Why Moses? Why Elijah? Why not Enoch? I say this because Elijah was taken up into the heavens, same for Enoch, but it is mentioned in scripture that Moses clearly died

What made the disciples think that it was, Moses and Elijah, that were with Jesus during his transfiguration if they had never seen Moses or Elijah before then? Is there more to it than an explanation such as divine revelation?

I am recently reading the New testament vigilantly and this part really captivated me for some reason. I would appreciate a very detailed and holistic answer if possible.

  • 4
    The narrative does not tell us 'how' something happened. Only 'that' it did happen. This is common in scripture since spiritual experiences have to be experienced and may not be communicable in words, such as visions or dreams wherein features of such a communication may be deeply instinctive and impressed profoundly upon the sensibilities, but could not be expressed in grammar and vocabulary to another recipient.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:15
  • 4
    The same is true of the visions seen by John in Revelation. We are not told how he received the vast array of visionary detail, nor are we told how he was able to understand how certain things being depicted represented real things. We do not know 'how' it happened to him (because we, ourselves, did not experience it) we only know 'that' it happened - to him.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:21
  • 2
    No there are not. We are not given certain things. We are to concentrate on what has been given. For therein is the spiritual instruction. We are not to be taken up with how supernatural things occur, only that they did occur - for a reason. To signify, To draw attention, not to the supernatural occurrence, but to what the occurrence signifies.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:41
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    And so I ask, why Moses? why Elijah? why not Enoch? I say this because Elijah was taken up into the heavens, same for Enoch, but it is mentioned in scripture that Moses clearly died.
    – How why e
    Commented Mar 28 at 7:00
  • 1
    I have taken the liberty of placing your comment (above) in the body of your question.
    – Lesley
    Commented Mar 28 at 8:17

7 Answers 7


Why Moses? Why Elijah?

Moses, the promulgator of the law, and Elijah the representative of the prophets and especially distinguished among them as the one who had not died, had been seen ministering unto Jesus and subservient to Him. The fulfillment of the law and the superseding of the prophets by the Messiah was attested in the command—Hear ye Him. A new dispensation had been established, that of the gospel, for which the law and the prophets had been but preparatory. The apostles were to be guided neither by Moses nor Elijah, but by Him, their Lord, Jesus the Christ.1

Jesus was here to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17)

Why not Enoch?

Basic answer, we don't know. As Moses also appeared and had died, one could postulate that having died/or not was not a contributing factor to who appeared (and as such one could ask about other Old Testament prophets, so we have to look at what else made Elijah unique).

Possible reasons:

  • Elijah had the sealing power (1 Kings 17:1-7) of the Priesthood, Enoch did not.
  • Elijah is prophesied to return before the 2nd coming (Malachi 4:5-6), Enoch was not

What made the disciples think that it was, Moses and Elijah

Jesus probably addressed them when they talked together (Luke 9:30)

1 Jesus the Christ, James E Talmage


The other answers address Elijah satisfactorily, so I will speak of Moses.

Sometimes we get a glimpse into God's plans when we see Satan at work. Satan opposes God, so the things that Satan does give us clues into what God is doing.

Deuteronomy 34 says this:

5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8 And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

A core part of Jesus' mission was to prove that faith in God the Father and the work of His Son guarantees eternal life. This law of the Spirit of life must overcome the law of sin and death. Who best exemplifies the law of sin and death? Moses!

Going back to Genesis, God made two decrees about mortality, to Adam and Noah.

Adam. First, he told Adam that on the day that he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. Adam did not die on the literal day that he ate the fruit. He lived to be 930 years old. One way to understand this is that the certainty of his eventual death was manifest on the day he ate the fruit. A second way is to take that day prophetically.

"For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." Psalm 90:4

That Psalm was written by Moses. Thus God executed his sentence against Adam near the end of the first prophetic day in history, the first millennium.

Noah. The second decree was given to Noah.

3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3)

There are two common interpretations of this verse:

  • The flood would arrive 120 years later, claiming most humans
  • The maximum lifespan for people would be reduced to 120 years

I believe that both are true. The first was the literal fulfillment in the flood. The second was the prophetic fulfillment. Again, humanity was given a prophetic "day" of a thousand years during which God progressively implemented the sentence. The reported lifespans of people steadily declined following Noah. The last person (besides the only exception, Jehoiada) to reach 120 years was Moses. If you mark out 1,000 years from when God made his decree, it falls near the end of Moses' life. Thus Moses was the first patriarch to fall under God's fully implemented limit of 120 years.

