When Jesus ascended the mountain of Transfiguration with his disciples, “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” (Matt 17:3 cf. Mk 9:4; Lk 9:30). There are several reasons for why these two biblical figures speak with Jesus. For instance, both Moses and Elijah meet with God on Mount Horeb (aka Sinai), so it is fitting that they also meet with God’s Son on a mountain. Alternatively, since Moses is the giver of the Torah and Elijah gives a double portion of his spirit to Elisha, the Gospel writers may be alluding to Yeshua as someone who also offers these gifts. Yet another (more interesting) possibility, found in both Scripture and later Jewish tradition, is that neither Moses or Elijah died natural deaths, but rather remained alive with God before meeting with the Messiah.

Elijah does not suffer an earthly death; instead, “Elijah went up by a whirlwind (סער; sa’ar) into the heavens (השׁמים; ha’shamayim)” (2 Kgs 2:11). Since Elisha sees this happen, he is imbued with Elijah’s spirit, so that the other prophets say, “The spirit (רוּח; ruach) of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2 Kgs 2:15). In a similar way, Moses imparts his divinely-given spirit to Joshua (see Deut 34:9), which provides a parallel to Elijah and, by extension, invites comparison between Elijah’s ascension and the obscurity of Moses’ death. Since both Eljiah and Moses impart a spirit to their successors, might Moses, like Elijah, have remained alive with God until the advent of the Messiah?

On a plain reading of Scripture, it would seem not: “Moses the servant of the Lord died” (Deut 34:5). However, Moses’ death is shrouded in some mystery, since “no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (34:6). The description of Moses’ burial states, “He buried him” (34:6). Some rabbis read the Hebrew for “him” (אתו; oto) to mean that Moses buried “himself” (!), which points to some kind of life after death (cf. Sifre Naso 32; Num. R. 10:17; Rashi on Deut 34:6). Others asserted that God did not bury Moses in the ground, but rather “hid him away for life in the World to Come” (Sifre Deut 301), which is why no one can find his earthly burial site.

The Gospel writers may well have shared rabbinic views about the obscure circumstances of Moses’ death and his continued presence with God. Thus, it is fitting for Moses and Elijah to meet with Jesus at his Transfiguration: just as Jesus’ metamorphosis on the mountain foreshadows his continued life through resurrection, Moses and Elijah’s presence undergird God’s ability to confer eternal life upon the righteous.



  1. Well, "Yes, but." The traditional assignment of Moses = Law and Elijah = Prophets, even though there is obviously no "book" of Elijah, still seems to me to make more sense.
    • Thanks, John. Yes, this may well be another reason why Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain. Since many such reasons are plausible (and likely working in concert), your judicious response constitutes a case of "yes, and..." -- and it is well taken.

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  2. I disagree. Moses "died" to me means death for what it is. Elijah was taken by a whirlwind, but Enoch walked with Adonai and was no more. Moses, giver of Torah, I believe met with Yeshua to help Him in time of distress and encourage Him with Elijah
    • Thanks for your comment, Silvia. I agree with you that Moses died according to the biblical text, but later Jewish tradition reads the text in a way that allows for Moses' ongoing (after)life and the Gospel writers may have drawn on this tradition. Since Jesus is not in "distress" during the Transfiguration, we should probably look for another reason for why Moses and Elijah appear to him.

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  3. Reading Joshua 1, we find the language quite clear in the first 2 verses:
    Joshua 1:1 "After the death of Moses" the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son
    of Nun, Moses' assistant, 2 "Moses my servant is dead." … ESV

    If Moses was still physically alive, (but not in our mortal realm and in the presence of the LORD), I don't think the LORD would have told Joshua, "Moses my servant DEAD." just sayin.
  4. There is yet another explanation: Elijah as well as Moses desired to see the "glory" of God, but they were not allowed to (No one who sees God ....). But here in the person of Jesus they were granted their desire.
    It seems also possible that these two will be the two witnesses of Rev 11: the three may be talking about the death of Jesus and the coming time of "Jacob's trials" and their involvement in the time. Therefore it seems possible that Moses did not die the physical death.
    • Thanks for your comments, Felicitas. You may well be right about Moses and Elijah being the two witnesses of Revelation, and they may be acting as two heavenly witnesses to Jesus' Transfiguration (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:5). On your point about "glory," I'm not seeing where Elijah is not allowed to see God's glory; more, Moses (along with every other Israelite) sees God's glory at Sinai (see Exod 16:7-10; cf. 2 Chron 7:3).
  5. The Bible says at the witness of two or three people must a matter be established.
    So I believed that both Men of YEHOWAH come to encourage or came to witness or to confirm and support Jesus since he wanted the cup to pass over him.
    • Thanks, David. It certainly seems that Moses and Elijah are acting as two heavenly witnesses (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15). While I'm not seeing a need for "encouragement" at the Transfiguration (this would be more appropriate at Gethsemane), I think you're right that Moses and Elijah are confirming the event in heaven and Jesus' three disciples are confirming the event on earth. Thanks again for contributing to our discussion!
  6. Maybe, these two were God's most faithful and best prophets/preachers, and Jesus wanted to tell them to get all the dead saints ready, because He was about to "lead captivity, captive!"
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  7. When Jesus transfigured appearing with Moses and Elijah, God has shown of His Work for man’s salvation as He told them witnesses to only listen to His beloved Son Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah?, both of them were entrusted by God of the Word, with Moses the 10Commandments and Elijah in John the Baptist, the Word that became flesh. They both cater to men the eternal Word of God, Christ Jesus our Lord. Man should live by this Word for his salvation.
  8. How can there be people who have not died? Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for men to die, and that Jesus is the first to live after death (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Didn't God provide a vision for Jesus and the apostles on the mount, not a physical reality, to point toward the future realization of the Messianic kingdom?
    • Thanks for your question, Terri. Peter seems to think that Moses' and Elijah's appearance is a physical reality, since he offers to build booths for them. Paul's statement in 1 Cor 15 is true as a generalization, but the biblical text includes exceptions (e.g., Elijah and Enoch).

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  9. If we look at it in terms of Moses and Elijah alone we may not get it. There are three men here: Moses, Elijah who must come and has already come (John the baptist) for the preparation of the future and Jesus the Future. Three disciples who were with Jesus saw a complete picture of the plan of God for salvation: Moses law which falls short to impart righteousness - transition/Preparation by Elijah (or John if you like) - Future redemption promise which is Jesus. LAW - PREPARATION - NEW DISPENSATION
    • The Gospels do seem to be drawing on the "three witnesses" language from Deuteronomy (cf. 17:6; 19:15), though Matthew, for example, would not have thought that the Law fails to impart righteousness (cf. Matt 5:17-20, esp. v. 20). This notion comes from a certain interpretation of Paul, but it is somewhat at odds with what Paul actually says about the Law and righteousness (cf. Rom 2:13; 7:12; 8:4; 9:31; 10:5).
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