Matthew 17:1-13 Part 5

In the four previous sermons on this passage it’s become evident that this event in the history of God’s salvation foreshadows an imminent happening of eschatological, cosmic proportions.  From the “high mountain” theology, to the “transformation” of Jesus, to the language of Matthew’s description of it, we have seen a prophetic image of the soon-to-be glorified Christ!  And all the language involved has been that of the coming “Day of the Lord”.

We have also been warned about the libertine and incestuous glorification of man himself.  Individuals and families and Churches and seminaries and society-as-a-whole revert to the grossest and basest nature of humanity without an understanding of, and a sense of, the glory of the risen Savior.  Therefore it is our duty and our delight to search out the height and depth and breadth of the exalted and lofty theology presented here; for it is only in His glory that we are lifted up and brought back into the Presence of, and communion and fellowship with, God the Father.

And so, as we proceed in the text to verse three this morning, our hearts ought to burn within us as we learn of Him from the Revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments; for man’s loftiest condition is to be found in His life and His light.  Whereas our most vulgar and debased condition is to be found in the corruption of self-glory.

Matthew says,


“and lo, it was shown to them Moses and Elijah conferring with Him.”


Just a note about the translation, here, before we go any further.  Some of the translations will have “and there appeared to them Moses and Elijah….”  And others will read like this, “Moses and Elijah appeared to them….”  Either way the subject of the sentence is Moses and Elijah – and either way the action in this sentence is the appearance to Peter and James and John.

But that’s not the way the Greek reads.  This sentence has a singular subject, so you can’t force Moses and Elijah into the singular number!  There are two of them!

So the subject of Matthew’s statement isn’t Moses’ and Elijah’s “appearance”, to the disciples, is it?  In other words, how could Moses and Elijah have purposed to appear to Jesus’ disciples if the subject of this sentence isn’t Moses and Elijah?  Put another way, if the subject of this sentence is singular, how can Moses and Elijah be doing something to Jesus’ disciples?  The two of them together make a plural subject!

And, secondly, the action here is passive – not active.  So the subject is acted upon rather than taking the action!  The subject of this sentence is Moses and Elijah conferring with Jesus – not Moses and Elijah appearing to the disciples.  And Moses and Elijah conferring with Jesus was shown to the disciples.  In other words, God has taken a specific action to show to Jesus’ disciples a conference between Moses and Elijah and Jesus.  This was a Revelation of God to the witnesses.  This is what God wants us to know about the glory of His Son – Exodus.

And Matthew begins his description of that event with the word which we’ve seen a number of times before – the little word “lo”.  And we’ve noticed that in every instance where Matthew has used this word to introduce an event, it is always one of unusual and cosmic significance!  And the significance has always had to do with the “end of the age” termination of the old “heaven and earth”, and the introduction of the “new creation”!  It always has to do with the “day of Jahwey” destruction of the old creation, and the coming of a new day – the life and light of the Messiah! – the end of an age, and the beginning of a new one! – the terminus of what had been, and the creation of what was to be! – the “shaking” of the foundations of the old, and the establishment of all things upon the Rock which is Christ!


“And lo, it (singular) was shown to them (passive) Moses and Elijah conferring with Jesus.”


Now, it is evident that the context here is the revelation of the purpose of Christ – that is, to go into Jerusalem and to suffer many things at the hands of the elders and scribes, and priests, and to be killed, and on the third day to be raised.  Then Jesus takes them up into the “high mountain” where He is transformed before them into the form of Glory – His ascended and glorified Person.  So we know that the conference between Moses and Elijah and Jesus has to do with that which is shortly to take place.

The Gospel writer Luke is more specific.  In chapter nine and verse thirty-one of His Gospel Luke writes that they were conferring abut His Exodus.  It was shown (to Peter and James and John) Moses and Elijah conferring with Jesus about things which would soon take place – namely, Jesus’ Exodus!

It was already evident that the “high mountain” transformation of Jesus was connected to the “glory-cloud” appearance of God on the high mountain of Sinai in Exodus twenty-four; but now Luke provides us with a specific reference to the Old Testament event in the suffering and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

And, now, we can also make other connections between this event and the Old Testament one.  For example, Matthew’s text says, “after six days Jesus takes (three witnesses) up into a high mountain.”  Exodus twenty-four also says that there was a six-day waiting period before Moses and three companions went up into Mount Sinai.  The Glory-cloud is also present in both – as is the “voice” of God.  And now we have Moses conferring with Jesus about His Exodus!

