The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ was a miraculous display of God’s power conveying His pleasure in the works of His Son. Not only was it a marvelous witness to the three apostles who were present, but to all of us as well. What does this glorious manifestation of God signify to us today? Did you ever wonder why it was Moses and Elijah who were talking with Jesus? What does their presence really signify? This treatise will expound on the mysterious significance of the Transfiguration as a journey of each individual soul and of mankind as a whole in their relationship with God.
It was when Jesus took Peter, John and James up onto a mountain to pray, that the Transfiguration took place. The three apostles had fallen asleep, but awoke to find Jesus transfigured, with his appearance shining in the brightness and glory of God. With him were Moses and Elijah, who also appeared in glory. They were discussing the death of Jesus that would come to pass at Jerusalem. As Moses and Elijah began to depart, there came a bright cloud that overshadowed them. The voice of God sounded from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.” See Matt 17:1-9 and Mark 9:2-9 to read more.
What is of significant interest here is how the three persons of the Transfiguration were in different states of being, but yet were transfigured into one state. Moses had died centuries before and was most certainly but a spirit and Jesus was alive in a body of flesh, while Elijah, on the other hand, was in a translated state. These three states of being in these three persons is the key to unlocking the deeper mysteries of the Transfiguration. We will examine these three states and persons individually and then discuss the significance of their union in one perfected state by the power of God.
Moses, the lawgiver, was called by God to deliver the Israelites from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Having faith in God, he performed mighty miracles as a witness to the Egyptians and led the children of Israel out to freedom in the wilderness. Upon their departure from Egypt, the armies of Pharaoh came after them in an attempt to bring them back under bondage. Moses parted the Red Sea by the power of God so that the Israelites could walk on dry ground to the other side. The armies attempted to follow and were then destroyed by the return of the waters over the dry ground. It was after this that God delivered the Ten Commandments and the law unto the children of Israel through Moses.
The appearance of Moses in the Transfiguration represents the past, the status of our souls before our salvation, and the state of the world before the coming of Jesus Christ. At the time of the Transfiguration, he was physically dead and still awaiting the fulfillment of the promise for deliverance of his soul. We were given the law by Moses and he symbolizes the laws of God and the death that follows. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin and by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified in the sight of God. Every one of us is guilty of sin, for we are all incapable of being obedient on our own accord. Those who do not have the salvation that comes through Christ are condemned already, for it is impossible that the law in itself can bring salvation to sinful man. This is the meaning of statements by Jesus such as “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Moses signifies our fallen, hopeless state of the past, both for our souls and for the whole world; the establishment of the laws of God that we, as mere sinful men and women, were unable to obey. All were damned to eternal hell fire, for no one could be righteous and holy, acceptable unto God. Yet, the law also brought hope. It told of the perfection that was to come through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ represents the present state of both our souls as Christians and of the world as it has been since the blessing of His incarnation. At the time of the Transfiguration, He was alive, representing the fulfillment of the laws and the prophets unto life as signified by the presence of Moses and Elijah. He is the hope of salvation to the living that are in the flesh, both then and now. He is the life and light of the world forever more.
Jesus has freed us from the law that damned us to death, fulfilling it by his obedience and bringing forth life. Lacking sin, He overcame the law and nailed it to the cross with the sacrifice of Himself, that we as Christians may be freed from the bondage of the law. By His victory and sacrifice, we too have defeated the law and the certain death that follows. Free from the law, we are now under grace with the promise of eternal life; this is the present state of every soul who knows Jesus. The gift of salvation and life through Christ is still offered freely unto all who choose to accept it and receive deliverance from the law unto life. Life is now in the world, and mankind now has hope.
Elijah, though of the past, represents the future state of our souls and of the world. At the time of the Transfiguration, Elijah was in a translated state while yet destined to again walk the earth during the last days as one of the two prophets who stand before the Almighty Living God. He shall proceed the second coming of the Lord and lead the resurrection of the just (Rev. 11:3-12). As a prophet of old, Elijah was taken up into heaven by God without tasting of death, where he is reserved unto the last days. He is the only Old Testament prophet to raise the dead other than Elisha; and even Elisha was blessed with a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. The prophet Elijah is a glimpse of the future; our hope of resurrection and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Shortly after the Transfiguration, this hope was reinforced with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the first wave offering of souls that were resurrected with Him (Matt. 27:52-53).
The participation of the prophet Elijah in the Transfiguration signifies the future fulfillment of our salvation through Jesus Christ unto the resurrection of our bodies incorruptible and immortal. It is the perfection of our being with the destruction of our sinful nature: The Day of the Lord when we will shine like the stars with the brightness of the firmament for ever and ever. We shall be more precious than fine gold, even than the golden wedge of Ophir. Jesus told us that we would be as the angels of heaven and the apostle Paul said we would be in the likeness of the resurrected Christ. This is our promise of redemption from God and the completion of our salvation unto life eternal.
The future state of the world signified by the prophet Elijah is the fulfillment of the last day prophecies. Elijah lived in the past when the law was unto death, and was in spirit and power through John the Baptist when life came into the world, and he will be present on the earth in the future when the decision by each soul for life through Jesus Christ or death through the law will be finalized. He symbolizes the blessings and judgments upon the world as a whole with the deliverance of the Christians and the destruction of the wicked at the return of Jesus Christ. For he is one of those who will bring plagues of judgment upon the ungodly damned to the second death as well as lead the resurrection unto life for those who have accepted the gift of salvation through Christ.
The union of Jesus, Moses and Elijah together transfigured in glory represents the completion and perfection of the divine plan in both the soul of man and the world as a whole. It symbolizes the fulfillment of God’s will, when all will be all in all through the work of God in Jesus Christ. The Father himself overshadowed the three conveying his approval and joy in the divine plan that would be perfected through the Son.
All three persons of this trio represent both deliverance and damnation upon mankind, the acceptance of life and death by each individual soul. The acts of Moses that brought the plagues upon the Egyptians, delivered the godly, and destroyed the wicked, were a shadow of the end of things that would come to pass upon the whole world through Jesus Christ with the testimony and finalization of the prophet Elijah. Taken in this light, it further declares the divinity of Christ as God who openly delivers and destroys upon His return as God. The Transfiguration cries out to us the truth and awesome majesty of the Almighty Living God who dwells between the cherubim. It reminds us of our former hopelessness, our current peace with God, and our glorious promise of redemption that is to come. We are able to perceive in the significance of the Transfiguration that only through Jesus Christ is mankind able to experience the incomprehensible love of God and receive the gift of eternal life.
© Robert Alan King at BibleCommentator.com, previously published in The Priest (August 1995). All rights reserved.