Q&A: Transfiguration, Elijah, and Moses

Transfiguration, Elijah, and Moses

Question

The thing I find fascinating about the mount is that we know Elijah was transfigured, but Moses had supposedly died. How then could he be transfigured before Christ had died and risen (being the first fruit)? Josephus seems to give an answer to this-that Moses didn't die, but wrote he did so people wouldn't worship him and keep them from crossing into the promised land. Instead of dying, Moses was transfigured.

Answer

I think you mean "translated," yes? Elijah was "translated" when he was taken up to heaven without dying. He and Moses then appeared with Christ on the mount when Christ was "transfigured." At any rate, I disagree with Josephus on this. Basically, Josephus suggests that Moses: 1) wrote about his own death while he was still alive; and 2) intended to deceive his audience. Both of these suggestions are highly implausible to me because of my doctrine of inspiration.

Be that as it may, the real issue here is not transfiguration or translation, but glorification. Glorification has two parts. First, it begins when we are freed from the presence, influence and corruption of sin when we die and our souls ascend heaven. Second, it is completed when we receive our incorruptible, resurrected bodies as the end of the age. Neither Moses nor Elijah has received his resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:23), although both have participated in the first part of glorification.

That Moses and Elijah "appeared" with Jesus (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4) does not demonstrate that they had resurrected bodies, or even that they had bodies of any sort. We find no real description of them anywhere in the transfiguration accounts, and none of the men who witnessed the transfiguration would have been able identify either Moses or Elijah by sight. Their identification of these men must have come by means other than visual inspection. Besides, spirits may look like they have bodies even when they do not (cf. Luke 24:36-40; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). Moreover, even Paul himself could not distinguish whether his vision of heaven was received in the body or out of it (2 Cor. 2:2-4). There is apparently very little difference between the way we look when we have bodies and the way we look when we are incorporeal. In conclusion, the biblical evidence would seem to suggest that neither Moses nor Elijah had a body when they appeared with Jesus.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.