The Transfiguration has for a long time been a confusing event. Questions such as, why was Moses up there? Why was Elijah up there? What did it mean? Why did Jesus only take 3 of His disciples, and not all of them, and how did the 3 even know who Moses and Elijah were? In this article below, I hope to help answer some of these questions, as well as others, and we’ll begin with what’s going on in the transfiguration:
There are 3 things going on in Mark’s account of the Transfiguration:
- Introduction / prelude to the New Covenant
- Misunderstandings look to the old ways of doing things
- The Identity of Jesus
1) I’ve always wondered why Jesus took up with Him only 3 disciples, and of the 3, why these? I can understand Peter and John, for Peter would be one of the leaders of the Jewish/Christian Church to come. John would be the seer and translator of Revelation (as well as the longest-living of the original 12 Apostles), so it was also important for him to experience the Transfiguration, but why James, I don’t know, for he would be the first of the 11 to be martyred (killed by the sword). And while we’re on this, why were Elijah and Moses there with Jesus?
- The deliverer of the Old Covenant.
- Brought God’s people from slavery to freedom (as Christ did with all of humankind…yet this doesn’t take effect unless it’s accepted).
- Said that one day, the Lord would raise up somebody like him. Jesus was the one that God was talking about in verse 18, and also the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, who set into place the New Covenant.
- Moses did not make it into the promised land because he gave into the people. Jesus, did NOT give into the people, but instead remained obedient to and centered on God and the original plan (failed mission fulfilled in Christ?)
- Jesus Himself said that Elijah would come before the Messiah, as mentioned also in Malachi 4:5.
- Elijah is also the one who the Jews hope will return when they celebrate the Passover (they leave a chair open for him should he arrive to their home). So Elijah was the prelude to the coming of the Messiah.
- Elijah did already come, not reincarnated in John the Baptist, but in character and mission.
- Jesus mentioned that the people did to Elijah as they wished…and they will do so also to the Messiah.
- Had already died
- Were prominent figures in the Old Covenant
- Were obedient servants of God
- Knew “the big plan” (Gospel)
- Had resurrected bodies…so if the 3 disciples wondered about an afterlife, this was great encouragement of life, as well as the resurrection.
But how did the 3 men know it was Elijah and Moses standing before them? Often times when I’m in the presence of somebody that I had met before, only I forgot their name, the Holy Spirit will remind me of their name. So I wonder if maybe here, the Holy Spirit let the 3 know who was standing before them, talking with Jesus?
2 and 3) Some time back, my wife and I were reflecting on previous bosses, or people in our lives where we always wanted to say the right thing, but instead ended up saying the most incorrect thing. For example, say you want to impress your boss, or be on their good side, so when you’re alone with them (one on one meeting), stop by their office, etc., you need to ask a question to start up a conversation. But instead of asking something that you could learn from, or that would impress them of your advanced skills, as you would like it to do, what comes out of your mouth is something basic that not only you should know already (and often do), but that everybody in your position should know already, making it look like you don’t. So out of intimidation, instead of impressing your boss with a difficult question that may put you first on their list for future projects, your basic question has caused them to question your skills and abilities as a competent employee there overall.
Similarly, Peter was in awe, but also terrified of what he was seeing. So just to break the silence, and maybe to become part of the event or to better understand, he blurts out the wrong thing. The problem with suggesting the 3 tents though was that, though such was a practice of old Israelite Law, by doing so, Simon was actually suggesting that the 3 of them (Jesus, Moses, Elijah) were of equal ranking, or stature. But they weren’t equal to Jesus. He was also suggesting that their presence remain there. It’s like those mountain peak moments that you never want to end. But unfortunately, they do have to end, and soon you will have to walk back down the mountain and back to the world (and no doubt, when they got back down, they surely realized they were back). Then, God the Father comes out in a large cloud and reveals Jesus as His Son whom He loves (and that they should listen to Him).
Only 2 other places in scripture mention God’s presence appearing in a cloud: Jesus’ baptism, and in Exodus when the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness. During Jesus’ baptism, God the Father appeared in the cloud, revealed Jesus as His Son, and told of how He’s very pleased with Him. And in Exodus 33:7-8, Moses would pitch a tent outside the camp some distance away. He called it the “Tent of Meeting”. Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go into it. So the tents were the way they did things in the old days. But now, God’s presence was in Jesus.
The main point about the cloud is not only that the Father’s presence was in it, but also His command to listen to His Son was not only a command to listen to Him, but some suggest that His using 2 key people were in order to proclaim Jesus’ identity, and that by interrupting the disciples’ suggestion of the tents, He was presenting the New Covenant…no need for shrines or tents for communicating to God, now we go through Christ His Son.
Remember, the reason God spoke through both Moses and prophets of old was because the people were too afraid to be spoken to by God directly. So Moses and the Prophets were mediators. But now, Jesus is the mediator between us and the Father.
Basically, the point is that even after all this awesomeness, they still didn’t get the point, for scripture reminds us from here on out that none of these 3 men remembered any of this experience, nor figured out the meaning of it, until AFTER Jesus’ resurrection.
Group Study Questions:
- Have you ever experienced a miraculous sign from God? If so, tell the rest of the group about it. What about it made it obvious that it was from God?
- I know some people who, even if God throws something their way that brings them to their knees in praise, they’ll tend to forget it ever happened no more than a couple days later. Do you know anybody like this? Why do you think they (or you?) forget so quickly?
- Why do you think God shows Himself to us when and in the ways that He does? What do you think He wants us to do with these “God Experiences?” Respond (in prayer and action) to your answer to this.