Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration

The transfiguration of Messiah; Moses and Elijah appear alongside him. Etching by M. Küssell after J.W. Baur, 1626-1683. Iconographic Collections, Wellcome Images (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

“Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Yeshua” (Mark 9:4). What is the significance? The Torah requires two witnesses to establish a matter. Perhaps, Moses and Elijah function as the requisite two witnesses. The prophet Malachi mentions both names when predicting the coming of the day of the LORD:

Remember the Torah of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (Malachi 4:4-5)

Perhaps Moses and Elijah represent the testimony of the Torah and the Prophets respectively. Moses wrote the Torah and Elijah acted as the quintessential prophet. The Master referred to the dual testimony of the Torah and the Prophets frequently. For example: “Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

Moses and Elijah both climbed Mount Sinai, and both heard God speak on the mountain top. Both Moses and Elijah have end-time roles. Elijah will come as the forerunner of the Messiah, and the Messiah will come as the prophet like Moses. One obscure opinion even pairs Moses and Elijah as heralds of the Messiah:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: “Moses, by your life, just as you have given your soul for Israel in this world, so in the future to come, when I bring them the prophet Elijah, the two of you will come as one. (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:17).

The apocalyptic tradition of the early believers seemed to expect Moses and Elijah to come during the turbulent period of the messianic birth pains. Two witnesses wielding the power of Moses and Elijah appear to herald the second coming in Revelation 11.

The appearance of Moses (who died) and Elijah (who did not die) constitutes testimony from both the living and the dead. Messiah is “Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9). Moses died on Mount Nebo, and the LORD buried Him in the land of Moab. In what form did the dead Moses appear at the transfiguration? The resurrection of the righteous has not yet occurred, so one cannot say that Moses appeared in His resurrected state. Moses could only have appeared as a spiritual entity, disembodied yet recognizable in a human form. Elijah, on the other hand, did not taste death but ascended into the sky in a whirlwind. Because he never died, he frequently makes cameo appearances in Jewish literature and folktales. The Spirit of the LORD might take “him up and cast him on some mountain” (2 Kings 2:16).

One never knows when Elijah might show up. Jewish families set a place for him at the Passover Seder table and a reserve a chair for him at every circumcision ritual. In rabbinic literature, Jewish folklore, and the tales of the Chasidim, Elijah often appears to a rabbi or sage to impart a revelation. Likewise, he appeared at the time of the transfiguration. Moses and Elijah did not appear simply to endorse Yeshua or impress the disciples. They came to relay important information to the Master.

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.