Matthew 17:3
And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Moses and Elias.—The identification of the forms which the disciples saw was, we may well believe, intuitive. If we accept the narrative as a whole, it is legitimate to assume that, in the state of consciousness to which they had been raised, they were capable of a spiritual illumination which would reveal to them who they were who were thus recognising their Master’s work and doing homage to His majesty. There was, it is obvious, a singular fitness in each case. One was the great representative of the Law, which was a “school master” or “servant-tutor” (see Note on Galatians 3:24) leading men to Christ, the other of the whole goodly fellowship of the prophets. Of one it had been said that a “Prophet like unto him” should come in the latter days (Deuteronomy 18:18), to whom men should hearken; of the other, that he should come again to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Malachi 4:5). The close of the ministry of each was not after the “common death of all men.” No man knew of the sepulchre of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:6), and Elijah had passed away in the chariots and horses of fire (2Kings 2:11). Both were associated in men’s minds with the glory of the kingdom of the Christ. The Jerusalem Targum on Exodus 12 connects the coming of Moses with that of the Messiah. Another Jewish tradition predicts his appearance with that of Elijah. Their presence now was an attestation that their work was over, and that the Christ had come.

Talking with him.—St. Luke (Luke 9:31) adds the subject of their communing: “They spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” So far as the disciples then entered into the meaning of what they heard, or afterwards recalled it, it was a witness that the spirits of the lawgiver and the prophet accepted the sufferings and the death which had shaken the faith of the disciples as the necessary conditions of the Messianic kingdom. It is significant that the word for “decease” (exodos) reappears in this sense once only in the New Testament, and then in close connection with a reference to the Transfiguration (2Peter 1:15).

Matthew 17:3-4. And behold — To heighten the grandeur and solemnity of the scene; there appeared unto them — That is, unto the disciples as well as Jesus; Moses and Elias — Luke says, two men, which were Moses and Elias, and Mark, Elias with Moses. Moses, the great lawgiver of the Jews, and Elijah, who had been a most zealous restorer and defender of the law, appeared in the glories of immortality, wherewith the blessed above are adorned: talking with him — And, according to Luke, the subject of their conversation was, the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem, that is, his departure out of the present life, or the sufferings and death whereby he was to atone for sin, and effect the redemption of mankind: a subject the most important of all others, and therefore the most proper to employ the thoughts and tongues of these illustrious personages, the most illustrious, certainly, that had ever met together on earth in one place. But the three disciples were seized with an irresistible drowsiness, and fell into a deep sleep. They awoke, however, time enough to see Christ’s glory, and that of the two men who stood with him. Probably the streams of light which issued from Christ’s body, especially his countenance, and the voices of Moses and Elias talking with him, made such an impression on their senses as to awake them. Lifting up their eyes, therefore, they must have been amazed beyond measure when they beheld their Master in the majesty of his transfigured state, and his illustrious attendants, whom they might know to be Moses and Elias by revelation, or by what they said, or by the appellations which Jesus gave them in speaking to them. Peter, particularly, being both afraid and glad at the glorious sight, was in the utmost confusion. Nevertheless, the forwardness of his disposition prompted him to say something, and just as Moses and Elias were departing from Jesus, he said, Lord, it is good for us to be here — So doubtless they found it. Both before and after this transfiguration they had many refreshing seasons with their Master, heard many ravishing sermons, and saw many wonderful miracles; yet in no place, and on no occasion but this, were they ever heard to say, It is good for us to be here. Peter fancied, doubtless, that Jesus had now assumed his proper dignity; that Elias was come, according to Malachi’s prediction; and that the kingdom was at length begun. Wherefore, in the first hurry of his thoughts, he proposed to provide some accommodation for Jesus and his august attendants, intending, perhaps, to bring the rest of the disciples, with the multitude, from the plain below, to behold his matchless glory. He thought this was better for his Master than to be killed at Jerusalem. He said, therefore, If thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles — He says, three, not six, because the apostles desired to be with their Master. They were words of rapturous surprise, and, as Mark observes, very improper. But, perhaps, few in such an astonishing circumstance could have been perfectly masters of themselves.17:1-13 Now the disciples beheld somewhat of Christ's glory, as of the only begotten of the Father. It was intended to support their faith, when they would have to witness his crucifixion; and would give them an idea of the glory prepared for them, when changed by his power and made like him. The apostles were overcome by the glorious sight. Peter thought that it was most desirable to continue there, and to go no more down to meet the sufferings of which he was so unwilling to hear. In this he knew not what he said. We are wrong, if we look for a heaven here upon earth. Whatever tabernacles we propose to make for ourselves in this world, we must always remember to ask Christ's leave. That sacrifice was not yet offered, without which the souls of sinful men could not have been saved; and important services were to be done by Peter and his brethren. While Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, an emblem of the Divine presence and glory. Ever since man sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, unusual appearances of God have been terrible to man. They fell prostrate to the earth, till Jesus encouraged them; when looking round, they beheld only their Lord as they commonly saw him. We must pass through varied experiences in our way to glory; and when we return to the world after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.And behold there appeared unto them Moses and Elias - Moses, a distinguished servant of God, by whom the law was given, and whose institutions typified the Messiah. It was particularly proper that he should appear, when his prophecies and types were about to be fulfilled, and the rites which he had instituted were about to be done away. Elias, or Elijah, a distinguished prophet, taken to heaven without seeing death. See 2 Kings 2:11. Elijah had been honored eminently by being thus translated, and still more by being made the model of the forerunner of the Messiah, Malachi 4:5; Luke 1:17; Matthew 11:14. They appeared "in glory" Luke 9:31; i. e., as they are in heaven with the glory which the redeemed have there.

