Ezekiel’s prophecy of the valley of dry bones seems to indicate a crowd of dead people awaiting a future resurrection. Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind and nobody knows where Moses was buried. Are they already in heaven or are their bodies awaiting a future resurrection somewhere? Today’s passage does not answer the question, but leaves us with some interesting thoughts to ponder on death, resurrection and who Moses and Elijah prepared for.
We will look at questions of death and resurrection and the purpose of it all, Jesus.
We will examine the Transfiguration from Mark 9 and its purpose.
What happens when we die? Does our body await a resurrection? Are we given a resurrected body immediately? If our spirit goes to God, is it conscious or is it also asleep until a future resurrection? All the possible permutations and combinations exist as theories and somewhere there is a denomination that dogmatically defends its particular take on what happens when we die and when the resurrection is. As an introduction to the whole topic, let’s look at Mark 9:2-10 and see some possible things that it tells us. It seems to indicate that Elijah and Moses are very much alive today. Is that true, or is this just a vision of something that is yet in the future? What does a careful reading reveal? Even the disciples discussed among themselves, puzzling what rising from the dead could mean.
What Happened to Moses
Was salvation available under the Old Covenant, even though nobody could keep the law perfectly? What happened to Moses, the hero of the Exodus, after he died? He was a man of God, but in the end, due to a mistake he made, he was not allowed to enter the promised land. What about other Old Testament believers? In Mark 9:2-10 is a vision seen on a mountain top. Peter, James and John the inner three disciples witnessed it. The high mountain was probably Mt Tabor according to the most ancient witnesses. Jesus was transfigured in a metamorphosis. It was similar to what will happen after we die. We receive what is in other places called a glorified body. These disciples saw two Old Testament figures after their deaths. It is an encouraging vision of life after death.
What Kind of Jesus
What kind of Jesus do Christians worship? Is he merely a do-gooder? Was he a combination of the Beatles and the hippie movement, preaching “love is all you need?” Was his life grossly exaggerated by overenthusiastic followers? Whatever he was, he has more followers today than any other spiritual man in human history. In places like Mark 9:2-10 skeptics are challenged by the blatant metaphysical aspects of Jesus’ ministry. This passage is a simple report of an extraordinary experience. Jesus was transformed, metamorphosed in clothes that shone brightly. Two men appeared and were identified as supposedly deceased prophets Elijah and Moses. A cloud covered them and a voice spoke, "This is my beloved son, listen to him!" As the cloud faded the two men had disappeared. Is there life after death? Is Jesus God’s son? You decide!
Why the Transfiguration
What purpose could the transfiguration have served? Mark 9:2-10 is one of three accounts. There are clues surrounding the passage and perhaps even in other places. In verse 1 Jesus declared that some would see that the kingdom of God has come with power. This passage seems to fulfill that prediction at least in part. Brian Stoffregen suggests some other possible reasons for the transfiguration. It connects Jesus and the prophets under the law, but Jesus as the one to listen to, a fact that those overly reliant upon tradition, reason and experience often ignore. It was a mountaintop experience in the middle of their training. It exhibits Jesus’ divinity. His white robes could also symbolize his martyrdom. We learn that religious experiences do not necessarily remove blindness, because the disciples still discussed what it could mean.
The Law Fades Away
Elijah was taken up to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-11) and Moses' grave was unknown (Deuteronomy 34:5-8). Two angels disputed about Moses’ body (Jude 9). Tradition was they were both taken up by God. Origin wrote about "The Ascension of Moses," a legend that Moses had not died because a bright cloud blinded the eyes of bystanders so they could neither see when he died nor where he was buried. Moses and Elijah appear as representatives of the law and prophets, our Old Testament. Their roles were to prepare for the final Prophet to whom we must listen, and who would turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and vice versa (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Malachi 4:5-6). As the law fades away as a basis for salvation, so Moses and Elijah fade away leaving only Jesus.
Talking too Much
Like Peter in Mark 9:2-10 many of us are tempted to talk too much. In our relationship with God we pray, but do not listen enough. Like Peter, we have suggestions for God, rather than the most important thing which is listening to Jesus. Like the three disciples we want to discuss possibilities and theories rather than listen. Evangelism is perhaps less about preaching than listening, like hearing a drowning man who needs a rope rather than a sandwich. Generally, we are to listen to Jesus. In context, the disciples were told to listen to what Jesus had just preached, to have in mind the concerns of God, not merely human concerns, to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him, lose our lives for the Gospel’s sake, to not be ashamed of him and his words.
Listen to Whom
To whom should we listen, the bishop, the preacher, the televangelist, Saint Paul or the prophets of old? Should we listen to the founders of Christian movements like Wesley, Calvin, Luther and Zwingli? All of those people may have been faithful servants of God, but none of them is the final authority. The question is answered in Mark 9:2-10. It does not mean that we should demean others. In other places Jesus told us to love our neighbors and that would include those who preach and teach the gospel. However, in the absolute sense, we ought to listen to Jesus first and others after that. That means that if any preacher of the gospel teaches something that Jesus did not, it is really secondary and not an essential of the faith. We obey God and listen to Jesus.
Significance of the Transfiguration
What is the significance of the Transfiguration? It is an important moment where humanity meets God, the temporal meets the eternal. We bridge over dark days ahead with a foretaste of Easter. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth, the new Moses, the Son of God to whom we should listen. Important voices of Elijah and Moses have been superseded. Honor and glory now belong to Jesus as Peter later recounted (2 Peter 1:16–18). Is this vision future or present? Jesus also taught that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32) indicating that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also alive in heavenly places. A heavenly life is also available to us. We can live that life now. God invites us to dwell in the glorified presence of Christ every day.
The Transfiguration does not answer all the questions we may have of death and resurrection, but answers the most important question of all, who is in charge of the resurrection and to whom we should listen. We are invited to dwell in his glorious presence every day of our lives.