The Law and the Prophet: Matthew 17:1-13

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Part way into Jesus’ ministry, we come to an event that many skeptics probably would eliminate from the Bible if they could. This event is one of the clearest examples in Jesus’ ministry that He was from God, but interestingly enough, Jesus asked the disciples who were present to keep the event a secret until after He was raised back to life.

As we read this event together, think about what you might have done if you were there with the disciples when it happened. Our event is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 17, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the brother of James) and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll put up three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them. Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him!”

The disciples were terrified when they heard this and fell facedown on the ground. But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.

Let’s pause reading here for a moment, because what just happened is very significant when we think about it. In this event, not only does Jesus temporarily reveal His glory to the three closest disciples, we also have confirmation from God the Father and two of the most prominent Old Testament figures.

I don’t think it was an accident that Moses and Elijah were the one’s present for this event. Moses, who died and was buried on a mountain just outside the Promised Land is one of the first in history to have been physically resurrected and taken to heaven. While Enoch lived a thousand or more years before Moses, Enoch never experienced death. Moses had. When we look at Moses being included in this event, we see foreshadowing of those who will face death looking forward to the opportunity of resurrection.

Including Elijah is also significant, because in some respects, he was the most famous and Holy Spirit filled prophet in the Old Testament history. Elijah is also significant because he is the only individual in Israel’s history to have never experienced death. God took him to heaven on a fiery chariot prior to his death.

When thinking of the phrase, “law and the prophets”, we can see Moses representing the law, and Elijah representing the prophets. In this event, both of these historical figures come and validate what Jesus is doing, and what He is here to accomplish. In the same way, both the law and the prophets point forward to Jesus, His mission, and His ministry.

Looking at the timetable of history, I wonder what sort of conversations Jesus had with both these men prior to coming to earth as a baby. Both these men would have been able to spend hundreds of years with Jesus in heaven prior to this brief moment on the mountain, and we really don’t know what they shared with Jesus while on the mountain in this passage.

Which makes me wonder, what would you have done if you were on the mountain there with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the three disciples? Peter impulsively says the first thing that comes to his mind, which while not bad, was not all that necessary. James and John on the other hand simply don’t say anything at all. If it weren’t for them being included in the verses leading up to this event, we wouldn’t even know they were there.

I’m not sure what I would have done, but I’d like to think I would have been more like James and John, who stayed silent and observed, rather than Peter, but it would be impossible to know for sure.

Let’s continue reading and see how this event ends. Picking back up in verse 9:

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.”

10 So the disciples asked him, “Why do the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again. 12 Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased because they didn’t recognize him. In the same way they’re going to make the Son of Man suffer.”

13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptizer.

One thing that amazes me about this trip down the mountain is that Jesus clearly gives an opening for these disciples to ask Him about the crucifixion-plus-resurrection weekend. Jesus asks these disciples to keep quiet about this event until after He was brought back to life, which would have been the perfect opening for one of the disciples to ask Him what He meant.

Instead, since Elijah is fresh on their minds, and since he was one of the unexpected guests on the mountain, the disciples ask Jesus about why the religious experts say Elijah is supposed to come first. Jesus gives a great answer, and the disciples realize that John the Baptizer fulfilled this prediction, but the disciples miss asking the big question that would have made crucifixion weekend significantly different for them.

If they had simply asked Jesus to teach them about what He meant when He referenced His death and coming back to life, I doubt the disciples would have been as sorrow-filled when Jesus actually died. Instead, the disciples would have been waiting expectantly for His resurrection. They might have even been present at the tomb to witness the angel.

However, they didn’t ask the question. For all the openings Jesus gave them to ask about His death and resurrection, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them about it until it was too late. Only after the resurrection and the confusion surrounding the weekend do the disciples actually stop and pay attention to what the scriptures actually predicted would happen. Only while Jesus is walking with disciples who don’t recognize who He is, do we see the disciples being open to learning what the scriptures predicted would happen that weekend.

In our own lives, God wants to teach us and show us amazing things, but we must be willing and open to what He wants to teach us. While Jesus is in heaven now preparing a place for each of us, we can look forward expectantly for the day He will return and bring us home to Him. We can look back in scriptures and discover who Jesus is and what He is like. We can look at Jesus’ life, love, and ministry, and discover what God the Father is like as well. And we can trust, believe, and have faith that God is doing everything He can to save us for eternity!

As we come to the end of another podcast, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to seek God first in your live and be open to letting Him teach you what He wants you to learn. Be open to being used by God in amazing ways, for His purposes, and trust that He has your best future – your eternal future – secure. While crazy things might happen while sin is present in our world today, trust, believe, and look forward to the new heaven and new earth where sin will be a distant, forgotten memory.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself so that you will learn and know what God and Jesus are like firsthand. While listening to pastors or podcasters can help you see the Bible in new ways, God wants to show you Himself through the pages of His word personally. Only through personal study can you grow a personal relationship with God, and a personal relationship with God is something you can start today. There’s no reason to wait until heaven to grow towards God.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or reject where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year 4 – Episode 21: Discover how a secret meeting validates Jesus’ ministry, and how the several of the disciples miss the perfect opportunity to ask Jesus about crucifixion weekend.

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