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I would suggest to you that the third most important event in the Bible after the resurrection and the creation is the transfiguration. In this day of religious pluralism and multiple claims of religious authority, there is a very poor understanding of Moses and Elijah and how their roles related to Judaism and the unique claims of Jesus Christ. The transfiguration demonstrated what Jesus was about, and the event is rooted in an understanding of the “mountain experiences” of Moses, Elijah, and Christ.

The mountain experience of Moses is described in Exodus 24:13 –18 when Moses went up on Mount Sinai. Moses entered a cloud that symbolized the covering of divine presence. In Acts 1:9 a cloud hid Jesus from the sight of the disciples, and we are told in Revelation 1:7 that “he is coming with the clouds.” Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights and was given the Law. Moses has no known grave to this day. (The Bible makes reference to this in Deuteronomy 34:6.)

The mountain experience of Elijah is nearly identical. In 1 Kings 19:8 he traveled for 40 days and 40 nights until he reached Mount Horeb. Elijah established the prophets, and, like Moses, he has no known grave. Second Kings 2:11 tells us that he was taken into heaven in a whirlwind. It is interesting that all three figures in the transfiguration account have no grave, unlike most other religious figures.

The Law and the Prophets were the basis of the Jewish religion. Over and over we see Jesus referring to “the Law and the Prophets,” such as in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In Matthew 7:12 Jesus says, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Malachi 4:4 – 6; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10; and Revelation 11:3 all record the two witnesses and carry similar messages.

In the transfiguration, the Law and the Prophets are brought face to face with Jesus Christ in the persons of Moses and Elijah. The miraculous nature of this whole scene is portrayed by several facts:

  1. The physical features of Christ were altered (Luke 9:29)
  2. Mosea and Elijah appear “in glory” and the disciples hear them speak but are not aware of what is being said (verses 30 – 33).
  3. The cloud indicating divine presence appears (verse 34).

All of this establishes Jesus Christ as the one that should be listened to indicating an end to the Law and the Prophets.

The parallels between Jesus and Moses are hard to miss. Their birth and childhood situation, the governmental situation under which they lived, the way they were treated by the Israelites, and even their mission have strong similarities. The concept of their mission seems to escape many people. The message of the transfiguration is freedom. Moses led the Israelites from Egyptian slavery to freedom. Jesus led all of mankind from slavery to sin to real and eternal freedom.

Christ on the CrossColossians 2 spells out this freedom in crystal-clear detail. Verse 8 warns Christians to avoid philosophical and traditional ties to the world around us. In verses 10 –15, a parallel is drawn between Jesus being raised from the dead and Christians being raised from the death of sin through baptism. Being raised from the deadness of sin is done through Christ and the Christian is freed from the legalism of the law of Moses “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us which was contrary to us, … nailing it to his cross” (KJV). Jesus fulfilled all of the prophets and gave mankind freedom.

We are warned about giving up this freedom by going back into the slavery of the Law. “Let no man, therefore, judge you about meat or what you drink and in respect to holy days or new moons or of the sabbath days” (verse 16). In verses 20  – 22 Christians are again warned not to give up the freedom that came to them in Christ. “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.”

Elderly couple walking though a garden.Christianity calls mankind to real freedom. The transfiguration is the final nail in the coffin of legalism. God does not call Christians to live under a system of “Thou shalt nots.” Rather than just condemn murder, Jesus calls Christians to a new commandment — to love one another (John 15:12; 1 John 4:7 – 8; 2 John 5). If we are filled with love, there is no room for hate. Turning the other cheek and going the second mile are ways of defusing the possibility of violence. Being free does not mean being free to hurt someone else. Rather than just condemning adultery, Jesus calls us to think and have an attitude of treating sex as a bond that makes marriage what God intends for it to be — a true oneness. Sex is a great and precious gift given to us through God's design of our bodies. It gives us freedom from the frustration and unfulfilling expression of short-term, uncaring relationships. Our freedom is freedom from sin and all the negatives that sin brings.

What a tragedy it is that mankind continues to try to take away the freedom that the transfiguration and Christianity in general have brought to us. There are people who want to make Christianity a series of negatives that oppress and leave people without positive options. They want to make humans especially vulnerable to sin because positive alternatives rooted in freedom are not offered. In addition to that, we have believers who try to infuse politics with Christianity. Jesus made it clear that he wanted no part in political activity. “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” (Luke 20:25). This statement makes a clear separation between the spiritual things that have to do with freedom and the enslavement of humans in political activity. Romans 13 makes it clear that government is necessary for mankind, and that Christians are to respect government. Jesus and the first century church functioned under one of the most oppressive and abusive political systems of all time, but rather than fight that system Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Dispensationalism and its attempts to enslave mankind to a physical, political future rob us of the freedom that God wants us to have.

Christians need to live freely. We need to be careful, however, that our freedom does not, to use the words of Paul, “become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Teaching legalism or politics can “cause the weak brother, for whom Christ died,” to perish (verse 11). What all of us need is the promise of an eternal life of joy and peace with the God who created us and wants to have a relationship with us.

A person about to be baptized.“We were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life. … our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin … I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. … For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:4 – 23).

— John N. Clayton

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