So, in addition to the obvious eschatological/end of the age manifestation of the Glory of Christ, we also have this typological “Exodus” to think about.  And, then, later on, comes the very Voice of God the Father, Whose Words recall four, very important Christological passages of the Old Testament – and which also link the Lord Jesus Christ to the prophet Moses!

But in order to get to all of that, let’s just go back and ask the simple questions:  Why Moses and Elijah?  Why did God reveal to these three witnesses Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about His Exodus?  I’ll try to cut to the bottom line on these things so that we can see them quickly and clearly.

Moses was the forerunner and foreshadowing of Christ.  We can say that he was the “prototype” of the Prophet, Priest and King to come – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Moses’ birth and infancy were “prototypical” of the birth and infancy of Christ.  And Jesus is said to be One Who came out of Egypt – as Moses and the people of God came out of Egypt.  Pharaoh ordered the killing of the infant males of Israel – just as the male babies of Israel were ordered to be killed by Herod in Jesus’ time.  Moses lived in the wilderness for forty years, and he fasted forty days and forty nights at Mount Sinai – just as Jesus fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness.  Moses delivered the Law of God to the people from Mount Sinai – just as Jesus delivered the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.

And just as an aside, here, there was a well-defined system of eschatological thought in Israel, at the time of Christ, in which it was believed (through a gross misinterpretation of Scripture) that Moses and Elijah and Messiah would come into Jerusalem from the wilderness to assume power and return the nation of Israel to its original glory.  In other words, since Moses died in the wilderness without leading the people into the promised land, and a great mystery surrounded his body and burial; and since Elijah was translated into heaven without dying, while still in the wilderness; and since Messiah was said to “come out of Egypt”, then an entire corpus of eschatology was worked out from those things – leading many (most) to believe that a final “coming out of the wilderness into the promised land of Israel” would some day occur!

And this may be the basis of Peter’s question about building three “booths” for them to live in, in the wilderness, until such time as Jesus would come into Jerusalem and assume the throne!  But we’ll come to that later on.

But it’s very apparent in the Scriptures that Moses was the foreshadowing and “type” of the Messiah to come.  And after we talk about Elijah for a few minutes, we’ll look into the book of Revelation and examine the roles of these two figures as they appeared to the apostle John, as God opened up for him what was happening at the end of the age and the beginning of the “new heavens and the new earth.”

A tremendous amount of legend arose down through the annals of history concerning the prophet Elijah.  That is mainly due to the fact that he was the great prophet of the coming “day of the Lord”, and because of the unusual circumstances of his being taken up into heaven by a great “whirlwind”, and because the last verses of Old Testament Scripture (Malachi four) predict his return before “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” in which he would preach repentance and “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” lest God come and smite the earth with a curse.”  This comes from the same chapter where God prophesies that the proud and wicked shall be “burned as stubble”, and they will be left with “neither root nor branch”.  But that the “Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings.”  And this is the same passage that commands adherence to the Law of Moses which was delivered at Sinai!

Now, the eschatology of the Pharisees and priests and scribes of Israel included the restoration of Israel, by Elijah, before the coming of the Messiah, who would then come into Israel (as the new Moses) out of the wilderness into a peaceful and restored Israel – and would assume the throne of King David.

Of course, none of that had happened!  So when Jesus was on the cross, and He cried out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”, they thought He was crying out for Elias (Elijah) to come and save Him like he was supposed to do!  But Elijah had not come, according to their faulty “end-time” theology.  Nothing that was happening “fit” their eschatology, so Jesus certainly could not be the Messiah!

But be it easily said, this morning, that Elijah was not like what Israel expected!  Of the twenty-nine occasions in the New Testament to which he is referred, four things about his prophecy and ministry are specifically mentioned.  One – he proclaimed the three and a half year drought and its associated famine.  That’s the same as the time of the tribulation at the end of the age in Daniel chapter twelve; and it’s the same as the forty-two months of the tribulation of Israel in Revelation chapter eleven!  We’ll get to that in a minute.

Two – he went to the Gentiles during that famine!  That fact is used by Jesus, in Luke chapter four, to indicate that Light and Life would be given to the Gentiles rather than to Israel!

Three – in his dejection over the state of Israel (still during the three and one half year drought), Elijah was ministered to by an angel.  And God told him that He had reserved unto Himself seven thousand of Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  And Paul the apostle uses that very incident (Romans eleven) to proclaim that God had reserved a sacred remnant of Israel according to the election of grace.  That even in the “cutting off” to shortly come, God would save His chosen people.  These are the same “lost sheep” that Jesus had sent His disciples to find – in the earlier chapters of Matthew.

