Just a few days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” and Jesus’ prediction of His death, we have a scene that is unusual to say the least when Jesus takes three disciples, Peter, James and John up a “high mountain” where a conference of sorts is about to take place. I think I’ll let others argue about why Jesus only took these three with Him that day, and I’ll let others speculate on which mountain they ascended; I’ll assume that since Matthew didn’t tell us, that it probably doesn’t matter. What Matthew did tell us is quite enough to keep us busy…
There they were at the top of the mountain when suddenly Jesus was revealed in His transcendent glory, and was joined by two other figures that Matthew identifies as Moses and Elijah. As the three of them spoke, Peter offers to build shelters for each of them, a sign of high respect. In a sense, this would seem to equate them as equals, but note that he said “if you wish” which would seem to indicate Peter’s recognition that of the three, Jesus was the greatest.
But Jesus was not the one who responded, for suddenly there was a “bright cloud” that covered them and the voice of Almighty God spoke:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (17:5)
Later, Jesus would say that the Law and the Prophets speak of Him, and here we have Jesus alongside Moses, the lawgiver, the author of the books of the Law with Elijah, the great prophet of God… and the voice of God Himself telling the disciples to listen to Jesus.
The message is hard to miss: There would be no need for shelters for Moses and Elijah, for Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Law and Prophets; their time was coming to a close, and Jesus would make all things new. The disciples were justifiably terrified.
Jesus came and touched them saying “Get up” and “don’t be afraid”. Moses and Elijah were gone.
On their way back down the mountain, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the resurrection, and then they asked Him a question: “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (17:10). He gives them an interesting reply in 17:11-12 that came down to one thing: Elijah had come, and the teachers of the law simply had not chosen to believe him, and he had been murdered in Herod’s jail.
I really don’t see what I can add to Matthew’s account of this scene, except to say that being a disciple of Jesus in those days would have been a very interesting job!