The Debriefing: Matthew 17:9-13
“9) As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” 10) And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11) And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12) but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13) Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17‬:‭9‬-‭13‬
The experience on the Mount of Transfiguration had a significant impact on the three disciples. Peter wrote of it many years later in 2 Peter 1:16-21. He used the occasion to speak of the accuracy of prophecy. It is a must read Scripture when studying the Transfiguration.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about the vision until He had risen from the dead. It is intriguing that Jesus referred to the transfiguration as a “vision.”
What happened on that mountain is shrouded in mystery. They all experienced the exact same event, but of the three, Peter was the only one to write about it. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it in their Gospels, but none of them were actually present on the mountain. It is absent completely from the Gospel of John, and of the four Gospel writers he was the only one present on the mountain.
A curious question is posed to Jesus by the disciples on the way down from the mountain in Matthew 17:10; “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” The scribes were Old Testament scholars. They may have been referring to Malachi 4:4-6. It is intriguing that both Moses and Elijah are mentioned in that context. The disciples had just witnessed them together on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Some believe they are together again in Revelation 11:1-13 as the two witnesses during the tribulation period. Verse 6 says; “These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.” As you can see, it is hard to refute this claim of the identity of the two witnesses in the end times being Elijah and Moses.
Why are the two so important? I believe God was saying that the whole Old Testament from the Law given through Moses to the prophets point to Jesus. I have said this before, but it is worthy of repetition; “History is His Story!” The New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. They are in harmony.
Note in Matthew 17:11-13, Jesus pointed to John the Baptist fulfilling the role of Elijah in preparing the way for the Messiah. He was the forerunner for the Messiah. John the Baptist was definitely in the spirit and power of Elijah.
The key however, is that Jesus uses the trip down the mountain to again highlight His coming suffering, death and resurrection. He spoke of it twice in these five verses. He was very intentional about preparing them for His coming crucifixion.
On the cross, the Lamb of God redeemed humanity from the curse of sin. He paid the sentence in full. The resurrection confirmed His claim to Deity. (See Romans 1:4) This is the Gospel message.
But it may be helpful to talk about Old Testament prophecy from the vantage point of the Scribes and religious leaders. The disciples had obviously picked up on the Scribes objection to Jesus being the Messiah. So, why did they reject Jesus? The simple answer is the timing was off by 2,000 years according to their theology.
They viewed the six days of Creation followed by the day of rest as God’s prophetic calendar. Psalm 90:4 states that a thousand years from Gods perspective is as one day. Accordingly, by the historic Jewish calendar, Jesus came at the end of the forth millennium after Creation and not at the end of the sixth millennium.
According to their interpretation of prophecy, the Messiah would usher in the Sabbath rest for Israel. (See Hebrews 4:9-11) He would set up His Kingdom and restore the nation of Israel. Even the disciples questioned Jesus about this very issue after His resurrection. (See Acts 1:6)
Are you starting to see the problem? The timing of Jesus being the Messiah didn’t fit their theology. The timing of the return of the Messiah to restore all things and set up His earthly kingdom was off by 2,000 years in their thinking. This is the primary reason the religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah and treated Him with scorn. They were blinded by their own theology.
We now discover a unique characteristic of prophecy, it can have duel meaning and fulfillment. It can relate to both the first and the second return of Christ. Elijah is a great example. He was the forerunner for Jesus as John the Baptist and He is pictured as a forerunner for the return of Christ as one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:6. Prophecy about Elijah had duel fulfillment.
So what is our takeaway from this debriefing in Matthew 17:9-13? Let me present a concept to you; God’s Word, especially related to prophecy is always accurate and true, but is cloaked with a degree of mystery. It must be handled with care.
Biblical prophecy is intended to help us walk by faith and not by sight. It always make sense when looked at in the rear view mirror, but looking ahead is like driving into fog. Scripture says to be alert and ready for the second return of Christ; but it leaves plenty of room for things to unfold in unexpected ways as the end times come upon us.
Here is my advice; don’t force or calcify your view of the end times to the point that your theology makes you blind! Leave room for things to unfold in unexpected ways. There are many theological theories of the end times and some people get very testy if you question their views.
I confess, I am amused by each view, but I leave room for things to unfold with plenty of surprises. Prophecy does not put God in a ridged box related to the end times, it merely presents the signs of the times. My goal is to be faithful, share the gospel and remain alert and ready for the second return of Christ.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global