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Here and Hereafter

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    3. — THE TRANSFIGURATION. Matthew 17:1-9

    When our Lord was transfigured on a high mountain of Galilee, before Peter and James and John, there appeared with him two other glorified personages, talking with him. These, the inspired narrator says, were Moses and Elias, and such the disciples at once knew them to be. Luke 9:30-33.HHMLD 160.2

    With what pleasure does the immaterialist meet with an account of any manifestation or action of the part of those who have long been dead; because it has so specious an appearance of sustaining his views, or at least of furnishing him ground for an argument; for, says he, the person was dead, and this manifestation was by his conscious spirit, or immortal soul.HHMLD 160.3

    So far as the case of Elias is concerned, as he appeared at the transfiguration, it affords that theory no benefit; for he, having been translated, never saw death, and so could appear in the body with which he ascended. This is conceded by all; and for this reason his case is never put in as a witness on this question, except by those who are so unfamiliar with the record as to suppose that he, too, once died, and here appeared as a disembodied spirit.HHMLD 160.4

    But with Moses the case is different; for we have in the Bible a plain account of his death and burial; yet here he appeared on the mount, alive, active, and conscious; for he talked with Christ. And so, with an air of triumph, perhaps sincere, Landis asks (p. 181), “What then have our opponents so say to this argument? for they must meet it, or renounce their theory.”HHMLD 161.1

    Were we Sadducees, denying the resurrection, and any future life beyond the grave, this case would lie as an insuperable barrier across our pathway; but so long as the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is taught in the Bible, the incident is not necessarily against those who deny the existence of any such thing as a conscious, disembodied human spirit, since the presence of Moses on the mount can be accounted for on the hypothesis that he had been raised from the dead.HHMLD 161.2

    This scene was either a representation, made to pass before the minds of the disciples, or it was a reality as it appeared. The view that it was merely a representation, receives some countenance from the fact that it is called a vision. “Tell the vision to no man,” said Christ; and, while the word “vision” is sometimes applied to real appearances, as in Luke 24:43, it also is taken to represent things that do not yet exist, as in John’s vision of the new heavens and new earth. Again: Luke says that they (Moses and Elias) “appeared in glory.” Our Lord himself has not yet attained unto the full measure of glory that is to result to him from his work of redemption (1 Peter 1:11; Isaiah 53:11); and it may well be doubted, likewise, if any of his followers have reached their full state of glory. If, then, the expression quoted from Luke refers to the future perfected glory of the redeemed, we have another evidence that this was only a representation, like John’s vision of future scenes of bliss, and not then a reality. But, if this was only a vision, no argument can be drawn from it for the intermediate existence of the soul; for, in that case, Moses and Elias need not have been even immaterially present.HHMLD 161.3

    But let us consider it a reality. Then the presence of Moses can be accounted for by supposing his resurrection from the dead. Against this hypothesis our opponents have nothing to offer but their own assertions; and they seem determined to make up in the amount of this commodity what it lacks in conclusiveness. Thus Landis says: “Moses had died and was buried; and as his body had never been raised from the dead, he of course appeared as a disembodied spirit.” And Luther Lee says: “So far as Moses is concerned, the argument is conclusive.” But against these authorities, we bring forth another on the other side, as weighty, at least, as both of them together. Dr. Adam Clarke says on the same passage, “The body of Moses was probably raised again, as a pledge of the resurrection.”HHMLD 162.1

    Before presenting an argument to show that Moses was raised, let us look at one consideration which proves beyond a peradventure that what appeared on the mount was not Moses’ disembodied spirit. It will be admitted by all that transfiguration was for the purpose of presenting in miniature the future kingdom of God, the kingdom of glory. Thus Andrews says:—HHMLD 162.2

    “The Lord was pleased to show certain of the apostles, by a momentary transfiguration of his person, the supernatural character of his kingdom, and into what new higher conditions of being both he and they must be brought ere it would come.... They saw in the ineffable glory of his person, and the brightness around them, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God as it should come with power; and were for a moment ‘eye-witnesses of his majesty.’ 2 Peter 1:16.” 1S. J. Andrews, “Life of our Lord.” p. 321.HHMLD 162.3

