

The Bible is about You, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, not about Mary.  And even though Jesus may have spent a lot of time there He obviously didn’t do anything miraculous or at least nothing that we are supposed to know about.

Tomorrow we’re going to look at the lost city of…

Mark 9
The Transfiguration

The pictures below are buildings or cities that Jesus knew.

1 And he 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.

“Not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” – see the note on Matt 16:28.

Of course no-one knows exactly what Mary and Joseph’s house in Nazareth was like. The house disappeared many centuries ago. But we do know what ordinary village houses looked like in 1st century Palestine, and in Nazareth in particular.

The basic floor plan had a central courtyard with rooms opening off it. These rooms were small by our standard, with a minimum of windows. Lattice work and shutters were used to cover window openings.

Rooms were small. Stairs or a wooden ladder led up onto the roof, which was used as an outdoor room partly shaded by matting or a tent-like superstructure.

The inside rooms tended to be dark, so the courtyard and the roof were important parts of the house, used for tasks that needed good light – Mary of Nazareth and the women of her family would have spun yarn, woven fabric and prepared food there. In hot weather family members slept there as well.

 2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.

“Transfigured” – see the note on Matt 17: 2.

3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.

“Elias with Moses” – see note on Matt 17:3.

5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

“Three tabernacles” – Peter may have desired to erect new tabernacles where God could again communicate with His people (Ex 29:42).  Or he may have been thinking of the booths used as the feast of tabernacles (Lev 23:42).

Or just being with Jesus would be incredible, but being with Him during the transfiguration might have just blown his mind so he was ecstatic and he was extremely eager to find fulfillment of the promised glory then, prior to the sufferings that Jesus had announced.

As I have said many times, I talk to God every day and He talks back.  But sometimes when I’m in my home office working on this blog or whatever, He just pops in and it is incredible.  I don’t have a feeling that He’s here, nor do I see Him, I have an “inner knowing” of Him.

He doesn’t stay long, a few minutes at the most because usually I have to ask Him to leave.  He’s too much.  I can’t even begin to imagine how it must have been with Moses. 

To tell you how incredible and fantastic His presence is, I’ll tell you, He will come anytime I ask Him to, but I rarely do that because as I said, He’s too much.  When He comes I love it, it’s great, but it’s also quite scary.

6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.

7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.

Reconstruction of a type of house that was common in 1st century Galilee: courtyard, living quarters, storage area for animals and equipment.

9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.

10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.

“What the rising from the dead should mean” – as Jews they were familiar with the doctrine of the resurrection; it was the resurrection of the Son of Man that baffled them, because their theology had no place for a suffering and dying Messiah.

11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?

9:11-12 – “Elias” – see note on Matt 17:10.

12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.

Modern-day excavations in Nazareth: the houses ordinary people lived in usually had rough stone foundations and mud-brick walls

 

13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.

“Elias is indeed come” – a reference to John the Baptist (see Matt 17:13). “Elias must first come” – see note on Matt 17:10.

“As it is written of him” – what scripture says about Elijah in his relationship to Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kgs 198:1-10).  There is no prediction of suffering associated with Elijah’s ministry in the end times. 

However, what happened to Elijah under the threats of Jezebel foreshadowed what would happen to John the Baptist.  The order of events suggested in vv. 11-13 is as follows:

1.Elijah ministered in the days of wicked Jezebel;

2.Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, who in turn suffered at the hands of Herodias;

3.The Son of man suffered and was rejected a short time after John was beheaded.

14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.

15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.

16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?

Aerial photograph of the reconstructed 4th century synagogue at Capernaum; note also the foundations of ancient houses surrounding the synagogue

17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;

18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.

Demonic possession was responsible for the boy’s condition.

19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.

21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.

22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.

23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

King Herod’s Masada fortress: administrative buildings on the flat top of the plateau (centre),
the luxury palace on three levels at the edge of the precipice (bottom left).

“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” – the question was not whether Jesus had the power to heal the boy but whether the father had faith to believe it.  A person who truly believes will set no limits on what God can do.

There’s nothing God can’t do, remember, He created everything so He controls everything so that means there is nothing He cannot do.

24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

“I believe help thou mine unbelief” – since faith is never perfect (it isn’t within ourselves) so belief and unbelief are often mixed.

25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.

26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.

27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

Part of an intricate mosaic floor at Masada.
Floors like this were extraordinarily expensive and indicative of high social status.

28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?

29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

“This kind” – seems to suggest that there are different kinds of demons, and actually Paul implied that in Eph 6:12.

It sounds like the boy had epilepsy and they say there is no cure for it.  I had epilepsy and even though I didn’t have a seizure every day like some people do, but one doctor told me that my seizures were of the most violent.

My seizures would wrack my body so bad that after one my entire body ached for six days.  Yet, the pain during and after wasn’t the worst part, the worst part was fear.  Every seizure was the same so I was never surprised.  Yet, I was always frightened and I didn’t know why, and I still don’t know why.

I truly believe that the devil himself controls epilepsy, but now that I walk with Jesus I no longer have seizures, I don’t even feel the electricity that I always felt in my body.  I haven’t had one since 2008 and I’ve been walking with Jesus since June 29th of 2007.

An epileptic seizure and seizure caused by drugs or something is not the same.  If you don’t have epilepsy you cannot even try to understand them, it is a horrible experience. 

When I used to have them I would usually sleep for about three hours once I passed out, I always passed out when the convulsions began.  Once I woke up I would be up for a few minutes and then go back to sleep for another three or so hours.