Moses is the exemplar of God's strongest limit of mortality under the law. Thus to raise Moses up to behold the Christ is immensely symbolic.

Where Satan comes into this is in the matter of Moses' body. Deuteronomy said that no humans knew where Moses' body was buried, so no one could desecrate his tomb. However, that does not mean that Satan could not desecrate the body and prevent the eventual meeting of Moses and Christ.

8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (Jude v8-9)

We are not told why Michael and the devil were arguing about Moses' body, but it is certain that breaking up that meeting on the mountain of Transfiguration is the sort of thing he would try to do.

One more thing about Moses. The harshest penalty ever suffered by Moses was being told that he would die before he ever reached the Promised Land because of his sin. Despite that, Moses remained faithful until death.

Yet what did Solomon say? Love is as strong as death!

Moses did die before entering the Promised Land, but then Jesus raised him up. At his transfiguration, Jesus demonstrated that God's promises are not voided even by death. Moses walked and talked with Jesus upon the mountain of transfiguration - in the Promised Land at last!


The death of Moses does not rule him out from this imagery, but it is written to create testimony of the two great prophets; where Elijah was thought to come before the Messiah, and Moses being a type of the Messiah. Along with these two, the third witness is given by God himself through the heavenly voice; where Jesus is also transfigured like those heavenly prophets, depicting him to have come from heaven. The narrative is aimed to give witness for Jesus being Christ. To fully understand the purpose of such narrative imagery, we need to read a lot of the Jewish literature. It could be a dramatical fulfilment of Messianic expectation of the coming Kingdom or the next age. For a critical study, I recommend the New American Bible:

a. 17:1–8 The account of the transfiguration confirms that Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 17:5) and points to fulfillment of the prediction that he will come in his Father’s glory at the end of the age (Mt 16:27). It has been explained by some as a resurrection appearance retrojected into the time of Jesus’ ministry, but that is not probable since the account lacks many of the usual elements of the resurrection-appearance narratives. It draws upon motifs from the Old Testament and noncanonical Jewish apocalyptic literature that express the presence of the heavenly and the divine, e.g., brilliant light, white garments, and the overshadowing cloud.
b. 17:1 These three disciples are also taken apart from the others by Jesus in Gethsemane (Mt 26:37). A high mountain: this has been identified with Tabor or Hermon, but probably no specific mountain was intended by the evangelist or by his Marcan source (Mk 9:2). Its meaning is theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:12–18) and to Elijah at the same place (1 Kgs 19:8–18; Horeb = Sinai).


The point of the Transfiguration is to identify who Christ is (Son of God) and His superiority over the Law and Prophets.

For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. Mt 11:13

Moses represents the Law.

These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses. Lev 26:46

And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel. Deut 31:9

Elijah represents the prophets who spoke "thus saith the LORD". But why Elijah and not Enoch?

Elijah (the spirit of) presented before Christ in the person of John the Baptist.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: Mal 4:5

But I say unto you, That Elias [as John the Baptist] is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Mt 17:12

This was fulfilled. The Law and Prophets were until John the Baptist. At the Transfiguration, the shift was solidified.

And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Mt 17:3

Peter says let's build some structures. Instead, the point is made.

While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Mt 17:5

The Law and Prophets were fulfilled who spoke of the Christ. The Son is superior.

And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Mt 17:8

OP: What made the disciples think that it was, Moses and Elijah, that were with Jesus during his transfiguration if they had never seen Moses or Elijah before then?

Good question. Presumably, either they or Jesus identified them. Hi, I'm Moses, remember that time when ... Elijah, yeah, but you should have been there with those 400 prophets of Baal.

This is My Son, listen to Him.


Tertullian speaks of the transfiguration in reference to Marcion who taught Christ only had a phantom body, not taking anything from Mary, without a natural birth.

Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter XXII


As others have already suggested, Moses epitomized the law, and Elijah - the prophets. Together, these represent the law and the prophets, which the Lord Jesus came to fulfil (Mat 5:17). Their disappearance from view on the Mount of Transfiguration beckoned the preeminence of the Lord Jesus over both Moses and Elijah, and how both the law and prophets were now fulfilled in Him.


For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. John 1:17


God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son....... ". Hebrews 1:1-2

This may explain why the disciples were to henceforth "hear him" (Matthew 17:5).

I find the case of Elijah (Why him, as opposed to any other prophet) is a bit harder to discern. You asked, "Why not Enoch?". This is a good question and not completely out of place when we consider that Enoch, like Elijah, did not die, and while the details of his life are comparatively more scant, we're told that he likewise did prophesy on at least one occasion (Jude 1:14).

