And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and lead them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
(Matthew 17:1-13 ESV)
Yesterday we read the story of Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. Seeing this was certainly an unforgettable experience for these three disciples. But another interesting thing happened while Jesus was transfigured. Moses and Elijah appeared to them (the disciples). These two Old Testament figures talked with Jesus.
It is likely that these two particular men appeared because they represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). What Gentiles call the Old Testament is known by the Jews simply as The Scriptures. These writings are often referred to in the New Testament as Moses and the prophets [Luke 16:29, 24:44].
The Old Testament reveals God’s plan to save mankind from their sin by sending a Messiah. The entire Old Testament points to the Messiah, to be sent by God to set people free from the penalty of their sins. The appearance of Moses and Elijah, both synonymous with the Old Testament, was another confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament.
Moreover, Moses represents those who die a physical death and go to be with the Lord while Elijah represents those who are taken from this earth without having experienced death, just like many will at the coming Rapture [2 Kings 2:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. Here we see that life does indeed go on after this earth and that people retain their identities and are recognizable in the next life.
Notice also that Moses and Elijah did not speak to the disciples; they spoke with Jesus. When we are gathered among other believers our focus should be on Christ, not each other.
Not surprisingly, Peter can’t keep quiet and offers to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. A plausible explanation for Peter’s suggestion is that the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) was taking place at this time. Commanded by God, this feast was an annual commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt (lead by Moses) thousands of years earlier [Leviticus 23:33-44].
During this week-long feast (known in Hebrew as Sukkot) the Jews lived in tents to remember the years of wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. This festival took place every October, about six months prior to Passover, which occurs in the Spring. Peter was apparently inviting Moses and Elijah to stay for the festival.
The problem with Peter’s suggestion is that it equates Jesus with Moses and Elijah. These two men had a great place in history. They led and taught the people God’s law and pointed them towards God. But Jesus was (and is) the incarnation God. Moses and Elijah were temporary players on the world stage. Jesus is a permanent player on the eternal stage. Jesus is greater than any man.
It is the same with all of God’s children. We are to point others to Christ with our lives. But we are not to be worshipped. We deserve no honor or glory. We should just be thankful to be used by God as He sees fit to accomplish His purposes in the lives of others. Jesus is the only one who deserves our praise.
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