Matthew 17:1-3, the Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

//Here on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus meets with two Jewish figures from the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. Many believed that both Moses and Elijah would return to help usher in the new age, the age of the Messiah, and today’s passage is surely meant by Matthew to provide evidence that Jesus is God’s anointed Messiah. Here stands Jesus, apparently planning the new age with the two great figures of Israel’s past.

But what’s so special about these two men, Moses and Elijah? Answer: They are representatives of Judaism. Moses represented the Law, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and was even said to have been their author. Elijah represented the Prophets. Moses and Elijah were, in fact, synonymous with the writings they represented. When a Jewish writer says “Moses and Elijah” he means “the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus, himself, used this language when referencing the law, talking about what “Moses said.” Moses and Elijah were like the twin towers, the foundation of Judaism. In Jewish tradition, neither of these men died (forget what the Bible says about a grave for Moses) and were both to return at a later date, as fulfillment of scripture.

And here it is in Matthew, in black and white.


  1. I’ve read quite a few books by Jewish bible scholars and I’ve never seen any of them refer to “Moses and Elijah” as meaning “the Law and the Prophets”. The Torah is the Torah, and the Nevi’im is the Nevi’im. Indeed, while Jewish tradition posits Moses as the author of the Torah, Elijah was never attributed with writing any book in the Nevi’im. He was more of a miracle worker than a prophet. I think Christians emphasize him more than Jews since he’s seen as a precursor (even an inspiration) to Jesus of Nazareth.

    As for the scene in the transfiguration, the simpler answer is the one you alluded to in the end. Later Jewish tradition posits that Moses and Elijah never died but were bodily taken up into heaven. It makes sense that the two would greet Jesus as he is transfigured by the awesome grace of God.

  2. My bad, Dan! I did not mean to imply that current Jewish scholars mean that. I meant writers of the Bible. When Jesus says “Moses said,” it can be reworded “the Law said.”

    Jews do indeed emphasize Elijah, though, more than Christians in my opinion. Elijah is supposed to herald the arrival of the Messiah, and this remains a part of the Passover tradition. The idea of Moses also appearing seems to have shrunk.

    This idea was alive and well in early Christianity, as evidenced by the two witnesses of Revelation. The reason Matthew includes this transfiguration scene is this: the appearance of Moses and Elijah proves that the messianic age has begun, and their acknowledgment of Jesus identifies him as the Messiah.

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