Monday, November 13, 2006

Two Witnesses: Moses and Elijah?

April 15, 2007
Luke 24.4-7; (9.28-36; Acts 1.6-11)

In telling his Jesus story, Luke has often coupled his characters: the sending of the twelve out in pairs (9.1ff.); Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration (9.28ff.); the sending of the seventy out in pairs (10.1ff); the two men at the tomb (24.4ff.); the two on the road to Emmaus (24.13ff.). (Of course, some of these pairings appear in the other Gospels as well. It is not a Lukan phenomenon.)

Many have supposed that the two men (andres duo) of Luke 24.4 and of Acts 10.1 were angels, particularly because of the comment in Luke 24.23 (where angelon is used by the two on the road in recalling the women’s tale, or “vision” as they call it). What can we know about these “two men”? And does it really matter?

I will begin by laying out what we “know” based on Luke’s data. From there, I will attempt to answer the above questions.

We know that the “two men” of Luke 24.4 and Acts 1.10 were dressed in “dazzling white” (estheti astraptouse) and “white robes” (asthesesi leukais), respectively. I suppose this is yet another reason why so many assume these “men” to be angels.

We know that Luke has mentioned in his Gospel “two men” (andres duo) who “appeared in glory” – namely, Moses and Elijah (9.30).

We know that Jesus referred to his own resurrection state in terms of “entering into glory” (24.26; cf. 9.32).

We know that at the Transfiguration Jesus’ appearance was altered, “and his raiment became dazzling white” (leukos exastrapton; 9.29 – compare with Lk24.4 and Ac1.10, of the “two men”).

We know that Moses and Elijah “spoke of [Jesus’] departure [exodon], which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9.31). (I do not think it necessary to recall the details of Moses’ and Elijah’s supposed departures or whereabouts. The connection should be fairly obvious.)

We know that the resurrection account of Luke 24.1ff. and the ascension accounts of Luke 24.50-52 and Acts 1.1ff. all take place in or around Jerusalem.

In light of these “known” things according to Luke’s writings, I submit that the “two men” of Luke 24.4 and Acts 1.10 are not angels, but Moses and Elijah. Jesus had demonstrated (9.29) that the “dazzling” appearance need not be relegated to angels only. The actual term used by Luke, andres, does not forcefully suggests “angels” are meant. For that, he has employed the normative angelon in Luke 24.23; but as I noted above, that reference is (at least) a second hand telling, one which calls the episode a “vision” as well. (I am honestly not sure what to make of this detail yet. I am however sure that it does not eradicate everything I am suggesting. It might also be said, and should be remembered, that a single angel, Gabriel, appears before Mary in Luke 1.26. Why are there not two here? It is because the angel is not having to witness anything, but rather is dispensing news. And again, here Luke calls Gabriel and “angel” [angelos].)

It might perhaps be mentioned that Luke’s Gospel places the ascension in Bethany, not Jerusalem; and that Acts 1 places it at the Mount of Olives “which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away [from Jerusalem]” (Ac1.12), and not in Jerusalem as 9.31 states. And so some may object to my linking Moses and Elijah with the two men present at the tomb and Jesus' "Jerusalem departure". But the remark made in Luke 9.31 is a reference point for Luke, a place at which his Jesus takes a new turn in his journey. Immediately after the Transfiguration, we find that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (9.51). And from this point on Jesus is moving in that direction. So I don't think the reference to Jerusalem in 9.31 should be understood as Jerusalem proper, but as a general geographic reference from which Jesus' finishing work will "be fulfilled/accomplished" in contradistinction to Galilee, where he had ministered up to that point (cf. 4.31; 5.1; 7.1, 11; 8.26).

Last to note, the “two men” appear at the beginning and the end of the forty day period, the period which marks the time of Jesus “departure” as spoken about by Moses, Elijah and Jesus earlier (cf. Lk9.32). It therefore seems quite sensible for Luke to have meant by “two men” in “dazzling white robes” and associated with the state of “glory” the very same individuals he explicitly named beforehand – Moses and Elijah.


A final note:

Moses and Elijah share a unique quality among Old Testament characters. Elijah never died, but was translated into heaven via a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2.11). Moses died, but was buried by God in secret fashion (Deuteronomy 34.5-6). Upon their departures, they left their spirits with their successors: Moses' to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34.9), Elijah's to Elisha (2 Kings 2.9ff.). Should we understand Jesus to be leaving his spirit with his followers in the same way? If Luke means to show Jesus leaving this world and entering his glory just as Moses and Elijah had (recall the Transfiguration), he may very well mean to show that Jesus' followers are empowered in like fashion.


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