Why Moses and Elijah?
When Jesus ascended the mountain of Transfiguration with his disciples, “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” (Matt 17:3 cf. Mk 9:4; Lk 9:30). There are several reasons for why these two biblical figures speak with Jesus. For instance, both Moses and Elijah meet with God on Mount Horeb (aka Sinai), so it is fitting that they also meet with God’s Son on a mountain. Alternatively, since Moses is the giver of the Torah and Elijah gives a double portion of his spirit to Elisha, the Gospel writers may be alluding to Yeshua as someone who also offers these gifts. Yet another (more interesting) possibility, found in both Scripture and later Jewish tradition, is that neither Moses or Elijah died natural deaths, but rather remained alive with God before meeting with the Messiah.
Elijah does not suffer an earthly death; instead, “Elijah went up by a whirlwind (סער; sa’ar) into the heavens (השׁמים; ha’shamayim)” (2 Kgs 2:11). Since Elisha sees this happen, he is imbued with Elijah’s spirit, so that the other prophets say, “The spirit (רוּח; ruach) of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2 Kgs 2:15). In a similar way, Moses imparts his divinely-given spirit to Joshua (see Deut 34:9), which provides a parallel to Elijah and, by extension, invites comparison between Elijah’s ascension and the obscurity of Moses’ death. Since both Eljiah and Moses impart a spirit to their successors, might Moses, like Elijah, have remained alive with God until the advent of the Messiah?
On a plain reading of Scripture, it would seem not: “Moses the servant of the Lord died” (Deut 34:5). However, Moses’ death is shrouded in some mystery, since “the Lord… buried him” so that “no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (34:6). Although Deuteronomy explicates that God “buried him,” some rabbis read the Hebrew for “him” (אתו; oto) to mean that Moses buried “himself” (!), which points to some kind of life after death (cf. Sifre Naso 32; Num. R. 10:17; Rashi on Deut 34:6). Others asserted that God did not bury Moses in the ground, but rather “hid him away for life in the World to Come” (Sifre Deut 301), which is why no one can find his earthly burial site.
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At the Mount of Transfiguration, in the context of “the Rapture”, Moses represents the saints who have passed on who will be raised from the dead and enraptured first at Jesus’s Third Coming, whereas Elijah represents those of us who are still alive who will be taken up.
2 Peter 1:15-18 – Peter recalls his experience of seeing Jesus in glorious form and hearing the Father’s voice at the Mount of Transfiguration.
“15 Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. 16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.“ – 2 Peter 1:15-18
Peter (rock), James (replaced by) and John (God’s grace). The names of the three disciples of Jesus present at the Mount of Transfiguration signifies the Law being replaced by Grace.
When you’re under the Law, you are doomed to fail. Sin has dominion. The Law is about who you ought to be before God. Grace is about how God has given you a Savior and meets your every need.
Matthew 17:1-5 – No one asked Peter for his opinion but he spoke anyways. God interrupted Peter – Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) were only men. Jesus (the embodiment of grace) is God. They cannot be placed on the same level. We are asked to hear grace!
“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him! [NOT HEAR THEM, not the law, not the prophets. BOLD EMPHASIS MINE]”” (Matthew 17:1-5 NKJV). Peter kept quiet. Isn’t it interesting that when Peter wrote his Epistle, he learned his lesson. In 2 Peter chapter 2, he says we were eyewitnesses of his glory when there came a voice from heaven in that holy Mountain of which he was a witness. “This is my beloved Son,” he says. He never mentioned Moses. He never mentioned Elijah. He only mentioned Jesus. He learned the lesson when he wrote the Epistle.
Something else interesting that proves the inspiration of the Scriptures that the Bible is inspired is the fact that John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, of all the four biographers of Jesus’s life, right, the only one that was at the mountain was John. But do you know what? John’s gospel is the only gospel that doesn’t record the transfiguration. The other three records the transfiguration. Isn’t it like holy Scripture. Perhaps, John might have rebuked Peter like and written in his books like; “”Hey, Peter, Peter, Peter, don’t say that, all right? Don’t say three tabernacles, okay? This is Jesus here, you know, Pete”. But Peter didn’t want to listen to me.
You know, you can write all kinds of things, you know? When people write biography, they always write the best parts. When you read the Bible, the Bible give you all the heroes of faith, their warts and all. The Bible is inspired, that’s why John didn’t even write his experience. The Bible is not about experience, it’s about truth. Have you been blessed?
The Gospel writers may well have shared rabbinic views about the obscure circumstances of Moses’ death and his continued presence with God. Thus, it is fitting for Moses and Elijah to meet with Jesus at his Transfiguration: just as Jesus’ metamorphosis on the mountain foreshadows his continued life through resurrection, Moses and Elijah’s presence undergird God’s ability to confer eternal life upon the righteous.
The Bible can provide us with truth, but it can also be difficult to decipher! Whether you’re looking for some biblical direction, stumped on scriptural questions, or just want to confirm that you’re already on the right track, continue following us for more biblical interpretations.
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