But insofar as prophets go, "the spirit and power of Elijah" being conferred unto subsequent prophets/servants of the Lord (2 Kings 2:15, Luke 1:17) is a quality mentioned of no other prophet but Elijah, and might explain why he's commonly viewed as the "preeminent" prophet.

Ultimately, it was God who chose these two men to occupy their respective offices. And while they both did exhibit very desirable qualities (Moses' laudable meekness [Numbers 12:3], Elijah's fervent spirit), God could just as easily have accomplished His work through anyone else.

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 29 at 13:58

That Enoch, “walked with God,” is not a definitive statement that he was taken up alive to heaven (Gen. 5:22). This can be very easily understood to mean that he died, and was therefore “with” God, just as others are said to, “sleep with their fathers.” While the status quo is that Enoch was taken up, this is technically just a presumption.

Elijah, obviously, was taken up in a chariot of fire.

The real curiosity is Moses. And to throw this out there . . . Jewish legend/myth/folklore, or whatever one might call it, held that Moses didn’t actually die, or that only his body died, but his soul was taken up. Several New Testament writers, in fact, quote from The Assumption of Moses, specifically when talking about Michael disputing with Satan over the body of Moses. The theosophy behind it all is that God and/or Moses knew that the Israelites would attempt to worship Moses as a god if they knew his fate. It was therefore reported that he died and was buried by God himself so no man would know the location of his grave.

The appearance of Elijah and Moses, in a manner of speaking, would be confirmation of this belief. Prior to the death and resurrection of Christ, none were in heaven. For Moses to be present and in a new “angelic” body is proof of his assumption.

More generically, as others have pointed out, these two figures are the “two witnesses,” each respectively performing the stated acts and miracles during their mortal lifetimes. They represent the law and the prophets (i.e. the Word of God). But more subtly, they are the only two known to be in the presence of God prior to Christ’s death and resurrection. And this could only happen if God permitted death to pass them over.

It’s honestly a tough question. The rabbit hole on this is deep.

  • Yes, but the problem is you can see throughout Genesis 5 when it is mentioning the genealogy, it always does so in a very similar and repetitive way as to how all the others die, but it is very distinct in its explanation as to how Enoch died and one can realize that this has great significance after all, it could have used the same words that were used for the others in the genealogy for the indication of death but this is not the case.
    – How why e
    Commented Apr 5 at 12:58
  • Fair enough. I can’t argue with the logic. It is worthy of note, however, that chronologically, it appears that Enoch was the first to die/walk with God. All the phraseology being used is the same as we use today when someone dies prematurely. If he was literally the first to no longer “be,” this may have been a shock, that a man could actually die naturally (versus Abel who was murdered). But I can’t disagree with the logic. His “taking” is definitely different than the others listed in the genealogy.
    – AFrazier
    Commented Apr 5 at 14:18

Thanks for the question, Moses stood for the law and Elijah stood for the prophets, this is because Elijah was the greatest of all the prophets of the Old Testament and the law was given through Moses. Jesus was the center of the works of the law and the messages sent through the prophets from God. Enoch did not perform a lot of miracles, remember Elijah performed a lot wonders and signs including calling fire out of heaven, Enoch was righteous and walked with God and was also taken alive but he was not greater than Elijah.

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    Not so. Elijah is a figure of him that was to come : John the Baptist, the Messenger of Preparation. Just as Elisha pre-figures Jesus of Nazareth, the Messenger of the Covenant. See Malachi 33. John the Baptist's is not a legal ministry, not based on Mosaic law. It is more basic and more profound. That is what Elijah pre-figured. The 'greatest of the prophets' is John the Baptist, not Elijah himself. None begotten of woman is greater than John.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 10:37
  • @NigelJ, remember the Bible says the greatest is the lowest so Jesus might have meant John is the lowest , Elijah was carried to heaven alive but John was beheaded Commented Mar 28 at 10:47
  • 'Greatest and lowest' refers to those within the kingdom of heaven, the body of Christ. It was Jesus himself who stated that John the Baptist is the greatest of all begotten of woman. Nevertheless, said Jesus, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 13:03
  • @NigelJ, all the saints are members of the kingdom of God, the saints will rule the nations , God's seal is for the saints to inherit all creation. Caught to the air means our resurrected bodies which died in Christ will have wings like the angels. God is higher than any other. Some trust in chariots, some in nuclear weapons, some in technology, some in upvotes but we trust in the Name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. First Born over all creation, sitted at the right hand of God. Commented Mar 28 at 13:28
  • You appear to have posted a comment (above) related to another question and conversation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 13:36

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