    Who are to be the subjects in this heavenly kingdom? Answer: The righteous living who are translated at Christ’s coming, and the righteous dead who are raised from their graves at that time. Will there be any disembodied spirits there? — None; for the accepted theory on this question of theology is that at the resurrection, which precedes the setting up of this kingdom, the disembodied spirits of the human family again take possession of their reanimated bodies. Of this kingdom, the transfiguration was a representation. There was Christ, the glorified king; there was Elias, the representative of those who are to be translated; and there was Moses; but if it was simply his disembodied soul, then there was a representation of something that will not exist in the kingdom of God at all; and the representation was an imperfect one, and so an utter failure. But if Moses was there in a body raised from the dead, then the scene was harmonious and consistent, he representing, as Dr. Clarke supposes, the righteous dead who are to be raised, and Elias, the living who are to be translated.HHMLD 163.1

    The question now turns upon the resurrection of Moses from the dead; and if Scriptural evidence can be shown that Moses was thus raised, this passage immediately changes sides in this controversy. That Moses was raised we think is to be necessarily inferred from Jude 9, which reads: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the Devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” It will be noticed that this dispute was about the body of Moses. Michael (Christ, John 5:27-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) and the Devil each claimed, it appears, the right to do something with his body.HHMLD 163.2

    Some have endeavored to reconcile Jude’s testimony with the idea of the non-resurrection of Moses, by claiming that the Devil wished to make known to the children of Israel the place of Moses’ burial, in order to lead them into idolatry; and that the contention between him and Michael had reference to this. Such a conjecture, however, cannot be entertained, as in this case the contention would have been about the grave of Moses, rather than about his body.HHMLD 164.1

    But this dispute did have reference solely to the body of Moses. Then we inquire further what dispute the Devil could have had on this point; for what has he to do with the bodies of men? He is said to have the power of death; hence the grave is his dominion, and whoever enters there he claims as he lawful prey. On the other hand, Christ is the Life-giver, whose prerogative it is to bring men out from under the power of death. The most natural conclusion, therefore, is that the dispute took place on this very point; that it had reference to the bringing back to life of that dead body, which the Devil would naturally wish to keep, and claim the right to keep, in his own power. But Christ rebuked the adversary, and rescued his victim from his grasp. This is the necessary inference from this passage, and, such, is entitled to weight in this argument.HHMLD 164.2

    The chief objection to this view is this: If Moses was raised so many years before the resurrection of Christ, how can Christ be called the “first-fruits of them that slept,” as in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23? how can he be said to be the “first that should rise from the dead,” as in Acts 26:23? or be called the “first begotten,” and “first-begotten of the dead,” as in Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 1:5? or the “first-born among many brethren,” the “first-born of every creature,” and the “first-born from the dead,” as in Romans 8:29 and Colossians 1:15, 18?HHMLD 164.3

    In answering these queries, we first call attention to an important fact: Several individuals, of whom we have explicit account, were raised to life before the resurrection of Christ. The following cases may be cited: (1) the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:22); (2) the son of the Shunamite (2 Kings 4:35); (3) the unknown man raised to life by touching the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21); (4) the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14); (5) the rulers’ daughter (Luke 8:50, 55); and (6) Lazarus.HHMLD 165.1

    These instances cannot be disposed of by making a distinction between a resurrection to mortality and one to immortality; for where does the Bible make any such distinction in these cases, or in the resurrection per se? or where does it give even an intimation of anything of the kind? Christ, in sending word to John of the results of his work, told the disciples to tell him, among other things, that the dead were raised up. And when the wicked are restored to life (which will be to mortal life only), it is called a resurrection, no less so than the restoration of the righteous to eternal life. (See John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:5.) Therefore, in the matter of being raised from the dead, the Bible recognizes no distinction in the act itself on account of the different conditions to which the different classes are raised. Hence the cases referred to above, were “resurrections from the dead” just as really as though they had been raised to immortality; and the distinction which some attempt to make, is thus shown to be wholly gratuitous, and is excluded from the controversy.HHMLD 165.2

    The objection now lies just as much against the cases of those of whose resurrection we have the most explicit account, as against that of Moses; and the question next to be met is, Can those passages which declare that a number of the dead were raised before the resurrection of Christ, and those which speak of Christ as the first to be raised, be shown to be free from contradiction?HHMLD 165.3

    It will be noticed that the objection, so far as the word “first-fruits,” “first-begotten,” and “first-born” are concerned, rests wholly upon the supposition that these words denote exclusively priority in time. It instantly vanishes when the fact is presented that these words are not confined to this meaning.HHMLD 166.1

