During a Bible discussion for seekers last week, one of them asked a question that led me to ponder this questions.

As I understand it, the body of Moses (not Elijah since he never died) should still have been in the grave at the time of the Transfiguration of Jesus--and would be pretty decomposed at that point. However, his spirit (and probably souls) would have been in Paradise at that time--still separated from his body until the resurrection at the last day.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

If that is true, then what exactly did Peter, James and John see on the Mount of Transfiguration? Did they see the spirit of Moses? Can our spirits be seen with physical eyes? Were the disciples perhaps allowed to see spiritual things as Elisha appears to have done in 2 Kings 6?

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV

As a side note, the rich man and Lazarus presumably "saw" each other as well.

I'm looking for the Protestant understanding of this.

  • 1
    Elijah would not have been in the grave since he didn't die
    – warren
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 17:01
  • 1
    @warren Ah... good point.
    – Narnian
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 18:26

5 Answers 5


In Jude 9, we read:

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “ The Lord rebuke you!”

This is often taught as the body of Moses was taken into heaven.

We also know that Elijah ascended in a fiery chariot in a whirlwind:

And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven

This would mean that the bodies of those mean would have been kept in heaven, so it could very well be that the two men were actually physically present.

  • 2
    Moses did die, and was buried - by God Det 34:6 "And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day."
    – warren
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 20:00
  • Just because he was buried that does not mean his remains remain underground. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 20:54
  • 1
    this is true, but it's speculation :)
    – warren
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 0:03

According to Matthew 17:9, what they saw was a vision, and not the physical bodies of Moses and Elijah.

Matthew 17:9

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

  • This is the answer.
    – 007
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 13:07
  • 1
    This is one of my childhood jokes: did they have tv in bible times? No matthew 17:9 says “television to no one!”
    – 007
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 23:17

Matthew's Gospel alone uses the Greek word ὅραμα to describe the Transfiguration. This can be translated into English either as 'that which is seen' or as 'vision', leading to differences among different Bible translations - those that prefer 'what you have seen' include NIV, NLT, God's Word Translation and World English Bible, while most others use 'vision' to describe what they saw:

Matthew 17:9 (KJV) And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

In Mark, the original New Testament Gospel, and in Luke, there is no suggestion that what the disciples saw was a vision. In all three gospels, the disciples knew without hesitation that the two strangers to whom Jesus spoke were Moses and Elijah. It would be pure speculation to say that Peter, James and John were granted the ability to see spirits on just this one occasion, especially as they were instructed to tell no one of their experience, and Peter even went on to deny Jesus. It would probably also be speculation to say that they simply saw a vision, in spite of Matthew. There is probably no single answer that would satisfy all Protestants.


Peter, James and John saw Moses, Elijah and Jesus in the Kingdom of God on the mt. Of transfiguration. Just look at the preceding verses where Jesus tells all disciples That some of them will not die before they see the Kingdom of God!


Trying to understand this from the human perspective is not the right way for God is spirit. Just like trying to understand how Mary became pregnant without having any sexual intercourse.
I would say that this is a demonstration of God promise that on His second return, those who died in faith will rise along with the living.

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