Texts for the Day
Moses and Elijah
For the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the lectionary includes the story of the Transfiguration. In this familiar yet mysterious story, Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah. Why is it that those two particular figures from Israel’s past appear with Jesus? Why not Abraham and David, or Isaiah and Ezekiel? This week, we will take a look a few texts to understand what the appearance of Moses and Elijah says about Jesus.
Moses – Read Deuteronomy 34:1-12. The important part for this study is the final three verses beginning, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, who the Lord knew face to face.” Israel had many prophets, but Moses was viewed as the greatest of them all, the one who received the Law directly from God.
What does this say about Jesus? The Gospels present Jesus as a new Moses. Jesus teaches with authority, not as the scribes, who were the keepers of the tradition that was attributed to Moses.
Elijah – Read Malachi 4:1-6. This passage mentions Moses the lawgiver, but it also mentions Elijah. Elijah was a prophet from the northern Kingdom of Israel during the time of Ahab. You can read his story in 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2. At the end, the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. But the Malachi text above reveals another tradition about Elijah. Elijah will return before the end of time.
What does this say about Jesus? Jesus himself answers this question in the verses immediately after today’s reading (Mark 9:11-13), where Mark identifies John the Baptist as the returned Elijah. (This is made explicit in Matthew’s version of the story, Matthew 16:11-13). In this way, the Transfiguration makes a strong connection to two key Old Testament figures.