Question & Answer Forum

At the transfiguration, did Moses and Elijah have physical bodies?

In each of the gospel accounts of the transfiguration (Mat 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luk 9:28-36), the Spirit of God uses the word “appeared,” meaning “made visible” (TDNT. Kittel).

On that occasion, the disciples saw a preview of the glorified Christ (2Pe 1:16-18). He was “transformed,” a strong word suggesting an inward change (WEV Expository Dictionary). However, Moses and Elijah would not have had glorified bodies. Believers will receive such bodies at their resurrection, which is still future. Because Christ is the Firstfruit of resurrection (1Co 15:23; Acts 26:23), it seems unlikely that Moses and Elijah received a glorified body – even temporarily – before Christ rose from the dead. It seems equally unlikely that God created a special body for each of them at that time. While God is able to do that, each person’s body is unique to and solely identified with that person. God’s ways in providing a body for each person, then raising and changing that body at the resurrection (1Co 15:35-38) appear to rule out this possibility.

We have little Biblical evidence to use in answering this question. The best evidence is that by employing the verb “appeared,” the Spirit indicates that Moses and Elijah did not have tangible bodies at the transfiguration. By divine power, they became visible to Peter, James, and John.

D. Oliver

Are those whose graves were opened when the Lord died (Mat 27:51-53) typical of the Rapture for us?

The first readers of Matthew’s gospel were predominantly Jewish, many living in Jerusalem. Matthew wrote to show that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the Old Testament prophecies. Many of these Jews likely lived in Jerusalem. They may have been aware of the appearance of these “many saints” and Matthew includes this in his gospel to reinforce the remarkable character of the Lord’s death and resurrection.

Matthew is a “dispensational gospel.” It focuses on the coming millennial kingdom. For that reason, the Rapture is not likely in view in this event.

Very few New Testament events are types. Some events give us pictures of God’s ways and plans.

That said, the likelihood is that Matthew is presenting a picture of the resurrection of Old Testament saints rather than the rapture of New Testament saints.

D. Oliver

Did they go to heaven in glorified bodies?

Being raised from the dead is different from being resurrected. Paul refers to the coming resurrection as an “out resurrection” (Phi 3:11) from among the dead. Those who share in this “out resurrection” will come out from the number of the dead, leaving many of the dead behind to come to life in a later resurrection. More than that, they will leave death behind, never to die again.

These mentioned in Matthew 27 were raised from the dead and, like Lazarus, came back with their own bodies, which were still subject to death. “Putting on immortality” awaits the first resurrection (1Co 15:52), the “out resurrection.” If those saints who came out of their graves went to heaven bodily, this relatively small band would be the only believers who have had their bodies in the Lord’s presence through the many centuries since the Lord ascended.

D. Oliver

Was there a delay between when those individuals were raised and when they “appeared unto many”?

Different translations handle Matthew 27:52 and 53 differently. Some indicate that the graves were opened and the saints arose, then three days later came out of their graves and appeared in Jerusalem. The Greek also allows another possibility: at the death of the Lord Jesus the tombs were opened. At His resurrection, the saints arose, came out of the graves, and appeared in Jerusalem. The King James indicates the latter and there is reason to favor that. These who were raised from death (not resurrected) seem to have greater significance when their return to life is linked with his day of resurrection. In addition, when the Lord brought Jairus’ daughter back to life, He commanded to feed her. How did these sustain life for three days in their tombs?

The likelihood is that the Lord’s power over death was evident in His death, for the tombs were opened. Then on the day of Christ’s resurrection, these who had died arose, came forth, and appeared to many.

D. Oliver

What is the significance of the raising of these saints?

The details of this event are so few that we are liable to stray into conjecture. One possible suggestion is that God was giving the Jewish religious leaders further evidence of the triumphant power of the Lord’s death and resurrection. They were responsible for having Him crucified, despite the evidence in Bethany that He had power over death.

D. Oliver

Is there a connection to the Levitical offerings?

We are familiar with the truth that the Lord rose from the dead as the Firstfruit (1Co 15:23). This fulfilled the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:10). On the exact day that feast was fulfilled by Christ’s resurrection, the citizens of Jerusalem saw people alive whom they knew had died. These who came back from death were not part of the “harvest” of which Christ is the Firstfruits. He is unique as the Firstfruit. These returned to death. They are a reminder of that Feast of Firstfruits and its promise of a coming harvest: this sheaf of wheat is a first fruit, and other sheaves will follow. Just as that first fruit was especially for God, so our resurrected Lord has precedence over all others. Those who have part in the first resurrection (Rev 20:5), like Christ, will never die again.

D. Oliver