And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
This passage of Scripture, excerpted from the 9th chapter of Luke (and quoted here from the New American Standard version of the Bible) has so many incredible implications and questions that volumes of speculation could be crafted about it.
If you're not familiar with the context of the passage, Jesus was seeking some prayerful solitude at the top of a mountain (having just fed 5,000 people a week earlier) and brought along a few of His disciples (Peter, James, and John). Those three probably had no clue about the scene that was about to unfold. And, as was often the case, they fell asleep, only to awake to the incredible tableau.
I'm not qualified to do a rigorous exegesis of the passage, but as a curious and overly imaginative reader, here are some random thoughts I have whenever I read it:
- When I was a corporate drone, I was part of a small team that went to the headquarters office in Los Angeles to make a presentation to corporate staff. At that time, my employer was one of the ten largest companies in the U.S. During a break in the meeting, we were standing around shooting the breeze with some of the corporate guys, including the CEO, and I thought, "how cool is this, to be hobknobbing with a guy who makes more in a week than I do in a year?" Now, multiply that feeling by about a billion, and perhaps we get an idea of what Moses and Elijah were thinking as they conversed with the CEO of the Universe.
- On the other hand, were they talking to Jesus God, or to Jesus Man, if you know what I mean? They were discussing "His departure," which I interpret to mean His crucifixion and death, so perhaps divinity took a backseat to humanity in this instance.
- Anyway, I would love to know the nature of the conversation. Were Moses and Elijah encouraging Jesus? Were they comforting Him, or giving Him advice? Did they really know the details of what was about to happen? And if they did, how did they find out? Does God conduct staff meetings and share things like that with a few special folks? And what was Jesus saying to them? "Yeah, I'm really dreading my little trip to Jerusalem. I don't suppose you guys want to come with me...? These guys I have now have good hearts, but man, they fall asleep easily." OK, seriously though - what did they talk about?
- A couple of verses later in this passage, Dr. Luke refers to the departure of Moses and Elijah, and even that intrigues me. Elijah already had a reputation for dramatic exits, but this sort of sounds like they just...walked off? To where? Was there a stairway to heaven? An escalator? Am I being too literal? Perhaps.
- And, finally, while we have a lot of details about what happened to Jesus following this event, I don't recall reading any other reports from or about Moses and Elijah. So, I wonder if they went back to the Father and filled Him in on the confab. Of course, He already knew all the details, but perhaps it was for their benefit, although to what purpose I can't imagine. It's not like they needed anything else to bolster their faith, for example. I mean, you're already in heaven, getting your marching orders directly from the top.
- And speaking of that, this just occurred to me: why did God send those two, instead of His angels, like He did after Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness? Was it important for Jesus to converse with other humans (albeit glorified ones)?
I could go on and on; this is one of those passages that just unfolds like a mystical, infinite origami, revealing more mysterious beauty with each new exposed surface. If you have any insights, revelations, or questions of your own about it, I'd love to hear them.
It's only fair to look at what one theologian has to say about this passage. William Barclay calls the transfiguration "another of the great hinges in Jesus' life upon earth." He goes on to say:
What happened on the Mount of Transfiguration we can never know, but we do know that something tremendous did happen. Jesus had gone there to seek the approval of God for the decisive step he was about to take. There Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great law-giver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel's life and thought and religion told Jesus to go on.