Q: (In regard to Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah on Mount Transfiguration in Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9.) “Since it is appointed for man to die once (Hebrews 9:27), how is it that Moses who did die, while Elijah was translated, that the three disciples witnessed Jesus talking to them…so, the Lord WAS speaking with the dead, albeit, the Scripture says they appeared in ‘glory’ which I’m assuming meant their glorified bodies? So, what is to stop “anyone” else from speaking to the dead, since Jesus did it beforehand?”
A: You asked a very thought-provoking question. When you consider the word “judgment,” it is in reference to separation such as in the case of Matthew 25:23-22. My understanding is that since believers (Judgment seat of Christ) and unbelievers (Great White Throne Judgment) will appear before different judgment seats, they will be separated at physical death (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). Those who are heirs of salvation are separated unto eternal life, while unbelievers are put into the holding place of hell where they will be separated unto eternal damnation. (Note: Old Testament saints were placed in Abraham’s bosom before Jesus came, and since His redemption, believers find upon death that they are spiritually present with the Lord. (See Luke 16:22-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:8.)
As far as Moses and Elijah appearing on the mountain, keep in mind that God is the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:31, 32). In other words a person who belongs to God never dies. As far as the glory that surrounded Moses and Elijah on the mount, you need to keep in mind that Jesus’ glory, in relationship to His deity, was being unveiled to the disciples. The Apostle John spoke about the glory he witnessed on the mountain in John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
As to whether Moses and Elijah were appearing in glorified bodies, I can only point you to what Jesus said in John 5:24-29 where He talked about resurrection. What happens at resurrection? According to the Apostle Paul that is when saints will inherit their glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54). Upon receiving our glorified bodies the fullness of redemption will finally be realized.
This brings us to the fact that Moses and Elijah appeared in human form. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that they did not appear in a physical body, since Moses’ body was clearly left in the grave and we know that all physical bodies must be put off or changed in order to enter into glory.
Keep in mind that when something appears in a form, it is for the purpose of identification. For example, saints who die in the Lord are said to be asleep, not dead. They are waiting for that time when they will be raised in a new glorified body. We have a record in Scripture of these saints being raised from the grave in a recognizable form. Consider Matthew 27:52-53, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
We know that angels, spiritual beings, can take on human form, and no doubt this was true for Moses and Elijah. The thing that amazes me is how did the disciples recognize these men? There is no record of images of these men being left behind. I can only surmise that the Holy Spirit revealed their identities to the disciples.
This brings me to the reason why these two men appeared with Jesus. Clearly these men were not there so Jesus could speak to the dead. He was not seeking them beyond the grave for information or assurance about the unknown or the future. What was He speaking to them about? Luke 9:31 gives us some insight, “Who appeared in glory and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” He was talking to them about the events of His death, burial, and resurrection, something that all saints of the Old Testament were looking forward to. Let us consider the significance of this.
It is well-known that Moses is highly regarded by the Jews. After all, he gave them the Torah. As for the great prophet Elijah, they are still waiting for his return. However, Moses prophesied that a great prophet like unto him would come (Deuteronomy 18:17-18). We know that he was talking about Jesus. Jesus is not only the great prophet who was promised, but He is the lawgiver who came out of Judah. He is also the One who fulfilled the law and is found at the end of it to be the essence of righteousness, for the Law was simply a schoolmaster to point people to Jesus (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24). Jesus is not only the greatest of prophets, but He is the one that all the prophets prophesied about. He was and is the fulfillment of all the shadows, types, patterns, promises, and prophecies found in the Bible. He is the One who in the end will assure all saints that their faith towards God was not in vain.
Even though Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and the disciples showed great excitement over seeing them, when all was said and done on that mountain, the only one who was acknowledged by the Father and left standing was Jesus. The truth is Moses (the holy Law) and Elijah (promises) had to give way to that which was and is worthy of all of our devotion—the One who cast the shadows in the Old Testament and came to fulfill the promises of that which would bring the new forth in power and glory.
There will always be mysterious aspects about the matters of God’s kingdom, and will be explained in the age yet to come. Meanwhile, I hope I have been able to bring some insight to your question.