Recorded in Matthew 17:1-9 is Jesus’ glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Towards the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus appeared in glory before three of His closest followers. These were Peter, James and John.
They saw Jesus glorified and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Him.
The setting for this scene begins with Jesus teaching his disciples some intimate details about Himself and His ministry. He instructed them regarding His work as the Messiah; He spoke about His approaching death, and about His future glory. (See Matthew 16 from verse 13.) Reading from Matthew 16:27, we see that Jesus tells them that He will come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward everyone according to their works.
He adds that there are some here, who shall not die, until they see the Son of man in glory coming in his kingdom.
After six days Jesus takes his three closest companions to a high mountain. Jesus appeared in glory before them, his face shone as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; pay attention to him.”
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
28 Truly I say to you, There are some standing here who shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
1 After six days Jesus takes Peter, James, and John his brother, and brings them up into a high mountain apart,
2 And he was transfigured before them: and his face shone as the sun, and his raiment was white as light.
3 And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with him.
4 Then answered Peter, and said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you would allow us, let us erect three tabernacles at this spot; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
5 While he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; pay attention to him.
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were very afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, don’t be afraid.
8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, except Jesus.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no one, until the Son of man is risen again from the dead.
Some Christians today wonder how to interpret Matthew 16:27, 28.
Jesus spoke of His coming in glory — obviously referring to that glorious end day event as described in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; Matthew 24:30, 31. He added that there were some there who would not die until they saw the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
One false conclusion that is made is that Christ taught that His glorious end time appearing — and the end of the world — should have happened within that generation.
The passage is quite clear that some standing in that group did see Jesus in His kingdom in glory along with two subjects of the kingdom who had received their eternal reward. This occurred only six days after Jesus’ proclaimed it. Peter, James and John received this blessed experience.
When all the related verses are seen together, Moses having died and been resurrected is representative of all the redeemed to be resurrected from the dead. Elijah who entered heaven without seeing death represents the faithful still living when Christ comes who will ascend to meet the Lord in the air.
Jesus was training His disciples
What was the purpose of the Mount of Transfiguration experience?
What was its purpose? First of all note its limitations. The experience was only to three of Jesus’ closest associates. They were to tell no one about it until after Jesus had risen from the dead. Note that only a few days before, He had also warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20.)
The Mount of Transfiguration experience was to edify His disciples and prepare them for their future work as the apostles of the Christian church. Their time was not far away. In Matthew 16:21 it is recorded that from that time on Jesus began to show his disciples, how he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Jesus was training His disciples. They had been with Jesus. They knew who He was. They had seen Him glorified. They knew He was to come again at the end of the age. Although they would be momentarily overwhelmed when Jesus was taken from them, He had undeniably prepared them to take the good news of the kingdom to the world. Their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was a part of that preparation.
Note that this preparation did not make the disciples self-sufficient in themselves. They were to venture forth only as they received power from the Holy Spirit.
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And that is not the last we hear about them.