On the Mount of Transfiguration
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Matthew 17:3
Why Moses and Elijah? I think it is very significant that God chose to bring these two men to the mount to speak with his Son. Of course Moses represents the Law of God. But Elijah is significant because he represents the prophets. Though Matthew doesn’t mention the topic of their conversation, according to Luke they had come to talk to Jesus about his death (Lk. 9:31).
The truth that this points us to is that Jesus is the key to the whole Bible and the rightful object of our faith. The Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) witness to him. The Jews would often speak of the Scriptures in terms of the Law and the Prophets (cf. Acts 24:14). So this event underscores the truth that all the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. It speaks of his death and his redemptive work.
The preeminence of Christ over Moses and Elijah implies this. The one to whom they point is greater than they. The Law and the Prophets are the shadow, but the body is of Christ (Col. 2:17). When Peter wakes up (Luke provides us with the information that the disciples had gone to sleep, and when they awoke they saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, Lk. 9:32), he says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Mt. 17:4). According to Mark, Peter spoke these words out of fear (Mk. 9:6). I don’t think he was really thinking about what he was saying. Essentially, these words were offensive to Jesus, for Peter was putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah (they all would get a tabernacle). And so he gets rebuked by God the Father: “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid” (ver. 5-6). Jesus is not just another Moses or Elijah. Rather, he stands over the Law and the Prophets as the one to whom both prophesied and pointed.
The disciples are to hear God’s Son. Does this mean that they are not to listen to the Scriptures of the Old Testament? No, they (and we) are to hear the Scriptures. We must never forget that the primary reference of 2 Tim. 3:15-17 is the Old Testament. The prophets are still a more sure word of prophesy (2 Pet. 1:19). We don’t hear the Son by turning away our ears from the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Rather, we hear the Son by seeing him in the Old Testament. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, as our Lord himself said in Matthew 5:17-20. Hearing Jesus means that we listen to him in the Old Testament since in its pages he is prophesied, and we listen to him in the New Testament since in its pages he is revealed.
The Bible is a unity because all of it speaks of Jesus Christ. All of it in one way or another points to him. And so when we open our Bibles, we ought to be looking for and hearing Jesus.
By the way, the command, “Here ye him,” is not just an invitation to merely sit down and listen to his words without being committed to obedience and faith. Rather, the call to hear Jesus is a call to listen in such a way that our listening is attended with faith and obedience. Is does us no good to hear Jesus if we do not obey him. It is the mark of those who belong to Christ that they hear and follow him: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:27-28).
At this point, the disciples were terrified (ver. 6). For this reason, I love the fact that the awesome display of the glory of Christ is immediately followed by the approachableness of Christ: “And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid” (ver. 7). The Son of God, who just a moment before stood before them in unapproachable light, now touches the disciples and comforts them. Yes, we serve an awesome God. And we serve a loving and gentle and gracious God. We come boldly unto a throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). We come to a throne – there is the glory of Christ; and we come to a throne of grace – there is the approachableness of Christ. Thank God there is both. Since he is on a throne, shining in the glory of his sovereign reign, we know that we come to one who has power to meet our deepest needs. And since it is a throne of grace, we know that we can come with confidence that he will not turn us away.
Once our Lord had put his hands on the trembling disciples, who no doubt had been doubled up on the ground with their hands over their faces, they look up, and “saw no man, save Jesus only” (ver. 8). Oh that God would give us grace to turn our faces away from everything else, and see Jesus only! But again, it points to the priority of Jesus over all other religious figures. Moses and Elijah had gone and Christ remains. He is the key to all that God has to say to us. He is the Word of God incarnate and all that God has to say to us is summed up in him. God did speak to the fathers by the prophets, but now speaks to us by his Son (Heb. 1:1-2). Let us therefore hear him.