One of the enormous water reservoirs excavated under the plateau at the top of Masada: water in the desert.

One time I had one in downtown Puyallup, Washington, and I woke up right after the seizure and I had an audience, that was embarrassing and one guy yelled out, “When’s the next show.”  If you see someone have a seizure, please don’t be an ass like that guy.

“Can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” – the disciples apparently had taken for granted the power given to them or had come to believe that it was inherent in them.  Lack of prayer indicated they had forgotten that their power over the demonic spirits was from Jesus.

Sometimes fasting is also required.  It demonstrates to God our determination and perseverance, our willingness to sacrifice to see God’s will accomplished.

I agree with the above statement, but Jesus meant a bit more than that.  He meant that for us to be able to defeat demons we must walk with Him always.  Not sometimes, but always.  As Paul had pointed out in Eph 6:12-17.

30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it.

31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.

32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.

There is no way of knowing whether Jesus ever went to Machaerus, but it certainly had strong associations for him since, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Machaerus was the place in which John the Baptist was imprisoned and then beheaded (Bellum VII.6.1-2). Jesus was only too aware of this event.

Herod was frightened by John’s fearless criticism of him, and of his power to stir people up – as he would later be frightened/intrigued by Jesus. Herod sensed he had met someone he could not control. Putting John into the prison at Machaerus removed John from his followers, and stopped them from communicating with their charismatic leader.

It was a forbidding fortress, built to intimidate and control the troubled area between Palestine and Petra. It did its job well. No-one could get in or out of Machaerus without Herod knowing about it.

When Herod decided to kill John, the walls of the fortess meant there could be no-one to oppose him.
When the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66AD, the rebels holed up within Machaerus’ seemingly impregnable walls. But the Romans built siege works around the base of the fortress and when the lower part of the fortress was captured and burned, the people in the upper city surrendered.

You can still see part of the Roman siege ramp on the west side of the mound, and ruins of the Roman camp lie on the hill to the west.

33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

“Who should be the greatest” – questions of rank and status are normal and played an important role in the life of Jewish groups at this time, but they had no place in Jesus’ value system.

35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

36 And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them,

37 Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

38 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

“Followeth not us” – the man apparently was a believer, but he wasn’t one of the exclusive company of the twelve.  Nevertheless, he acted in Jesus’ name and had done what the disciples had not been able to do.

39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

“Forbid him not” – Jesus’ view of discipleship was far more inclusive than the narrow view held by the twelve.  Doctrinal differences are important, but we must remember that all true believes are still one in Christ.

40 For he that is not against us is on our part.

41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

“Give you a cup of water” – God remembers even small acts of kindness extended to believers because they are believers.

42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

“One of these little ones that believe” – perhaps the little children mentioned in vv. 36-37, or the man mentioned in v. 38.  Jesus’s point is clear: To cause even those whom we might consider to be the least of believers to sin will bring serious judgment.

That is why I pray even for people like the Obamas and Oprah

43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

This the other mosaic of the extraordinary 1st century A.D. mosaics that have been excavated at Sepphoris.

“Cut it off” – hyperbole, a figure of speech that exaggerates to make its point, is used here to emphasize the need for drastic action.  Often sin can be conquere4d only by radical “spiritual surgery.”

44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

Aerial view of Sepphoris

“Kingdom of God” – see note on Matt 3:2.

48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Is 66:24 speaks of the punishment for rebellion against God.  As the final word of Isaiah’s message, the passage became familiar as a picture of endless destruction.

“The fire is not quenched” – the fire in hell is real.  That is clearly taught here; in Jesus’ explanation of the burning of the tares in Mat 13:41-42 and in His plain statements in Matt 25:41, 46.  That’s a horrible thing, just imagine, being on fire forever and ever and ever.

49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

The saying means that everyone who enters hell will suffer, but some will suffer more, depending on the severity of their sins – see Lk 12:47-48.

This stone floor is said to be the central courtyard of the Roman praetorium. Jesus may have stood here when he was interrogated by Pontius Pilate.

And it could also mean that all Christians will suffer for Jesus in some way in this life.

50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

The City of Sepphoris

The city of Sepphoris (modern Zippori) is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, even though it was a town that Jesus must have known well. Located just four miles northwest of Nazareth, Sepphoris had become quite prominent by the 1st century B.C.

The Greek-style theater at Sepphoris; devout Jews did not attend these theaters, and were reluctant to enter sophisticated cities like Sepphoris

In the winter of 39/38 B.C., Herod the Great captured it and used it as his northern base. At his death the city rebelled but was harshly defeated by the Roman governor, Varus.

Herod Antipas inherited this territory from Herod the Great and set about rebuilding the town, transforming it into the most opulent city of Galilee.  A theater seating three thousand, possibly built by Herod Antipas, was located there.

A beautiful mosaic of a woman’s face has been unearthed there, dating much later, to the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

The 1st century inhabitants of the city appear to have been staunchly pro-Roman, since they refused to join the Jewish revolt of 70 A.D. During the 2nd century A.D., however, the city did become a center of Jewish learning.

The elaborate rebuilding of this city, carried out by Herod Antipas, occurred during the lifetimes of both Joseph and Jesus.  Since the two were craftsmen (perhaps carpenters; see Mk 6:3), some suggest that they may have in fact worked at construction projects there.

One of two extraordinarily sophisticated floor mosaic from the city of Sepphoris; the woman depicted is called the Mosa Lisa of Galilee.

Sepphoris is the traditional birthplace of Jesus’ mother, Mary. 

…Tanis.