Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead. So they kept it to themselves, wondering, “What’s this ‘rising from the dead’?” They asked Jesus, “Why do the legal experts say that Elijah must come first?”
He answered, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. Why was it written that the Human One would suffer many things and be rejected? In fact, I tell you that Elijah has come, but they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it was written about him.”
A while back, I had a friend of mine try to explain the end of the “Old Covenant System” and she used this story as her starting point. At the time, I didn’t get it. But later on, when we addressed it again, it fell into place.
In our story before us, Jesus, Peter, James, and John go up to a “very high mountain.” While they’re up there, some spectacular things happen. First, Jesus is “transformed in front of them.” The description of Jesus here reminds us of the description of Moses when he was on Mount Sinai and received the covenant tablets. In other words, that was when G_d established the Covenant with Israel. And, just like in the story here, G_d’s visible presence is represented as a cloud (the shekinah) and G_d’s voice is heard emanating from the cloud.
But, in our story, there’s a difference. Here we see that “Moses and Elijah” appear when Jesus was transformed. And here’s the tie-in my friend was talking about. “Moses and Elijah” represented the “Law and the Prophets,” or the “Old Covenant.” So we see Jesus meeting with the representatives of G_d’s covenant with Israel and, then, when the disciples look up, Moses and Elijah are gone. She saw this as meaning that once Jesus appeared, once G_d became a human being, The Way was established and that system was no longer needed. It had fulfilled its purpose.
She’s not alone in this idea. It seems that the New Testament also makes similar claims. In the letter to the Hebrews, Priscilla wrote:
If the first covenant had been without fault, it wouldn’t have made sense to expect a second. But God did find fault with them, since he says,
Look, the days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a covenant with the house of Israel,
and I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors...
When it says new, it makes the first obsolete. And if something is old and outdated, it’s close to disappearing.
St Paul makes similar statements in his second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth:
The ministry that brought death was carved in letters on stone tablets. It came with such glory that the Israelites couldn’t look for long at Moses’ face because his face was shining with glory, even though it was a fading glory. Won’t the ministry of the Spirit be much more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation has glory, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness? In fact, what was glorious isn’t glorious now, because of the glory that is brighter. If the glory that fades away was glorious, how much more glorious is the one that lasts!
Lastly, they have the weird question about Elijah coming first. The question a lot of us ask is “Come first in what? What are they even talking about?” They are talking about the Realm of G_d. It was believed that before G_d’s Realm came, Elijah would come and usher it in. We see this in the book of Malachi:
Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming...
Look, I am sending Elijah the prophet to you,
before the great and terrifying day of the Lord arrives.
Turn the hearts of the parents to the children
and the hearts of the children to their parents.
Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.
In the parallel passages to Mark’s account of this, it states that the disciples understood that Jesus was talking about John the Baptist. Therefore, if John was “Elijah,” they then have to ask, “Who is Jesus?” Which is exactly what we looked at yesterday. In other words, this question and experience they had just reinforced what they talked about previously - Jesus is indeed more than a prophet. He is the Messiah, G_d’s anointed King.
And he might just be something more...
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC