Dt. 34:1-12; Ps. 99; Heb. 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36
Exodus, And behold, two men were conversing with [Jesus], who were Moses and Elijah, who having appeared in glory, were speaking about his exodus, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem (vv. 30, 31).
The three synoptic evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report Jesus’ transfiguration. The event in and of itself is certainly revelatory; but St. Luke informs about the subject of Jesus’ conversation with the translated men out of heaven; Jesus’ and the Christian Church’s new “exodus”.
Commentary’s that Moses and Elijah merely represent Law and the Prophets offer little for our understanding of Jesus’ manifested glory; rather it is his conversation with these particular men which informs.
Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews compares the ministries of Jesus and Moses, giving Moses a “tip o’ the hat” as faithful servant-steward (Dt. 34:5) in establishing God’s OT household and tabernacle, the place of the Lord’s earthly residence with his people (Heb. 3:2b).
But when it came time for a more permanent location in the Promised Land, Moses was found wanting for the task of concluding the Egypt exodus; rather it fell to Joshua, son of Nun (v. 9), to lead the people in conquest and occupation.
Moses is unique in salvation history. Apart from Adam and Abraham, Moses is the only OT man to whom God spoke in face-to-face conversation.
Moses was not just one of several OT prophets; he was the Prophet par excellence by whom all others were judged as authoritatively speaking for the Lord. While other prophets received God’s word in visions and dreams (cp. Joseph and Daniel), God spoke directly with Moses.
Moses was builder and steward of God’s OT sanctuary; contractor of God’s worshipping house on earth; prefiguring the coming of Christ, the author, builder, and furnisher of God’s NT Temple.
In what way had Moses sinned? As with all men by unbelief; failing to trust God’s word alone. In the desert at “Meribah” near Kadesh-barnea (Num. 20:1-13) the congregation once again complained of lack of water on desert journey. Moses with Aaron, God’s high priest, presented themselves at the tabernacle where Moses received the Lord’s instructions.
On earlier occasions Moses was directed to employ his staff for striking the Nile, turning its water to blood (Ex. 7:17), and again to strike the rock at Horeb upon which the Lord would stand (Ex. 17:5, 6) to bring forth living water.
But at Kadesh-barnea Moses was instructed that he should only speak to the Rock for the Lord to deliver “living water”, a gospel revelation that, God first loves us without merit in order that we come to love him (1 Jn. 4:19).
Instead, Moses took it upon himself to do some law-gospel preaching, adding to his petition for water on behalf of the people, their uncalled-for condemnation, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10b). To emphasize his personal anger Moses twice struck the Rock of the people’s salvation with his staff.
God delivered the water; but because Moses had hijacked his word for his own ends and pique; he had failed in his pastoral vocation and witness to the Lord’s word, holiness, and gospel purposes.
Moses’ lack of fidelity to God’s singular word made him guilty of misrepresenting God to the congregation; for which, the Lord reprimanded, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (v. 12).
In today’s Gospel on the Mt. of Transfiguration Moses appears out of heaven in the reflected glory of Jesus, speaking with him face to face. Moses had finally been granted entry into the Promised Land;
And yet in speaking with Jesus about his new “exodus” it became patent that the house Moses constructed was coming to conclusion, for a new and eternal house built on and furnished by Jesus, God’s faithful Son.
Now the conversation of a new “exodus” in the presence of Elijah, the archetype Prophet of Passion informs. Jesus explained in descending the mount, ‘I tell you that Elijah has already come and they … did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.’
“Then the disciples understood that [Jesus] was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (Mt. 17:12) whose death would prophesy Jesus’ own death; as well did Elijah’s persecution from Jezebel and Ahab, concluding in a fiery exit into heaven.
In the Transfiguration we have advance revelation of Jesus’ resurrection glory; but that glory would necessarily await his passion-glory ending in being struck by a Roman sword, when God’s holiness is revealed in the flow of water and blood (1 Jn. 5:8).
Of the water from the desert Rock, Moses’ striking prophesied Christian Baptism, “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through [the waters] he showed himself holy” (Num. 20:13).
On the mount Peter inserted himself into Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:33). Moses had failed to witness of God’s holiness and was chastised. Elijah ran from persecution before a secular queen, yet at God’s reproach he returned to proclaim the word to a remnant people.
The Father on the Mount, confirmed Peter’s true confession that Jesus is “Christ of God” (v. 20). Moses was servant of the Lord; but Jesus is faithful Son (Heb. 3:5, 6), therefore, it is Jesus and to him alone to whom we “Listen!” (Lk. 9:35). We neither subtract nor add anything of our own to Jesus’ words.
Jesus remains in holy conversation with the Father, as from eternity and so with us by his words. “Listening and doing” Jesus’ word in faith (Lk. 6:47; 8:21) we enter into his vocation, our High Priest and executing Architect and Furnisher of the things in God’s new Temple and our faith.
Before the resurrection and ascension-glory Jesus was necessarily first glorified in putting sin and death-to-death in his flesh on the cross; these are the holy things of our new Temple with God.
At the cross, Jesus as Son, is superior to Moses in God’s house. Jesus incorporated all the Law of Moses into his death, to deliver in sacrifice truth and grace by the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
Moses is glorified, not as builder of God’s OT house, but in Christ, as Elijah and we; a priestly band before the Father praising Christ for his bitter sufferings and death and the living water from the heart of God’s faithful Son (Jn. 8:37, 38). Amen.