Matthew 17: 11He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
So once again we hear about John the Baptist. Now the transfiguration story is one (to me anyway) one of the most strange and mysterious and mystical and …. Strange….. of the stories in the Gospels. I think my pastors preach on it once a year around Thanksgiving. I realize it is a complex story with complex meanings and people much wiser than me for hundreds of years have studied this up. I’m not going too far into this story – at least at this point in my bible reading it isn’t a passage that “grabs” me or shimmers at me. Except that there at the end of it, John the Baptist again!
John the Baptist has been dead a while at this point and Jesus’s ministry of healing has reached many people, upset many people, and the disciples have learned from Jesus that he will suffer and be killed and Peter has been rebuked for protesting this notion of suffering and death as being a big negative thing. And it was not too long after that great rebuke that Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John (obviously a different John, it was a common name) to the mountaintop where this strange transfiguration took place – where God breaks into the world and, again, praises Jesus and says to listen to him. So a lot has happened.
Perhaps it was time for those disciples closest to Jesus to be brought closer still. Perhaps now that they have seen, they will listen. Perhaps now that they know somehow there was a connection between Elijah and John the Baptist they will realize even more about Jesus and his mission. Perhaps we will too…. Only what? The whole connection/rebirth thing of Elijah is just weird right?
Maybe it is “the role of Elijah is now being played by John” type of thing. But note that, at least for this moment, Peter, John, and James are listening. “Then the disciples understood …” Perhaps that moment of understanding was something Jesus needed. His friend, cousin, prophet did not suffer in vain. He will be honored and remembered. Although the transfiguration has many more implications, that are above my pay grade, this little moment of understanding with these disciples — I bet it meant a lot to Jesus.
But who is Elijah? He’s a great prophet — and that’s all I really know. I really should know more. This is an New-Testament-to-Hebrew-Scripture connection that is clearly important, this “John the Baptist is Elijah” thing has been a clear thread throughout. Well, eventually I’ll get there! Comments welcome!