Beginning in Moses
Last week we looked at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the high mountain. Jesus is transfigured before the three disciples, Peter, James, and John. John explains in the prologue to his gospel account that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The three disciples beheld the glory of God on the mountain that day. As Peter described in 2 Peter chapter 1, they were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet 1:16). On that mountain top experience, two other men appeared, Elijah and Moses. Why Elijah and Moses? Why not Isaiah and Abraham? Or Samuel and David? This week we will be looking at the question of why Moses was on the mountain. Following Jesus’ resurrection, he meets with two disciples, one named Cleopas, as they are walking to Emmaus. The disciples are sad and perplexed at what has happened over the last week. Jesus turns to the prophets to explain that the Christ should suffer these things and enter glory (Luke 24:26). Jesus then beings to open the scriptures, and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them in all the scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Just prior to the transfiguration, Jesus had rebuked Peter for rebuking him because Peter disagreed that the Son of Man must suffer many things (Mark 8:31-33). On the road to Emmaus, Jesus turned to the prophets, beginning with Moses explaining Christ’s life and death. In the early part of Acts, Peter turns and explains “what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18). So today, we will ultimately look at the question of why Moses was on the mount of transfiguration.
I. Moses and God’s Prophet (Exodus 19:16-20)
As we have seen throughout this study of Mark is the connection to the coming of Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of the promises given in the Old Testament. During this section, Peter has made the glorious confession of who Jesus is, the Christ (Mark 8:29). It is following this confession Jesus teaches his disciples of the Suffering Servant. Following this, he takes the three disciples onto the high mountain. We noted last week the theme of mountains that flows through the Bible as the presence of God. We turn back to Exodus 19, where we will see echoes between these two events. The Exodus has happened, and the people of God have seen the wondrous works of the plagues and Passover (Ex 7-13), the crossing of the red sea (Ex 14-15), God provides for them bread from heaven and water from a rock (Ex 16-18) and the giving of the law (Ex 19-20). In chapter 19, the people of Israel camped at the foot of Mount Sanai. The people concentrate and as they stand at the foot of the mountain. The mountain was covered in a thick cloud as the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning. A trumpet sounded, and the people of Israel trembled. The mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire. The mountain trembled, and the trumpet continued to increase in volume. It is here where the Lord meets his people as he comes down to the mountain. Even without showing the connections, you can see the similarities between this event in Exodus chapter 19 and the transfiguration.
God gives the people of Israel the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-18). Following this, the people of God were terrified and trembled. They tell Moses, “You speak for us, and we will listen; But do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex 20:19). As we looked at last week, the author of Hebrews explains that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). The people ask that Moses would be the mediator between God and his people. They did not want him to speak directly to them but through Moses. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses writes of one who will come from the people of Israel.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.'” (Deuteronomy 18:15–16)
God spoke through prophets, however as the author of Hebrews shows, the shift from God speaking through the prophets, but in the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son (Heb 1:2). God the Father speaks to the three disciples on the mountain where Christ is transfigured before them and tells them, “Listen to him.” The passage in Deuteronomy says that “You shall listen to him,” speaking of future action. However, God the Father said, Listen to Him. No longer is the event to be in the future is now present. God the Father affirms that Jesus is this prophet whom Moses spoke of. In the book of Acts, Peter and Stephen also demonstrate that Jesus is this Prophet whom Moses wrote about (Acts 3:22, 7:37). Moses, who wrote of this event years before, bears witness to Christ as the prophet. The gospel of Luke explains what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about, “Christ’s ‘exodus,’ which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
II. Moses and God’s presence (Ex 24:12-18)
In Exodus chapter 24, Moses, three men (Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu), and seventy elders come to the foot of a mountain. God tells Moses to go to the top of the mountain, Moses takes Joshua to the top of the mountain, and a cloud covers the mountain for six days. Following six days, the Lord speaks to Moses out of the cloud (Sound familiar?). God continues to provide Moses with the instructions for the people of Israel to make a sanctuary (holy place) for the purpose that God would dwell in their midst (Ex 25:8). This was the tent of meeting in which God would go with them and dwell in the midst of them. God gave Moses specific instructions of what was to be included in this tent of meeting. The author of Hebrews explains that they serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things (Heb 8:5). We mentioned last week when Solomon dedicated the temple of God in 1 Kings 8, the temple built on the top of Mount Moriah. Then the cloud descends upon the temple when they place the Ark of the Covenant in its place. The temple is filled with the glory cloud. In the transfiguration, the cloud descends, the ark is not in the midst of the temple, but Jesus is in the middle as the author of Hebrews said a shadow and copy of heavenly things. Later in Hebrews, he explains that Christ entered heaven itself to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:24). The Law given to Moses explains that without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness (Heb 9:22).