And, four – the New Testament refers to the Divine judgment which was brought down on the prophets of Baal by Elijah.  And that Divine judgment was fire from heaven upon the apostate teachers of Israel!

And, you see, all of these incidences in which Elijah was the primary figure, and which are related in the Revelation of the New Testament, are events of great “end of the age” significance!  The eschatological ideas of the elders of Israel at the time of Christ had to do with Elijah coming out of the wilderness to restore Israel to its greatness – in advance of the Messiah.  But according to the Old and the New Testaments, that wasn’t what Elijah was supposed to do at all!  The return of Elijah included the preaching of repentance and peace to the remnant of Israel in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah – and the separating out of apostate Israel for destruction by fire – and the signaling of the coming of salvation to the Gentiles!  (the whole world!)  The return and appearance of Elijah as the forerunner of The Messiah was the sign of the coming “Day of the Lord” during which Israel would be “decreated” forever!  The return and appearance of Elijah as the forerunner of the Messiah was also the sign of the coming Day of the Lord in which the Messiah would bring salvation to the world out into the wilderness!

Now.  The Revelation given to John concerning these things (Revelation eleven) includes the prophecy of two witnesses – Moses and Elijah – who prophesy for one thousand, two hundred, and sixty days (forty-two months) as officers of the Covenant of God.  And during that period of time fire will proceed from their mouths to devour their enemies; and they have the power to “shut up the sky in order that rain may not fall” during the one thousand, two hundred, and sixty days; and they have the power to smite the earth with plagues – including turning the waters into blood.  All of these things are the acts and deeds of Moses and Elijah – of whom it was said (in the last message of the Old Testament Scriptures)


“Remember the Law of Moses My servant….  Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet….”


Elijah and Moses appear on the “high mountain” at the point of Jesus’ “transformation” into the form of Glory.  And they speak with Him about His Exodus.  It is time.  Jesus is about to suffer and be killed at the hands of Israel’s leadership.  And then He will be resurrected and ascend to His Father in the form of Glory.  The time has arrived – and this is what they were speaking about.  The two witnesses are here to prophesy against the apostate nation.

Moses has said to them on Sinai that if they obey they would prosper; but if they would not they would suffer holocaust.  And when they did not obey, Elijah pleaded with them for repentance.  The Law was ignored and the prophets were killed.  And they were here to witness to that fact.  The time had arrived.  The Law and the prophets.  Moses and Elijah.  The type of Christ and the forerunner of Christ – both there to witness His glory.

And it was all shown to Peter and James and John – three witnesses.  The time had arrived – the inauguration of the “last days”.  The old was ready to vanish away, in order that the new might come in with its fullness of grace and truth for the whole world.

These two appeared in homage to Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God.  And they disappeared when God said,


“This is My beloved Son – hear Him!”


A New Heavens and a New Earth were about to be created, and the old would pass away.  What Moses, as great as he was, could not do, i.e. bring in obedience to God among the nation of Israel, Christ would do.  What Elijah, as great as he was, could not do, i.e. restore the tribes of Israel from apostasy to peace with God, Christ would do as He brought reconciliation to all the “seed” of Abraham all over the world.

But now, today, the end time has come – and gone.  (70 AD)  And we now live in the “New Creation” of the Messiah. 


“And we all,” says Paul, “… with open face behold, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, (and) are changed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.” 

“for God, Who commanded the Light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to the Light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (Second Corinthians three and four)


But now, as Paul says in that same place (Second Corinthians four, verse one)


“…seeing that we have this ministry – as we have received mercy, we do not falter; but have renounced the hidden things (dark things) of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth (open demonstration) commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”


Because of this grace we have received – that is, having received as a gift the Light of Truth in the face of Jesus Christ, having been given to receive this New Covenant in the place of old Israel, having been reconciled to God in Christ – even though we were dead in sin; since we have received mercy, therefore we are to be transformed, in Christ, from glory unto glory.  Not conformed to this world, but transformed into the form of His glory by the renewing of our minds – that we might prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God!


Therefore, “Let love be without hypocrisy; hate that which is evil, cleave to that which is good; kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.  Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.  Distributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality….  Be of the same mind one toward another….  Provide things honest in the sight of all men….”


Walk – day by day – in the ascended glory of Christ. 


“For Thine is the Kingdom and the power, and the glory – forever!” 


This is the Gospel!!  And it requires your repentance.  He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And your walk must be in accordance with the Light of His glorious countenance.