Why Peter, James, and John?

"Mountain Men"

A Discipleship Devotional from Mark 9:1–8

There is a truth–gem hiding away in the Mount of Transfiguration account about Peter, James, and John. The clue to this gem is found in the two ancient prophets that God sends to honor Jesus: Moses and Elijah.

Part One: The Background

First: why did Jesus pick Peter, James, and John to be His inner circle of ministry training? There are several explanations for this:

#1 • As an example effective leadership training. Jesus ministered to great crowds, but there was a group of a hundred or so who seemed to be following Him closely, including the wonderful women who supported the ministry in practical ways. Jesus selected the Twelve to specifically invest in as His apostles – His personal representatives. But even the Perfect Leader, Jesus, showed us the importance of narrowing in on a smaller “inner circle” for the highest degree of intimate training. In Mark 9, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus gave a unique experience to the Three that none of the other Twelve would partake in.

#2 • Peter, James, and John represent the extremes of the Twelve. Peter was the eldest, John was the youngest. James died first, John lived the longest. There are two wonderful lessons this teaches us:

To Peter: “Don’t think that your age qualifies you as a better leader—I’m also selected the youngest as a leader.” The fact that John was chosen as his peer should have humbled Peter to some degree. I’m not sure it actually this effect on him or not!

To James: “Go big, then go home!” Jesus invested Himself equally in James and John. John would go on to live for more than seven decades in ministry. What a fantastic investment by Jesus—the most “bang for the buck.” But James? He only lasted a few years before he was martyred. Would Jesus have said, “What a waste?” Absolutely not! God doesn’t value our lives based on how long we live, but rather, by the fact that we live for Him. James’ value to the Kingdom of God was no less than John’s. The lesson is to “go big” for Jesus, no matter how much time He gives you.

We must now consider the other men on the Mount—Elijah and Moses. This will lead us to a sweet observation about Peter, James, and John.

Moses • Moses finally made it to the Promised Land! On the Mount of Transfiguration Moses finally gets to set his feet down in Israel! (that is, if the Mount is Tabor, not Hermon, which is twelve miles north of Israel and is over 9000 feet in altitude. For these reasons, I think Tabor is a better candidate for the Mount of Transfiguration).

At the end of his earthly ministry, Moses’ anger finally got the best of him and he failed by striking the rock and dishonored God in Israel’s presence. This disqualified him to bring the people in to the Land. God had one last measure of mercy, though, for Moses. He brought Moses to the top of a mountain right outside the border of Israel and gave him supernatural vision to see all of the land, the North, South, and West to the sea. There on the mountain Moses died and God buried him.

In Jesus’ ministry, though, God finally let Moses enter in!

Just imagine the conversation in Heaven: “Hey Moses, my boy, I’ve got something for you to do today that I’m sure you’ll enjoy…”

Moses responds, “Why now, Lord?”

“Because,” God answers, “My Beloved Son, Jesus, has fulfilled those Laws I gave to you on Sinai. And because I’ve purified you from your own fleshly anger. All has been put right. You are now ready to enter in.”

I love that on the Mount of Transfiguration, God says, “Listen to Jesus” not “Listen to Moses.” Moses was there as a witness to Jesus’ glory, not to steal any glory for himself. Previously on Mount Sinai, Moses descended with glory on his face. Now all of the glory is reserved for Jesus alone.

Elijah • Elijah, too, sees the fruit of his labors. Jesus also fulfilled the Prophets, of whom Elijah was seen as the chief. Elijah had also previously met with God on Mt. Horeb, after fleeing from Jezebel. Elijah was a mountain man, like Moses.

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, so the representatives of the Law and Prophets stand by Jesus’ side as God proclaims, “Listen to My Beloved Son!” We can learn from the Law and Prophets, (the Old Testament), but we listen to Jesus, who fulfilled both and informs our understanding of both.

Revelation • Moses and Elijah are also the best candidates for the Two Witnesses in Revelation, who are martyred for their preaching by the Anti–Christ. It is suitable that they are validated as witnesses to Christ’s glory on the Mount, since they will represent His glory in the tribulation.

Part Two: The Big Lesson

Imagine a conversation like this on the Mount:

“Hey, Moses and Elijah, come here a moment,” says Jesus. “I want to introduce you to Peter, James, and John. I think you guys have a lot in common.”

Moses and Elijah have been watching Jesus’ ministry from heaven, and they look suspiciously at Jesus. “Are you sure, Master? We’ve seen these guys in action. They seem to be loud, emotional, and out of control.”

Jesus responds with a knowing smile and sparkle in His eye, “Yep, just like you two.”

You see, Peter, James, and John had much in common with Elijah and Moses. They were impetuous and rash. Peter was often loud–mouthed and angry, yet when he blundered he was depressed and defeated. James and John were the Sons of Thunder who wanted to call down fire from heaven to blast a town that refused Jesus. They were the ones who put themselves forward as the ones who should sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. I love that Jesus considered John the disciple He loved, since love was absent in him first.

Moses and Elijah had been natural leaders who failed in the flesh and ran. They had natural qualities of action, boldness, and big goals, yet when they failed, they hit rock bottom emotionally. Peter, James, and John were cut from the same mold as Moses and Elijah. God loves to take natural leaders and turn them into supernatural leaders—those that lead according to God’s Spirit and not according to their own flesh.

Jesus surely could have introduced the Three Apostles to Two Prophets this way, “Hey, you old dudes. Let me introduce you to the young guys who are going to walk in your legacy. I’m going to do to them exactly what I did to you. I want them to shake your hand and look you in the eye, because they need to remember this moment. This will encourage them to hang in there when their flesh lets them down and keep looking to Me!”

You might be a natural leader. Allow God to continue to humble, break you and shape you into that supernatural leader who walks in His Spirit. Maybe you need to take a little time off on a mountain with God to let His Glory overshadow your self–sufficiency afresh and anew.

And as a leader, look for your Peter, James, and John—those young folks with the natural raw material that will propel them to the front of the team. Help them learn to submit to the Spirit. Let God’s word soak into their hearts, “This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him!”