The tent of the meeting described to Moses as he stood on the mountain in Exodus 24 shows God’s presence in the middle of his people. When God came down in the cloud, he rested in the middle of the cherubim above the mercy seat. Isaiah explains that the Christ will be ‘Immanuel” God with us. The Holy Place was a shadow and copy of heavenly things. Christ is the opposite of a shadow. He is the light. Christ is not the copy but the original. Jesus is God, and he is God with us. Moses received the blueprint of the heavenly design on the mountain. Thousands of years later, Moses stood not looking at the shadow or copy but at Christ, God’s presence on earth.
III. Moses and God’s Mediator (Ex 33:12-34:9)
After Moses comes down from the mountain with the two stone tablets of the testimony, written with the finger of God (Ex 31:18), as Moses is meeting with God on the mountain, the people of Israel are down the foot of the mountain and under the instruction of Aaron make the Golden calf. They claimed ‘these are the gods who brought them out of the land of Egypt’ (Ex 32:4). The Lord tells Moses that he will consume them (Ex 32:10). Moses implores God to remember his promises that he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After seeing the Israelites and their sin Moses said to the people of Israel, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord, and perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Ex 32:30). Moses intercedes for the people of God. Moses asks God if he has found favor in God’s sight. God-given him instructions that Moses would hide in the cleft of the rock, and God would pass by because no one shall see God’s face and live. God tells Moses to go to the top of the mountain. He descends in a cloud on the top of the mountain. The Lord stands with Moses (Ex 34:5). The Lord passes before Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). Moses’ response is to bow down and worship the Lord. When Moses comes down from the mountain, his face shines because he had been talking with God. Again, we see echoes of this event in the Gospel account of the transfiguration. Luke explains that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, to talk to his Father (Luke 9:28). Jesus’ face shone like the sun. (Matt 17:2).
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5–6)
IV. Moses and God’s Son
Thousands of years passed by after Moses, yet one day Moses would stand before the one he wrote about who came in the flesh. As Phillip said to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Moses bowed down and worshiped the Lord (Ex 34:8). Moses was merely a sign pointing to Christ. Moses stood once more with the Lord on the top of a mountain. However, at the end of the transfiguration, Jesus stood alone. Moses had fulfilled his calling. Jesus became the prophet better than Moses. Jesus was God’s Presence in the midst of his people. Jesus is the mediator between God and his people. Jesus is who Moses longed for. Paul compares the ministry under Moses to the ministry under Christ. Moses had to wear a veil because the Israelites minds were hardened. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians that the same veil remains unlifted today because it is only through Christ that the veil is taken away. It is only when one turns to the Lord that the veil is removed. (2 Cor 3:7-16) The transfiguration shows that Christ is greater than Moses. The author of Hebrews explains, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself” (Heb 3:3). Peter and John testified they were eyewitnesses to this glory. Moses was a faithful servant in God’s house, but Jesus is the faithful Son over God’s house. God the Father speaks from the cloud on the mount of transfiguration, making this clear, “This is my Son.” In Christ, we hold fast in confidence and boast not in ourselves but in Christ (Heb 3:5-6). The house is God’s people. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians chapter 3,
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
We have unveiled faces and behold the glory of the Lord. Paul continues that we are being ‘transformed’ or ‘transfigured’ (same word used in Mark 9:2). We are transformed from one degree of glory to another. We behold Christ in his glory and splendor; we are transformed. Moses was there at the transfiguration because he was one of the great heralds announcing the coming of the Christ. He was a witness to the fulfillment of Peter’s confession, You are the Christ. Thomas Adams has a long yet glorious quote of whole Christ is the sum of the Scriptures,
“This blessed Christ is the sole paragon of our joy, the fountain of life, the foundation of all blessedness. The sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line; the Scriptures being but as it were the swadding bands of the child Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, were all renowned, yet are but meant on the by; Christ is the main, the centre whither all these lines are referred. They were all his forerunners, to prepare his way: it is fit that many harbingers and heralds should go before so great a Prince; only John Baptist was that Phosphorus, or morning star, to signify the sun’s approaching. The world was never worthy of him, especially not so early; he was too rich a jewel to be exposed at the first opening of the shop. Therefore he was wrapt up in those obscure shadows, the tree of life, Noah’s ark, Jacob’s ladder; therefore called ‘the expectation of nations,’ longed and looked for more than health to the sick, or life to the dying.”