And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what else to say, for they were terrified.

Mark 9:4-5

This sentence occurs on the heals of Jesus’ transfiguration. Recall that in Mark 9:2-3 Jesus has taken three of his disciples up the mountain and his true nature had been revealed to Peter, James, and John. Mark, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reveals two additional figures that show up on the scene–Elijah and Moses. How do we know that Elijah and Moses are present at the transfiguration? The common view is that Mark is writing Peter’s experiences of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. We see that in Mark 9:5 Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). The text does not indicate “how” Peter recognized Elijah and Moses who had been dead for many years prior to this event, but rather teaches that Peter knew “who” these two biblical figures were in this moment.

Why Elijah and Moses?

Why these two historical figures from the Old Testament? Why not King David–my personal favorite–or Noah or Abraham or Samuel or Jeremiah? Many biblical scholars think that Elijah and Moses come on the scene as representatives of both the Prophets and the Law found in the Old Testament. These two figures embody the collective writings of both categories. Elijah had a prophetic ministry (see 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2), and Moses was the one God used to deliver the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) among other laws like we see in Leviticus. Therefore, the transfiguration in Mark 9 and the presence of Elijah and Moses are designed to point us to the truth that the Messiah of the Old Testament is now standing before Peter, James, John because both the law and the prophets are designed to point us to Christ.

The Law

Think about the law. The law reveals our fallenness. The Ten Commandments, for example, act like a mirror to show us the depths of our sin and rebellion. That’s why Paul said, “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Rom 7:7). Nevertheless, the Bible repeatedly acknowledges that the Messiah had no sin so that he could take on our sin–this is what we call the penal substitutionary atonement (see 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus Christ’s transfiguration coupled with the presence of Moses indicates that Jesus never broke the law, but was going to die and rise again for us who have so that we could be restored and set free from the bondage of sin and death (see Mark 9:9-13).

Moses’ presence points us to Christ and what he came to do. Ask yourself, “What did the people of God have to do before the death angel went through Egypt?” God commanded them through Moses to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and cover the doorposts of their house with blood so that death would pass over all who were safely in the house. This historical event foreshadows Jesus who would become our sacrificial lamb–a lamb without sin–that by his blood, which would be spilt on a cross, would cover the sins of all those who find refuge in him by faith. Thus, giving new life and eternal security to all those who call upon his name and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and has been raised from the dead (see Rom 10:9-13).

The Prophets

What about the prophets like Elijah? They also spoke and foretold of the Messiah’s coming. Think of the prophet Isaiah. He prophesied, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4). Do you see Jesus in this text? In fact, the message of Isaiah has the exact same message we see in the pass over account of Moses.

This background helps us to determine that Elijah and Moses’ presence at Jesus’ transfiguration are designed to show us (open the eyes of our souls and hearts) that Jesus is the Messiah that the Old Testament pointed to since he is the main character of Scripture. In other words, Elijah and Moses show up to confirm that everything written in the Old Testament is about Jesus so that you and I will believe. Mark 9 records that Peter, James, and John see with their own eyes Jesus’ transfiguration affirming that Jesus Christ is the Son of God promised by the law and the prophets.

An Honest Answer

The main question you need to ask yourself after reading this is: “Do you believe this truth?” How you answer that one question has eternal consequences. So, please take a moment to truly reflect and answer that question asking God to help you in your unbelief (see Mark 9:24).

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