On the mount of transfiguration, Peter sees Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. They converse as equals, so it seems, except that Moses and Elijah have stepped out of history to have this encounter. Both Moses and Elijah left earth mysteriously. Nothing is explained about this meeting or even how long it lasted. The disciples are wowed by what might be like George Washington and Abe Lincoln meeting with a president elect ready to enter the White House as Secret Service agents observe them. But consider: this is not new for Moses. He spoke with the Lord as with a friend. He spent weeks with the Lord on a very different mountain. Now the flesh and blood Jesus talks with Moses. But the Voice they all hear makes it clear that Jesus supersedes the great lawgiver and famous, brave prophet. The law and the prophets were until John (the Baptist).
But let us back up to the beginning of this story of Matthew. He has just quoted Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Jesus had said several things that the disciples did not understand and this was among them. He had spoken meaningfully but cryptically to them. It would be easy to say that the next event relates to the statement but it does not directly relate. What is on Jesus’s mind? What weighs on his heart as the end nears?
He is about to die and he knows it. He also knows the great purpose of this act. This is essential to the kingdom of God breaking into this world. He began his ministry by saying the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s near. He knows his path is narrowing to the point where he will walk alone to his death. But he thinks of how the kingdom of God will collect people from many nations. He rejects the Pharisees and Sadducees request for a sign. Too late. The signs have been given with only one left: the sign of Jonah. The sign of a man who disappears and returns from certain death. The one who returned from the depth with a message for the people of Nineveh.
Everything he says points directly to his person, his role, his work. He tells the disciples to be silent, for now, about who he is. He explains to them what will happen but they can’t bear to hear it. He speaks of the future glory and reward that follows complete commitment. Some will see the blossoming of the kingdom before they die. Matthew says six days later… He relates this to cryptic sayings about his death and the kingdom’s birth. This is the purpose of God from the beginning: that men would live on earth in harmony with God in his kingdom.
Jesus explains nothing as he takes three men up a high mountain. Like Abraham taking his son, Isaac up a mountain, he explains nothing, only leads. Why doesn’t he go alone? Why does he take them? Because he longs to show them his glory. Now they can have a glimpse of it. He changes before them. It is written that Moses’s face did shine when he came down from a mountain. But Jesus is shining like the sun. And they see Moses talking with Jesus. I know Elijah is there as well but we will focus on Moses. Moses had talked with the Lord on earth many years before. Now they speak as men who have both lived on earth. No one on earth understands what Jesus is doing now. He goes to Moses for counsel but what they say is not known. But he speaks with two men who knew rejection and stood apart from others in communion with the Lord. He does not explain any of this to the three disciples.
But let us look again at Moses. Moses spent forty years with people who had every reason to have faith but balked at each test until they were denied entry to the Promised Land. Moses spent his time with this generation until all but a tiny few remained. He tells his three disciples not to speak about this remarkable event until he is ‘raised from the dead.’ They ask about Elijah. He responds that Elijah will come and yet has come. Another mystery.
But what have we seen? Maybe what we have seen is Jesus with two men that can converse with him because of their earthly experience. Peter’s suggestion of shelters for them may relate to a lengthy talk between those three who showed their fellowship while breaching time itself. Again, no explanation by Jesus but we can understand how Jesus might want to talk with those who can relate to his moment in time. Jesus, in this supernatural event, shows his humanity in that he wants to talk with men who understand him. What manner of man is this? His humanity and divinity are apparent in a seamless way.
He comes down the mountain and, like Moses, is dismayed that his followers have lost focus. Now he would like to see his disciples pushing back the darkness but no such thing is happening. “What’s wrong?” they say. Too little faith! But he encourages them to take heart and find the faith to do great things. Small but genuine faith can upend a mountain.
Unlike Moses, who faltered when he saw the people in pursuit of a false god, Jesus does not lose heart and takes the situation in hand. Maybe his talk with Moses and Elijah reminded him that though each of them faltered, they came out faithful in the end. Jesus speaks of a perverse and faithless generation. How long must I put up with you? Moses had put up with a generation that had failed the test. Elijah had a generation that embraced the false Baal. He executed Baal’s false prophets and then was hunted by the leaders for standing with God. What better men to talk with? These men had born with a generation that disappointed them for much of their lives. Did they encourage Jesus to look past the lack of faith and see the future generation(s).
We try to understand what they saw. The conversation was not for them but the sight of it was. But, look, this Jesus brings together in one moment his disciples and two of his faithful servants who held to God while so many around them let go of truth and faith. But Jesus, unlike Moses or Elijah will not lose heart. He will continue with those who should now have faith. He will succeed where all other men have failed. He will do all the will of God. The Son of Man will bear all things as a man for all men. He will complete the course until he says, “It is finished.”
In our time, He offers to each of us all we need. He treats us as people of great possibility. He pours out his Spirit on all flesh. He welcomes us as though we had never done wrong. He is glad to forget our sins and comes close to us.
Look how the Lord has always come to befriend men, from Adam to now. He always desires to be as close as possible. He has gotten rid of all obstacles to our friendship with Him. He has done all and is doing all and will do all to bring us into the complete human experience. He wants to glorify us and let us share his glory. He lets us serve so that he can reward us. He lets us experience difficulties that we might overcome through him. He does not look down from above but is alongside to help. He only shows his greatness to show his great help.