Talking with him - Luke Luk 9:31 informs us that they conversed about "his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." To redeemed spirits that death was an object of intense interest. By faith in that death they had been saved; and now that the Redeemer of mankind was about to die, it is no wonder that this was the burden of his and their thoughts.

Luke adds Luke 9:32 that "Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep." It is not improbable that this was in the night; that Jesus was engaged in prayer; and that he had permitted his weary followers to compose themselves to rest. It was after they were awaked that they saw this vision. Probably the sudden splendor, the bright shining aroused them from sleep.

CHAPTER 17

Mt 17:1-13. Jesus Is Transfigured—Conversation about Elias. ( = Mr 9:2-13; Lu 9:28-36).

For the exposition, see on [1321]Lu 9:28-36.

See Poole on "Matthew 17:4". And behold there appeared unto them,.... The disciples:

Moses and Elias; Moses the giver of the law, and Elias one of the chief of the prophets: one of them had been dead near a thousand and five hundred years, and the other had been caught up to heaven, about nine hundred years before this. The Jews sometimes speak of these two as together. They say (c),

"that the Shekinah never descends below, but , "Moses and Elias" ascend above.''

Yea, they expect that these two will come together in future time; for so they represent (d) a God saying to Moses;

"Moses, as thou hast given thy life for them (the Israelites) in this world, so in time to come (the days of the Messiah) when I shall bring Elias the prophet, , "you two shall come together".''

Now they came. Luke says, they appeared "in glory": in glorious bodies, in a glory upon their bodies; like, though inferior, to the glorious body of Christ, now transfigured: that they appeared in their own real bodies, no doubt need be made; about the body of Elijah, or Elias, there is no difficulty; since he was carried soul and body to heaven, he died not, but was changed; and has ever since remained in a glorious body, in which he doubtless now appeared: and why this should not be the case of Moses, or why he should appear in another body, and not his own, I see not; for though he died, yet he was buried by the Lord, and no man ever knew the place of his sepulchre; and there was a dispute about his body, between Michael and the devil, all which are uncommon circumstances: so that it might be, that his body was, quickly after his death, raised and restored to him; or at this time, as a pledge of the resurrection of the dead, as Christ's transfiguration was of his glory. The Jews have a notion that Moses is not dead, but is ascended, and stands and ministers to God, in the highest heavens (e): the appearance of these two with Christ, was to show, that Christ is the end of the law and prophets; that there is an entire agreement between him and them, and that they have their full accomplishment in him; and also shows, that he was neither Elias, nor any of the prophets, as some took him to be; since he was distinct from them, and the chief and more glorious than any of them. If it should be asked; how came the disciples to know these two to be Moses and Elias, since they never saw them before, nor could have any statues or pictures of them, these being not allowed among the Jews; nor do the accounts of them in Scripture seem to be sufficient to direct them to such a thought; especially, since by their glorification, they must be greatly altered: it may be replied, they knew them, either by immediate divine revelation, or by the discourse that passed between them and Christ; for it follows,

talking with him. The Jews often speak of the appearance of Elias to their doctors, and of his conversing with them, and teaching them. Whether this is done with design to lessen the glory of this appearance, I will not say; however, they cannot reasonably object to the probability of this account, since they make it to be so frequent among themselves; though they look upon it as an high favour, and that such are holy good men, that are indulged with it, take an instance or two: thus they say (f) of a certain person,

"Lo! the pious man, whom Elias used , "to converse with".''

