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Had the disciples any doubt that Jesus would someday come to reign in glory (16:27), he promises them a proleptic vision of his glory in the present (16:28). In a narrative that resembles Moses' revelation on Mount Sinai, the disciples become witnesses like Moses of Jesus' divine glory (17:1-8). The six days (17:1) probably allude to Exodus 24:15-18 (see, for example, Mauser 1963:111). The bright cloud (Mt 17:5; Ex 24:15) and other features of the narrative likewise recall the revelation on Mount Sinai. The appearance in Matthew 17:3 of the literal Moses and Elijah (both of whom had experiences with God on Mount Horeb) invite the reader to consider the other allusions to Moses (17:2-5) and Elijah (17:10-13) later in the narrative.
Jesus the Glorious Lord (16:28-17:3)
When Jesus again takes some disciples aside for private instruction (15:21; 16:13; see comment on 13:10-17), his transfiguration among them provides a foretaste of his glory when he will return to judge the earth (16:28). Various suggestions for the background for Jesus' proleptic "glorification" could be offered here, but a variety of allusions combine to point to Moses in the Old Testament. After Moses beheld God's glory, his own face shone with that glory (Ex 34:29-35; compare Ps-Philo 12:1; 19:16). Despite the clear testimony of Deuteronomy 34 (see also 1 Enoch 89:38), some of Jesus' contemporaries doubted that Moses had died (Sipre Deut. 357.10.5; ARN 12A), living on like Elijah and some other figures (compare 4 Ezra 6:27; pace Jos. Ant. 9.28). The Bible itself claimed that both Elijah (Mal 4:4-5) and a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19) would return. Most important, this literal Moses and Elijah also capture the reader's attention for the figurative new Elijah (Mt 17:12) and new Moses-Jesus-of whom this text speaks.
But while the text may present Jesus as a new Moses (especially 17:5), it also presents him as something more. It portrays the disciples as witnesses of his glory on the mountain, just as Moses and Elijah heard God on Mount Sinai (see Moiser 1985). The presence of Moses and Elijah indicates that Jesus is incomparably greater than the prophets with whom some were comparing him (16:14; compare Thrall 1970:316).
We Are Called to Heed Jesus As We Would God's Law (17:4-5)
The bright cloud that enveloped or "overshadowed" them is described in language reminiscent of the Jewish doctrine of the Shekinah, God's presence, especially recalling God's presence in the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex 40:34-38; Daube 1973:30; W. Davies 1966b:22-23; Argyle 1963:132). God then repeats in a bat qol some of the commendation oracle he uttered at Jesus' baptism, revealing Jesus' identity as both Messiah and suffering servant (Ps 2:7; Is 42:1; see comment on Mt 3:17); to this he adds an allusion that indicates that Jesus is the promised "prophet like Moses" as well, for of that prophet God said, Listen to him (17:5; Deut 18:15).
Jesus Does Not Flaunt His Power (17:6-8)
The disciples fall on their faces, afraid. As he often did, Jesus crosses barriers and communicates his kindness by touching (v. 7; compare 8:3, 15; 9:20, 25, 29). He then speaks words of assurance customary for divine and angelic revelations: Get up. . . . Don't be afraid (compare 28:5, 10).
God's Way Is the Way of Martyrdom (17:9-13)
Although scholars disagree concerning how widespread and early was the explicit view of Elijah as the Messiah's forerunner, his end-time function in general is clear from Malachi 4:5-6 (compare Sirach 48:10; see note on 3:4 above), which also presents him as a "restorer."