11.01.03 Mt. 17:9-13; Lk. 9:36b; (See also Mk. 9:9-13) Mount Hermon
APOSTLES ASK ABOUT ELIJAH
Mt. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
10 So the disciples questioned Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
11 “Elijah is coming and will restore everything,” He replied. 12 “But I tell you: Elijah has already come, and they didn’t recognize him. On the contrary, they did whatever they pleased to him. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them about John the Baptist.
Lk. 36a They kept silent, and in those days told no one what they had seen.
“Don’t tell anyone about the vision.” Literally, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen.” At this point Jesus was still concerned that the Jews were expecting Him to be a political messiah. He is totally against anyone promoting Him. It was one of the many features that made Jesus distinctively different from others who claimed to be the messiah – they told everyone to spread the news about themselves. Jesus didn’t. His identity was the subject of countless debates as Jesus performed miracles of greater power than did Elijah.
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus confirmed that “Elijah,” of whom Malachi (4:5) spoke, came in the form of John the Baptist. They were correct in saying that Elijah would come before the Messiah, but they believed him to literally return from heaven as the same physical person he was centuries earlier. Furthermore, they believed that he would function with the messiah to purify Judaism from the Greek influences and restore the Jewish people to the political greatness associated with King David. This steadfast mindset prevented many from recognizing the identity of both John the Baptist and Jesus. This also explains, in part, why Jesus was so careful in demonstrating His identity to the Jews rather than making a public announcement.
Now the darkest hour of Jesus and the disciples lay before them. The previous discussion at the Shrine of Pan at Banias resulted in Peter’s profound confession. Now the experience of the Transfiguration would build their faith for the coming painful and agonizing trial and crucifixion. The mountaintop experience was a prelude of what was to come. They had seen Jesus as they had never seen Him before. Yet, unknown to them, they would see Him again in a similar manner after the resurrection. But a fuller meaning of the Transfiguration would not be realized until after the resurrection when Jesus would again walk among them again.
An example of the misunderstanding of “Elijah” is found in the Mishnah. The author believed Elijah would be a man who would bring peace to the descendants of Moses.
Rabbi Joshua said: “I have received as a tradition from Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, who heard from his teacher, and his teacher from his teacher, as a Halakah given to Moses from Sinai, that Elijah will not come to declare (what is) clean or unclean, to remove afar or to bring nigh, but to remove afar those (families) that were brought nigh by violence and bring nigh those (families) that were removed afar by violence.”
Mishnah, Eduyoth 8.7
From this quotation it is clear that the teacher believed that Elijah, when he would return, would not change the Torah, but would restore justice to human relationships. Yet both John and Jesus underscored the Torah and, in so doing, they challenged the Oral Law.
All this illustrates the difficulties Jesus had to overcome in preparing the disciples for what was before them. They were under His continuous teaching and had often heard of His death and resurrection, either directly or indirectly. Even so, they still failed to comprehend what they were about to witness.
. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.