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How did Peter, John, and James recognize Moses and Elijah during the transfiguration of Jesus?

Today’s question comes from one of the most glorious experiences in the ministry of Jesus on the mountain where He was transfigured before three of His disciples. How did Peter, John, and James recognize Moses and Elijah during the transfiguration of Jesus?

Before we answer the question of how Peter knew it was Moses and Elijah with Jesus during that glorious event, we need to understand what led up to this experience. Luke places the transfiguration eight days after an intense ministry and teaching cycle—the twelve sent out to preach, the five thousand fed, the confession of Peter, and teaching about the cost of those who follow Jesus. Often times in the gospels we see Jesus take time with His disciples in prayer after such concentrated periods of ministry. This prayer time is the setting of the transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9, Matthew 17, and Mark 9. It was “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, His robe became white and glistening.” (v.29). The word “glistening” literally means “emitting light” which suggests a brilliant flashing light. Now that is a glorious scene! This incredible experience doesn’t end there—the trio of disciples saw two men talking with Jesus—Moses and Elijah!

But how did Peter and (presumably) the other two disciples know it was Moses and Elijah that were talking with Jesus? Some have commented that it was their appearance—with Moses looking like Charleston Heston (long white beard) and Elijah looking like an older and hairier John the Baptist. Maybe…but there might be more at work here to aid us in understanding how they were identified. First of all, all three gospels place the revelation of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God” eight days prior to the transfiguration. The key dynamic in this profession revelation is the identity of Jesus revealed by the Father—not put together by the intellect of Peter. The identity of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration of Jesus could have been revealed in the same way as the identity of Jesus was—through the revelation of the Father.

Second, and more probable, the identity of the two men talking with Jesus was discovered as they talked with the Lord. The gospel of Luke is the only witness to what the two men were talking about with Jesus—the departure of Jesus. The central term “decease” (NKJV) or “departure” (ESV) is the Greek word “exodos”. This means that the conversation between Moses (who led the people of Israel in an exodus from Egypt) and Elijah (who departed in his exodus from life in a fiery chariot) talked with Jesus about His coming “exodus” in His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. This is how Peter most likely recognized that it was Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.

What an incredible experience of seeing the glory of God with Christ at the center and beloved saints with Him!





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