Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration



The event that is commonly referred to as the “transfiguration” has been a source of considerable interest and has generated differences of opinion.  The purpose or reason that this event has been included in the Scriptures, evidently, is not clear-cut.  There are translations that describe Moses and Elijah, being  resurrected to a state of glory.  There are also translations that reserve any glory described in the verses picturing the event, as belonging only to Jesus Christ.

The “men” that Peter, James, and John saw when they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus was a one of a kind Biblical event.  According to Mark in chapter 9 verse10  and other places, these men saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.  These verses have produced two significant questions.  Was this a “vision” that Peter James and John saw and not flesh and blood men?  And, were Moses and Elijah also seen in a glorified way as the KJV of Luke 9:30-31 would lead one to think?  This paper is written to provide the evidence of a very important reason of why Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah as resurrected living “men” and Jesus, and only Jesus, as being glorified.  

Both of these questions have a direct bearing on a very distinct and vital purpose for the whole event.  To help appreciate why a glorified Jesus was seen  talking with Moses and Elijah we have to consider who the people of Judea thought Jesus was.  There was a universal misunderstanding as to who Jesus actually might be.  They were looking for a savior, a liberator, and Jesus was not fulfilling their expectations.  He hadn’t exhibited any intension to take the ruler ship of Israel away from Rome and become the “King of kings”.  In their mind he was not fulfilling the role of the Messiah even though he was well known for doing miracles.  The conclusion of the people was recorded in Luke 9:7-8, and 18-19.  Also in Mark 8:27-28 and in Mat 16:13-14.


Luke 9:18  And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?

19  They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.


Luke 9:19 clearly shows that the people were well acquainted with the belief that God could raise people from the dead to a physical life.  Jesus did raise people from the dead to live again.  And, at the time of Jesus resurrection many were resurrected from their graves.

Mat 27: 50  Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51  And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

52  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

53  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.


It is interesting to me that after the resurrection of Jesus, it is recorded that followers of Jesus referred to him as a prophet rather than the “messiah”.


Luke 24:15  And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

16  But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

17  And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

18  And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

19  And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a “prophet” mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

24  And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

25  Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26  Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?





Luke 9:28-36 provides a description of what happened on the day of Christ’s transfiguration.


Luke 9: 28  And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.

29  And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.

30  And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:

31  Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

32  But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.

33  And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.

34  While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.

35  And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

36  And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.


In verse 30, Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah who are described as “men”.  It is not in any way described as a vision or apparition.  The book of revelation does describe a series of “visions” that John saw.  I think it’s important to provide the details for the word that is used to describe Moses and Elijah.  The word is the Greek word “aner” and is Strong’s #435.  This word is used 212 times.  In all those times, except for four instances, it is clearly used as a reference to human beings.  One of those four instances is the subject of this paper and the others occur when apparently angel’s speak to both men and women.  We know that the spirit beings of angels have the ability to manifest themselves as “men”.  The statement that we may entertain angels unawares helps to confirm that capability.  We also know that Jesus Christ in his spiritual reality was able to manifest himself as a human being, being able to be physically touched. 

There were times in the Old Testament that the dead were brought to life and there were times that at Jesus command there were those who were brought to life.  Consequently, we are shown that God will bring the dead to life, to physical life, at ANY time to fulfill a purpose.  With this evidence, we can be assured that Moses and Elijah could be brought out of their “sleep” and appear in their physical form during the transfiguration of Jesus.

The next thing to consider is whether Moses and Elijah were seen by Peter, James and John in a glorified form as Jesus was seen by them.  The reason that this is a question is because of the wording given by the KJV and other translation for Luke 9 verse 30and 31.


30  And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:

31  Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.


The following is the wording from the “literal” Greek text.


And behold men two talked with Him who were Moses and Elijah who appearing in glory spoke of the exodus of Him which He was about to finish in Jerusalem


Again, one might think that this wording supports the idea that Moses and Elijah were glorified.  But, there are several things to consider that would work against that conclusion.  First, there is no punctuation in the Greek to help with the meaning of a sentence.  If the words, “who were Moses and Elijah”, were bracketed with comas, the meaning could change.  The words in the first part of the sentence would be related to the last part of the sentence.  “And behold men two talked with Him”, ---------------- “who appearing in glory spoke of the exodus of Him which He was about to finish in Jerusalem.  ”.  


The “Young’s Literal Translation” provides that sense of understanding.  Verse 29 shows that Jesus had already appeared in glory and verse 31 speaks to that fact.   


Luke 9:30  And lo, two men were speaking together with him, who were Moses and Elijah,

31  who having appeared in glory, spake of his outgoing that he was about to fulfil in Jerusalem,


Next, the other two places in Matthew and Mark that records this event do not ascribe any glorification to Moses and Elijah.  Finally and most importantly is what is stated in verse 32.  When Peter James and John awoke out of their sleepy-ness they saw only the glory of Jesus (“his” glory – not their glory).  Then it is simply stated that they saw the two men that stood with him. 


32  But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.


A firm conclusion can be made that the only person that was seen in a glorified state by Peter James and John was Jesus Christ.  This is an essential premise that supports a crucial reason that God provided this event.  It helped to lay a true foundation for the church to be built upon.

 As mentioned earlier the people were very confused as to the true identity of Jesus.  But, this didn’t seem to be the case for at least one of Christ’s disciples.    


Mat 16: 13  When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.


            Matthew 16:16 tells us that Peter stated that he believed that Jesus was Christ the Messiah.  Even though he answered correctly, we have to ask; how credible, or well founded, was his belief?  Remember that he denied being acquainted with the Messiah three times.  There was an imperative need that the apostles, after they received the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit, could look back upon a body of evidence that revealed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah.

            Unqualified evidence was given that Jesus was the Messiah through the event that Peter, James and John observed.  They saw a resurrection to life of Moses and Elijah.  Moses and Elijah were brought out of their “sleep”, to their physical bodies, so that Peter, James and John could compare these principle men of God to Jesus Christ. 

              Jesus alone was glorified which set him apart from Moses and Elijah.  The final point that separated Jesus from the most righteous of all that preceded him was the voice that came out of the cloud saying “This is my beloved Son:  hear him”.  Peter, James and John were given this evidence to help them fully understand that Jesus was the Messiah, not only the Savior of Judah but of all of mankind.  They were the principle apostles and vital to the establishment of the Church of God upon the foundation of truth, being accurate witnesses of that truth

      These final verses provide evidence that the “transfiguration” was an important factor in the personal relationship that Peter, James and John had with Jesus when he was on this earth. 


John 1:14  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.


2Pe 1:16  For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the  power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

17  For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

18  And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.