Mount of Transfiguration: Why Moses and Elijah?

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. 

The Father revealed a taste of Jesus’s glory at the Mount – a sneak peek Jesus’s glory as a King that we will witness when He returns for His church.

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.


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