And elsewhere it is said (g),

"R. Phineas and R. Mari, the sons of R. Chasda, were godly men, , "and Elias was talking with them", and they were priests.''

What Moses and Elias were talking with our Lord about, is expressed by Luke; see Gill on Luke 9:31.

(c) T. Bab. Succab, fol. 5. 1.((d) Debarim Rabba, sect. 3. fol. 239. 2.((e) T. Bab. Sota, fol. 13. 2. Maimon. praefat. ad Seder Zeraim in Talmud. fol. 86. 4. (f) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 7. 2.((g) Juchasin, fol. 101. 1. Vid. fol. 79. 1. & 118. 2. & 13. 132. 1. & T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 106. 1.

And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 17:3. Αὐτοῖς] the disciples, Matthew 17:2. They saw conversing with Jesus, Moses and Elias, who, as forerunners of the Messiah, represented the law and the prophets (Schoettgen, Wetstein). Comp. Matthew 17:5; Matthew 17:8. It was not from what Jesus told them afterwards that they came first to know who those two were, but they themselves recognised them at once (Matthew 17:4), though not from their conversation, as has been arbitrarily supposed (Theophylact). The recognition was immediate and directly involved in the marvellous manifestation itself.

The subject of conversation, so far as the accounts of Matthew and Mark are concerned, does not appear to have been once inquired into. According to Ebrard, Jesus communicated to the fathers of the old dispensation the blessed intelligence of his readiness to redeem them by His death. According to Luke 9:31, Moses and Elias converse with Jesus about His impending death.Matthew 17:3. καὶ ἰδού introduces a leading and remarkable feature in the scene: ὤφθη αὐτοῖς, there appeared to the three disciples, not necessarily an absolutely real, objective presence of Moses and Elias. All purposes would be served by an appearance in vision. Sufficient objectivity is guaranteed by the vision being enjoyed by all the three, which would have been improbable if purely subjective. Recognition of Moses and Elias was of course involved in the vision. For a realistic view of the occurrence the question arises, how was recognition possible? Euthy. Zig. says the disciples had read descriptions of famous men, including Moses and Elias, in old Hebrew books Another suggestion is that Moses appeared with the law in his hand, and Elias in his fiery chariot.—συλλαλοῦντες μ. ., conversing with Jesus, and, it goes without saying (Lk. does say it), on the theme uppermost in all minds, the main topic of recent conversations, the cross; the vision, in its dramatis personæ and their talk, reflecting the state of mind of the seers.3. Moses and Elias] (Elijah). The representatives of the Law and the Prophets. The whole history of the Jewish Church is brought in one glance, as it were, before the Apostles’ eyes in its due relation to Christ. St Luke names the subject of converse: they “spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Matthew 9:31).Matthew 17:3. Ὤφθησαν, appeared) sc. with their bodies.—Μωσῆς καὶ Ἡλίας, Moses and Elias) The departure of each of them from this world had been singular: each of them was remarkable for revelations vouchsafed to him on Mount Sinai and Horeb. Both of them are mentioned together in Malachi 4:4-5. It is probable that Moses was raised to life immediately on his death and burial, so that he was not dead whilst Elias was living in heaven: he certainly, after his decease, entered the land of promise, in which this holy mountain was situated. And yet Christ, not Moses, is the ἀπαρχὴ, the primitiæ, the first-fruits. The resuscitation of Moses does not confer life upon others; that of Christ does. This appearance, however, of Moses alive from the dead, is full of mystery. Who will venture to assert that he had already obtained immortality (ἀθανασία), and did not receive any advancement in bliss (βελτίωσις) after the resurrection of Christ?[779] Oh, how many things there are in the world of glory above our comprehension! If this appearance of Moses and Elias were not mentioned in the canonical Scriptures, although attested by other sufficient witnesses, who would not consider it as a fable?—μετʼ Αὐτοῦ συλλαλοῦντες, conversing with Him) There is no pleonasm.[780] Each of them conversed with Jesus. A conversation of the highest importance (colloquium maximum). Moses stood at the end of the first dispensation,[781] Elias, in the middle of the middle dispensation; Jesus, on the threshold of the last. They bear witness to the true Messiah, and to Him only.—ΜΕΤʼ ΑὐΤΟῦ, with Him) They conversed with Him only, not with the three apostles.

