At various points throughout Jesus’ life, he spoke in hushed tones, and swore people to secrecy about his true identity. But in today’s passage, as Jesus’ ministry comes towards its climax, he takes just a few of his closest disciples up on a mountain to pray, and allows them to share in a precious and powerful moment:
‘Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.’ (Luke 9:28-36)
In this chapter of Luke, we see the increasing revelation of who Jesus is. He begins to speak more openly about his identity and mission. First Peter recognises that, despite what others were saying, Jesus is the Messiah; the one who has come to put the world to rights (v18-20). Now Jesus confirms Peter’s suspicion in a dramatic way that stayed with Peter for the rest of his life (2 Pet 1:16-18).
Moses and Elijah were key figures in the Old Testament and represent the Law and the Prophets respectively. Some people had been speculating that maybe Jesus was actually Elijah, back from the dead (v8, 19), but the whole of Luke 9 is written in such a way as to demonstrate that Jesus is greater than Israel’s most respected figures. This event, known as the transfiguration, was a climactic turning point in salvation-history; the moment to which both the Law and the Prophets – the whole of Scripture – was pointing. Jesus was about to do for the world what Moses and Elijah could only have hoped and dreamed of…
Both Moses and Elijah had fed people supernaturally during their ministry (Exodus 16; 1 Kings 17:7-16). Jesus fed the 5,000 (v10-17), which John tells us proved his superiority over Moses and pointed to the fact that he himself was the Bread of Life (John 6:25-59). Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God (Exodus 34:29-35), Jesus’ face shone with his own glory.
But here is the greatest way in which Jesus is greater than Moses… The three of them ‘spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem’ (v31). At first glance the word departure seems a little odd. From what was Jesus planning to depart? The City? Israel? Life? This World? Well… possibly all of the above. But the Greek word translated depart is exodus. Jesus was about to fulfil his exodus.
As Moses had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus was about to achieve an exodus on a far larger scale. Through his death as the Passover Lamb, Jesus would pay the price for the freedom of mankind; through his resurrection he would lead his people, not simply through the sea, but through death itself; and by his second coming, he would invite us to join him, not in a small plot of promised land, but in a renewed creation, free from all sin, suffering, sickness, pain and death, for all eternity.
Questions for Reflection
- The transfiguration was a key moment for the disciples, when they became aware of the true significance of who Jesus was and what he had come to do. How and when did Jesus reveal himself to you?
- Jesus describes his death and resurrection as an exodus – setting people free from captivity. From what has Jesus set you free? Are there areas of your life where you know you still need to experience freedom?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the true and better Elijah; the true and better Moses. Thank you that your death and resurrection have achieved infinitely more than the first Exodus, and have provided a way for me to have freedom from the things that bind me, and the promise of new life, both now and in the new creation. Thank you that you continue to reveal yourself to people today, and as we approach this Easter, would you help me to appreciate more of who you are. Amen.
If you find yourself with some extra time today why not listen to one of the following talks:
Image: Above the Storm by blhphotography, used under CC