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And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus dressed in the brightest light ever, talking to Moses and Elijah, it took them a while to figure out what was going on. During the walk down the mountain, they surely had questions. Jesus told them not to tell anybody until He rose from the dead. That right there didn’t make anything clearer!
The Jewish people had been longing for a Messiah to come ever since God told them there would be another one coming like Moses in Deuteronomy 18. Through the Law and the Prophets, they understood that the Messiah would come after Elijah. Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, had to come and prepare the way for the Messiah. If people saw Elijah, they knew that the Messiah wouldn’t be far behind.
That’s why many people wondered if John the Baptist was Elijah. They were hoping the Messiah would come soon and destroy the Romans, so they were eager to see Elijah. It really would take a little while to fully grasp that Jesus was the Messiah. After you wait for something for so long, you tend to distort your understanding of what it will be like when that thing finally shows up. Here is Jesus, proclaimed by the voice of God that He is the Son of God. He talks to Moses and Elijah in blinding light but He also talks about being dead.
One part of that equation doesn’t fit. The Messiah isn’t supposed to die! Jesus helps them grasp it a little by reminding them that the Elijah that
Jesus is the ultimate wise and good man. With the wisdom and power of God, He can talk to Moses from beyond the dead, hear the voice of God, and then talk about His own suffering without fear or trepidation. That is what it looks like to be completely surrendered to God’s will. That is what owning nothing, not even your own life or your own plan looks like. Peter, James, and John wouldn’t fully grasp it for another few years, but when you read the things they taught and wrote about Jesus, you can see they finally got it. This man, Jesus, was the Son of God and God’s plan to save us was genius.