    Christ is called the “first-fruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, solely in reference to his being the antitype of the wave-sheaf, and in contrast with the great harvest that will take place at his second coming. This word is used in different senses, as we learn from James 1:18 and Revelation 14:4, where it cannot have reference to antecedence in time. This is all that need be said on this word.HHMLD 166.2

    The word rendered “first-begotten” and “first-born” is (prototokos). This word is defined by Robinson thus: “Properly the first-born of father or mother;” and, as the first-born was entitled to certain prerogatives and privileges over the rest of the family, the word takes another meaning; namely, “first-born, the same as the first, the chief, one highly distinguished and pre-eminent. So of Christ, as the beloved Son of God. Colossians 1:15.” Greenfield’s definition is similar. This word is used in the same sense in the Septuagint. In Exodus 4:22 Israel is called the first-born; and in Jeremiah 31:9 Ephraim is called the first-born; but,in point of time, Esau was before Israel, and Manasseh before Ephraim. Their being called the first-born must therefore be owing to the rank, dignity, and station, to which they had attained.HHMLD 166.3

    And hence the conclusion is not without foundation that these words, when applied to Christ, denote the pre-eminent rank and station which he holds in the great work, rather than the order of time in which his resurrection occurred, a point to which no importance whatever can be attached. All hinges upon Christ, and all is accomplished by his power, and by virtue of his resurrection. He stands out foremost and pre-eminent in all these displays, whether they place before or after his advent to this world.HHMLD 167.1

    There is, however, in Acts 26:23, another and a different expression, and one which presents, apparently, the greatest difficulty of any. The verse reads: “That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” As it stands in our common version, it is difficult to reconcile this statement with the fact that a number were raised from the dead previous to the resurrection of Christ, as already noticed; and we are led to wonder why Paul, knowing of all these cases, should make such a statement. But, if we mistake not, the original presents a different idea. In Greenfield’s Testament, the text stands thus:—HHMLD 167.2

    We call the attention of those familiar with the Greek, to this passage, and submit that it can be properly rendered as follows: “That Christ was to suffer, [and] that first from [or by] the resurrection of the dead he was to show light to the people and to the Gentiles.”HHMLD 167.3

    Bloomfield, in his note on this verse, says that the words “may be rendered either ‘after the resurrection from the dead,’ or ‘by the resurrection;’ but the latter is preferable.” And Wakefield translates it thus: “That the Christ would suffer death, and would be the first to proclaim salvation to this people and to the Gentiles by a resurrection from the dead.”HHMLD 167.4

    This is in accordance with what the same apostle declared to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:10), that Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And viewed in this light, the text is freed from all difficulty. It simply teaches that Christ would be the first to demonstrate before the people, by a resurrection from the dead, future life and immortality for the redeemed.HHMLD 168.1

    The resurrection of Lazarus, and other similar cases, though they might show that the power of death could be so far broken as to give us a new lease of mortal life, shed no light on our existence beyond this mortal state. And the resurrection of Moses, supposing him to have been raised, was not a public demonstration designed to show the people the path to a future life. So far as we have any account, no one knew that the had been raised till he appeared upon the mount of transfiguration. Christ was the first one to show to the world, by his rising from the dead, the great light of life and immortality beyond the grave.HHMLD 168.2

    Thus the last seeming objection against the idea that Moses had a resurrection, is taken away; while in its favor we have his appearance on the mount, and the language of Jude, which can be explained on no other ground.HHMLD 168.3

    Let us then take that view which a consistent regard for Scriptural harmony demands, though another supposed strong pillar on which rests the dogma of the immortality of the soul, goes down before it into the very dust.HHMLD 168.4

    We may add, as a conclusion to this section, that Dr. Kendrick, the editor of Olshausen’s Commentary, in a note in reference to the transfiguration, takes the position that the words of the Saviour in Matthew 16:28, “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” refer to the transfiguration, which is immediately introduced, and hence that “the transfiguration is thus regarded as a type of the Saviour’s future glory in his kingdom.”HHMLD 169.1

    And Olshausen himself takes the narrative to be literal, and explains it on the hypothesis of the resurrection of Moses. He says:—HHMLD 169.2

    “For if we assume the reality of the resurrection of the body, and its glorification, — truths which assuredly belong to the system of Christian doctrine, — the whole occurrence presents no essential difficulties. The appearance of Moses and Elias, which is usually held to be the most unintelligible point in it, is easily conceived of as possible, if we admit their bodily glorification.”HHMLD 169.3

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