They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Mount Sinai & The Mount of Transfiguration

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that the whole Bible is really just one interwoven story. The Hebrew (Old) Testament continually surfaces in the stories in the gospels and conversely the stories in the gospels are foretold and prophesied throughout the Hebrew Testament. One unbelievable example of this is found in the similarities between Moses’ trip up Mount Sinai in Exodus 24 and Jesus’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17 (also found in Mark 9 and Luke 9). Let’s take a look at these two stories and see if possibly Jesus, the second Moses, was emulating and fulfilling what had happened to Moses himself during the Exodus. At this point it would be helpful if you took the time to read all accounts of both stories.

  1. In both stories the main characters go up on a high mountain with God
  2. In both stories three men go with the main character. Moses takes Joshua, Aaron and Hur and Jesus takes Peter, James and John.
  3. In both cases, a cloud covered the mountain.
  4. In Exodus 24:16, it says,”For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the 7th day the Lord called to Moses. In both Matthew and Mark, the gospel writers are careful to tell us that it was six days that Jesus took the disciples upon the mountain.
  5. In both stories nothing happened for six days and then on the seventh day, God spoke.
  6. In both stories God spoke from the cloud
  7. In both stories God’s glory appeared and changed or transfigured the appearance of the principal figures as they were spoken to by God. (See also Exodus 34:29-30)
  8. The Glory of God “settled” on both mountains (Exodus 24:16 and Mark 9:7)

The Hebrew word for settle is “shakan” (Strong’s 7931) and means, ”to settle temporarily or to tent, or abide in a temporary dwelling.” Is it possible that Peter realized that Jesus was reconstructing the Moses story? Is he thinking, “What can we do to bring shakan like the Moses story?” So he says, “Let’s build something temporary (like shakan) – let’s put up some tents to duplicate the Sinai experience.” In Hebrew, the word mishkan, a derivative of shakan is used to say tent or tabernacle. Shakan is also where we get the word Shekinah, to mean God’s glory, or the divine presence. Peter wasn’t just trying to think of something to do, he knew the story!

Luke adds a wonderful exclamation point in his account of the transfiguration. It says in Luke 9:31, ”They spoke of his departure”. The Greek word for departure is “Exodos” (Strong’s 1841) and when “Exodos” is used in the New Testament, it is almost always used in conjunction with the actual Exodus story. The use of this Greek word wonderfully links Jesus death and resurrection with God rescuing his people out of Egypt.

Further proof that Jesus was fulfilling his role as the second Moses is found in Deuteronomy 18:15, where God tells Moses that, ”He will raise up another Prophet that will be like me” and then says, ”Listen to Him.” These are the exact same words that God uses at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5): ”This is my Son, Listen to Him.”

This comparison of Mt Sinai with the Mount of Transfiguration is just another convincing proof that the Bible is one long thread that is intricately and brilliantly woven together. We just have to look for the connections.

Call Down Fire from Heaven

There is an interesting story about Jesus and his disciples that occurs in the gospels only in Luke 9. The time frame of the story is in the very late stages of Jesus public ministry.  He has taken his disciples to the northernmost part of Israel, to Caesarea Philippi, where He revealed to them what was about to take place as far as his death and resurrection were concerned.

Click on map for route and location details

Click on map for route and location details

Then he takes three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain to experience what has been called the “transfiguration”. While they are watching, Jesus meets with and talks to the “angelic” appearing Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest prophets, who have long since died and gone to heaven. They also see their rabbi transfigured and hear the voice of God thunder from the heavens. It is obvious that they are in special company in a special time in history.

After this amazing incident, the Bible says that Jesus, realizing that his time to be crucified was at hand, set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.  To get to Jerusalem, which is south of the Galilee quite a distance, the group decided to go the shortest route through the Samaritan mountains. They had taken this route in the past, if you remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Samaria. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along, at all. Most Jews would not even risk going through Samaria and the same could be said for the Samaritans, as they were reluctant to go through Israel. Their hatred for each other had been going on for centuries.

As they traveled in Samaria, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to reserve a place to stay and to have something to eat. However, the Samaritans were not friendly at all, and would not let the disciples make any arrangements for their rabbi.

When James and John saw the Samaritans rude behavior, they quickly asked Jesus,”Can we call down fire from heaven on these guys and teach them a lesson and destroy this Samaritan village?”Jesus rebuked James and John and said, we’ll just go to another village. In the King James translation, Jesus replies, “I did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”.

Why would the disciples want to call fire down from heaven, besides the obvious fact that they were mad at them? If we knew our text better, the answer would be obvious. Elijah, the first great prophet of Israel, the one that they had just seen on the mountain, had done the exact same thing to the exact same people, in the exact same area, for the exact same reason! Look at the story in 2 Kings Ch.1! By gosh, if Elijah didn’t put up with these unruly Samaritans, then neither will we! Also, Elijah had called down fire from heaven in the contest with Baal on top of Mt. Carmel. So the fire from heaven was a prophet thing!

Moses, the other great leader of Israel that they had just witnessed, also called down fire from heaven on the Sons of Korah in Numbers 16:35 and on Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10:2. So the disciples were trying to emulate these great prophets when they asked Jesus for permission to scorch these Samaritans! They had great precedent to do so; surely their rabbi would go along with it.

Jesus, however, said, “My ministry is going to be a little different “. What Moses and Elijah did was appropriate for that time and situation, but my ministry is going to be about trying to save these people’s lives, not wipe them out”. In fact, Jesus uses the Samaritans as examples in a lot of his parables and stories to show that we’ve got to love even our worst enemy, e.g. the story of the Good Samaritan.

Doesn’t this make this story a lot more interesting when you know the history and the context behind what was happening? We need to know our Hebrew Testament so much better! That is the book and the stories that Jesus and his disciples would have been so familiar with. This should motivate us to be better students of the text! Our rabbi and his disciples certainly were good students!