It is He, the Messiah / Miracle man, part of the plan / It is He, the Messiah / Life in His hand / I understand it is He – Michael W. Smith, Could He Be the Messiah, from the 1983 album “Project”
We come to the end of our first year on this blog and find ourselves at a curious point in Matthew’s gospel where he is not physically present for the story that begins chapter seventeen. The narrative found here (and also in Mark 9 and Luke 9) specifically points to only three disciples being privy to the events which are commonly known as the Transfiguration of Jesus (v. 1-2), and Matthew is not one of them. Moreover, Jesus specifically commands Peter, James and John (the three who were present) NOT to talk about what they experienced until AFTER He had been raised from the dead (v. 9).
Several things supposedly happen: 1) Jesus’ appearance changes greatly (v. 2); 2) suddenly Moses and Elijah appear (v. 3); 3) Peter sticks his foot in his mouth again (v. 4); and 4) God the Father speaks to the group, terrifying the disciples (v. 5).
I don’t know about you but I have lots of questions. If Peter, James, John and Jesus are the only ones on that mountain top, and nobody talks about it until much later, when and how does Matthew find out about what happens up there? Why does he choose to include an event he was not present for? Don’t other people find that suspicious? Maybe that’s not such a big deal since Matthew records the birth of Jesus and he wasn’t there for that either.
More questions: How did they recognize Moses and Elijah? Both men lived hundreds of years apart and no one present (save Jesus, if He is God) was alive when either of them walked the earth. Does Jesus make introductions? If so, what was that moment like?
It’s a very odd story. Matthew records that Jesus gets deep into conversation with Moses and Elijah (v. 3). It’s a relationship matter and one we should value more in our current society of only staring at our cell phones. The footnotes of my Study Bible mention that in “God’s world, interactions count highly…Good conversations act as training for eternity” (p. 1578).
In any event, we’re not told what they were talking about nor why only these two great old testament figures show up. Why not King David? Or Daniel? Or Ruth? The footnotes also state that “Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Moses represents the law, or the old covenant. He wrote the Pentateuch…Elijah represents the prophets who foretold the coming Messiah…Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus confirmed Jesus’ messianic mission: to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets” (p. 1578). So there’s that.
Maybe the focus should be on Peter, the only disciple recorded as having spoken up during this whole event. He probably should be worshipping the Christ, instead he’s making useless suggestions for building temporary tabernacles – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. In a sense, he’s trying to make the moment more permanent. And aren’t we all like that? We want to keep our mountaintop experiences going and set up residence. Can you imagine if he had been allowed to build his monuments? What an archeological find that would be for later.
But still, Peter wrongly suggests memorializing the moment. God the Father interrupts and refocuses the disciples. He speaks in order to give authority to the words of Jesus much like He did on Mount Sinai when Moses was given the law (Exodus 19:9). As a result, all three of the disciples fall face down (hey, they are worshipping after all!) and when they look up again, Elijah and Moses are gone. It’s just Jesus, touching them; reassuring them that everything is ok. And isn’t that just like Him?
All in all, I’m not quite sure what can be gleaned from this strange narrative other than this Jesus guy is one unique Being. I don’t know of anybody else in human history who glows, talks with physical manifestations of dead people, and gets props from a bodiless voice in the heavens. He almost sounds like He should be a Shakespearean character. But He’s not. And this story is just one more piece of evidence to add to the growing pile that He is who He claims to be. Maybe that’s why Matthew includes it. He’s building an airtight case for a Messiah with his Jewish audience.
As if Jesus could be someone else.