The Transfer of Honor
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: Matt. 17:3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Luke 9:31
Matt. 17:3 (Holman) “Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
talking to Him.”
Before we look deeply at our text, I want us to notice, as a sidebar, truths about Heaven this story reinforces. Three teachings of the Bible, our only source of sure knowledge about life after death, are incidentally pictured here.
One, in Heaven we will be ourselves, and knowable as such. Notice, on this mount, Moses is still Moses; Elijah is still Elijah; and both are recognizable.
Two, when Christ-followers die, they immediately go to Heaven. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We neither slip into soul sleep nor enter a netherworld, but are immediately with Jesus.
In my first pastorate, at age 18 I assisted in a funeral. The main preacher said the deceased man was now asleep and would wake up on Resurrection Day. Even as a teenage preacher, I knew this was wrong information.
The dead in Christ are in Heaven. Their earthly bodies will someday be retrieved from the elements and absorbed up into their heavenly bodies.
Three, saints here cannot talk to saints there. Moses and Elijah were “talking to Him”, only to Jesus, not to the disciples. There is no communication between us and our departed loved ones. They cannot talk to us; we cannot talk to them. All Heavenward communication is to be directed solely toward God.
Now we turn to our text. The Transfiguration was a miracle containing many miracles. As Deity shined through Jesus’ skin, Moses and Elijah came to speak with Him. Maybe they didn’t come “down” to Jesus as much as He went “up” to them, re-entering their realm, the dimension He had lived in with them.
We know Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about “His death, which He was about to accomplish” (Luke 9:31). “Death” here translates the Greek word “exodus”. His death would be a departure, not a destruction; an exit, not an extinction. They could have possibly discussed several points of interest.
One, maybe they thanked Him for what He was about to do, expressing gratitude for proving their lives and ministries had not been in vain. For their work to be ratified, Jesus had to endure the cross. Moses’ Law was fulfilled in history’s most lawless crime. Elijah’s preaching proved richest in what seemed weakest. Jesus could fulfill what they began. They were counting on Him.
Others were too. Behind the two bright shining men were dimmer, unseen millions who had died in faith. For centuries, believers had clung to hope, trusting Moses and Elijah’s foreshadowing of the coming One would be fulfilled someday. Countless thousands had laid on deathbeds wondering, “How long, Lord, how long till the predictions are fulfilled?” Now the question was answered satisfactorily. Through Moses and Elijah an army of departed saints was shouting to Jesus, “Thank You!” When did we last tell Him thanks?
Two, maybe Moses and Elijah were transferring all their honor to Jesus. They were each saying, “It’s not about me”. This is one of life’s most difficult lessons to learn. For instance, the hardest part of our church beginning a contemporary worship service was in me–I had to get past my own self-concern and insecurities. I’m learning that church planting is another me-less activity.
Selflessness was not an automatic for Moses and Elijah. The Law and the prophets were the apex of Israel’s history and achievements. People almost idolized these two men, who now let it be known they were at best lesser lights.
They humbly laid their ministries at Jesus’ feet, letting it be known Jesus was the One they had seen from afar. The Law and prophets presaged Jesus.
Moses struck the rock that pictured Jesus; the greater Rock with better water had come. Elijah offered sacrifice on Carmel; a better sacrifice had come.
The hand that held the Law and the hand that whirled a mantle to part the Jordan now pointed to Jesus. The one that received the Law on one mountain, and the one who called down fire from Heaven on a second mountain, now on a third mountain transferred all their honor to the One who created all mountains.
Three, maybe they came to commemorate the fulcrum of history. In our ultimate hour of need, in our deepest darkest midnight, God sent neither Moses nor Elijah, but invaded history Himself to deal with our sin. Moses and Elijah stamped the Father’s signature on the excruciating choice Jesus was making.
Few events better picture the cross as the pivotal axis of history than does Jesus’ Transfiguration. Look who’s present at it; primary predecessors and key successors. Moses and Elijah had prepared the world for Christ’s first coming. Peter, James, and John would prepare the world for His second coming.
Moses and Elijah foresaw the cross. Peter, James, and John experienced it. It is the grand fulcrum of history, the hinge of human life, the cornerstone and capstone of human existence. Take it out and only skeletal ruins remain.
The cross is the main theme in Heaven’s music, and should be in Earth’s too. Always sing with all your might when singing songs about the blood.
The cross is the glory of the Old Covenant as its fulfillment, and the glory of the New Covenant as its foundation. The resurrection is the proof, guaranteeing Jesus truly did pay our sin debt at the cross. Nothing could ever be more important than this event that determines everlasting destinies.
Four, maybe they came to comfort Jesus. When He shared His soul’s dark secret—that He would die in Jerusalem—the Twelve, eaten up with their own grief, were unable to comfort Him. The cross was uppermost in Jesus’ mind, but none of the disciples could comprehend the magnitude of the event.
Moses and Elijah understood. They came to comfort Jesus. Angels came after the wilderness temptation and in the agony of Gethsemane; Moses and Elijah came at the Transfiguration. History rose up behind Jesus, cheering Him, and urging Him to go on.
Moses and Elijah were the best ones to send on this errand of comfort. They knew the sadness of being misunderstood. They had endured the anger of sinners against them. Moses saved an ungrateful nation from Egypt’s bondage. Elijah saved an ungrateful nation from Ahab and Jezebel’s apostasy.
Moses and Elijah, who each had an unusual exodus from Earth, could assure Jesus there is more after this life. Elijah left in a chariot of fire (2 K 2:11), having none but Elisha with him in his final hours on Earth. Elijah’s body was glorified without ever having to go through the portals of death.
Moses died on a lonely mount (DT 34:5-6), having no one but God with him at the end. Moses’ body experienced an extraordinary after-death event.
His corpse, buried by God Himself in an unmarked grave, has never been found by humans. When the devil tried to steal Moses’ body, Michael became its special guardian (Jude 9). The Lord would not let Satan have it, as if to say He wasn’t finished with it yet. There was more yet to come for Moses.
Five, maybe Moses and Elijah came from Heaven to remind Jesus of an even greater coming from Heaven someday. Maybe this forward look was their last word of encouragement for the Transfigured One. Only two came from Heaven this day. Only two were needed to bear witness. But someday Jesus will come with armies of His saints to rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.