Moses and Elijah

Image by falco from Pixabay 

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9 

 After six daysNIV The early church Fathers treated most numbers as symbols. In this case, Origen, writing early in the Third Century had this to say; In six days the whole world, this perfect work of art, was madeACCS But it is not clear that the First Century authors of the NT intended the numbers as symbols.

It does seem odd that Mark would be specific about the time if it were not important. Let’s see what happened six days earlier.

In chapter 8 Jesus fed the 4,000 and then had to school his disciples for their lack of understanding. And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” ESV

Six days later, Jesus took Peter and James and John with him and led them high up on a hill-side where they were entirely alonePhillips These three disciples clearly make up the inner circle of the Twelve. It is easy to understand why Peter was chosen. He was the outspoken leader of the Twelve and the leader of the Fellowship that became the Church. John is likewise obvious for giving us a Gospel, the Revelation, and letters. He was also the last man standing.

But why James? His name appears only twice in Acts, once in the listing of the Twelve and again in chapter 12. It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the swordNIV He wasn’t even the first to be killed. I have no answer other than James was the other half of the Zebedee brothers. It is possible he and John were twins, though nothing in the Bible says that. They do seem to have been ‘in sync’ like twins. It is also possible that John was the younger brother, so if Jesus wanted John, he had to invite James as well. Maybe not.

I think it is possible that James had a kind of ministry within the discipleship; that he helped the others to understand what Peter, John, and James came to more easily. Again, there is nothing in the NT to support the idea.

As they watched, he began to change form,and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone in the world could possibly bleach themCJB

Chrysostom, the great Fourth Century preacher, said; If he had shone as the sun daily shines, the disciples would not have fallen, for they saw the sun every day, and did not fall. But inasmuch as he shone more brilliantly than the sun or snow, they being unable to bear the splendor, fell to the earthACCS

Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with JesusMSG Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. It is also true that Moses represents those who died while Elijah represents those who will see the coming of the Messiah in this life. That is because Elijah did not die on earth. In 2 Kings 2:11; As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwindNIV

Any number of others might have been in the scene representing important aspects of the Word of God. Still, Moses delivered the Chosen People from slavery and Elijah was to return as the forerunner of Jesus. We take John the Baptist to be Elijah. If Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and others had been there, it would have simply confused Peter more than he obviously was already. Shall we put up three shelters? Phillips

In the blink of an eye, it was over. What must the three have felt? Was it real or an illusion? How did they know Moses and Elijah? What did it mean then and what does it mean for us now?

William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible commentary on Mark, wrote, What happened we cannot tell. We can only bow in reverence as we try to understand. None of the three understood. They were even ordered not to tell the other nine disciples what happened. They could tell only after Jesus came back to life. Mark tells us the three were scratching their heads over that one.

Remember that in chapter 8, we read this exchange. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about himNIV The same Peter is now trying to figure out what just happened on the mountain. The Messiah cannot die. What can Jesus mean?

By the way, there were only three men who could have told this story later. In fact, James died so soon that he is highly unlikely to be the source. Most scholars believe Peter is the source of this and most events described in the Synoptics. If we read ahead to see Peter denying that he even knows Jesus, it is clear to us that none of the three had figured it out yet. No matter how many times and how many ways Jesus told them he would die and return to life, it was beyond their understanding. It is for us as well. Not a single person has died and returned in the past 2,000 years. We know the lady is not really sawn in half. I watched my sister’s piano teacher play a grand piano as the magician made it rise from the local stage and rotate. Even then I knew it was a trick, even if impressive. We know people die and are never seen again. So how could the son of Mary and Joseph possibly pull off the impossible?

The biggest clue in this story to help us answer our questions is in verse 7. “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! CJB

Peter, James, and John did listen. The Twelve did listen. The hundred or more who followed Jesus most of the time did listen. But they also remembered, even when they did not understand. When Jesus returned, they began to understand. When they had 50 days to talk about all he had said, they understood more. And when the Holy Spirit baptized them at the Feast of Weeks, they knew and believed and had no more doubts.

It seems to me that God told Jesus to bring these three disciples with him so they could see Heaven open for a few moments to sizzle their minds with an image they would never forget. Why those three? God knew that they would do right by the knowledge. Nothing wrong with the others—one excepted—but they had other jobs to take care of.

Here is an account included in the first history of the Church. Eusebius copied this passage from a second generation Christian named Papias whose writings are now mostly lost.

Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said one of Peter’s. Peter used to adept his teaching to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only–to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it. The History of the Church

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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