[779] On the first day of the month Adar, according to Josephus, B. IV. Ant., at the end, Moses died (comp. Deuteronomy 34:8; Joshua 1:11; Joshua 4:19). Beng. had mentioned this in Harm. Ev., Ed. i. on this passage, and had noticed that Christ’s transfiguration had taken place at the same time of year, in the presence of Moses; subjoining a caution, that though this remark might not seem to have much weight, yet it was possible it might be of use to some hereafter. Shortly after, some one appealed to the transfiguration of Christ as having occurred in the month of September, as a ground of expecting the coming of Moses and Elias in the month of September A.D. 1737: an error which this observation of Beng., however minute and overstrained it may seem to some, might have served to refute. See Harm. Ev. Ed. ii., pp. 375, 376.—E. B.

[780] See explanation of technical terms in Appendix.—(I. B.)

[781] At the end of the first dispensation, viz. the patriarchal; though Moses also stood at the beginning of the second, viz. that of the law. In this latter point of view, as Moses stands at the beginning of the law as its representative, so Elias at the beginning of the prophets, and the Lord Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel, at once its representative and embodiment.—ED.Verse 3. - And, behold. The exclamation, thrice repeated (ver. 5), marks the suddenness and unexpectedness of the occurrence. They who now appeared were no delusive, imaginary figures, but real personages, objectively presented to the spectators, in such bodies as appertained to their condition. Moses and Elias. St. Luke adds, "who appeared in glory," radiant with the light which always accompanies heavenly visitors. Why these two saints were chosen to be present on this momentous occasion may be explained by various considerations. Both these worthies experienced something unparalleled in their departure from this life. Elijah was taken up to heaven without dying; Moses died, indeed, but he was buried by God in an unknown grave, and his body was under the especial care of Michael the archangel (see Jude 1:9), and we know not that it saw corruption. From the unseen world these were brought to do homage to the Messiah - Moses, a type of those blessed spirits who in Paradise await the final consummation, Elijah, a type of the saints who, after the resurrection, perfect in soul and body, shall enter into glory. Here were the representatives of the Law and the prophets, the principal supporters of the old covenant, honouring him who was introducing the new covenant, which was to fulfil and supersede the previous one. Spurious, degraded Judaism rejected Christ's claims; real, orthodox Judaism acknowledged him and reverenced him as the Christ foretold and fort, shadowed, "of whom Moses and the prophets did write" (John 1:45). Now, too, it was made manifest that Jesus was not Elias or one of the prophets, as some erroneously had supposed, but different from and superior to all; that he had power over life and death, and could bring whom he would from the unseen World; that the cross and Passion were not degrading, or proofs of weakness, but glorious and triumphant accomplishments of the will or God. The question is asked - How did Peter and the rest recognize the two heavenly visitants? There may have been something conventional in their garb or appearance, which at once identified them; or the apostles may have known them by spiritual intuition or special revelation; or they may have gathered their knowledge from the conversation which they overheard. Anyhow, it was necessary that the two should be recognized, otherwise their appearance would have lost its significance, and the confirmation which they were intended to afford would fail to be given. Is there here an intimation that in heaven the blessed will know each other, though they never met in the flesh - shall know even as they have been known? Talking with him. St. Luke tells us the subject of this mysterious dialogue - they "spoke of his decease (ἔξοδον, exodus, departure) which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They conversed, not of the glory which was his before the world began, nor of the kingdom which he came to establish, but of his coming suffering and death, with their tremendous issues. At the very moment of this revelation of Divinity, the discourse is of humiliation and the cross. The apostles had been slow to understand the future that awaited their Master; here the great saints of the covenant bore their testimony to Christ's fulfilment of what had been prophesied and shadowed aforehand, how by the sufferings of his sacred humanity eternal glory should be won. So might the apostles be strengthened to look forward without apprehension or weak shrinking; for through the grave and gate of death lay the road to a joyful resurrection and celestial happiness.
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