Our Lord’s Exodus at Jerusalem, Part I (Luke 9:28-31)
28. And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
29. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
30. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:
31. Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)
In any exegesis of the Christian faith and life, and of the death and resurrection of Christ, this is a key text. It is also essentially related to the Book of Exodus, because decease translates a word which also means exodus. The word decease is the Greek exodo; it is to be Christ’s accomplishment, His perfection of His calling, in Jerusalem.
The historical Exodus of Israel was from slavery to freedom, from Egypt towards the Promised Land. The historical exodus of Jesus Christ for His new humanity, the new human race He remakes or regenerates, is from sin and death into justice, dominion, and everlasting life.
There is a remarkable fact, an irony, in this incident. There is a transfiguration, a brief one limited to this mountain experience but fading thereafter. Christ radiated with a light and a glory which were not of this world.
The Transfiguration brought together three key persons, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Christ. As Schilder noted, “Moses gave the law, Elias enforced it, He will fulfill it.”1 By creating a new humanity through His atonement, Jesus Christ created a people who could obey God’s law and bring about the rule of justice. Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus; the Greek word is sunelaloun (sun, with, sullaleo, talk) and refers to simple talk or conversation. The three disciples were witnesses to the remarkable conversation, and the meaning of Christ’s exodus was obviously clearly stated; their failure to comprehend it until much later was a moral failure, not a lack of clarity in what they saw and heard.
Schilder called attention to the remarkable fact that in this meeting Jesus, while God the Son, was in His incarnation of a lesser glory than Moses and Elijah. They “appeared in glory” (v. 31), in a permanent state, whereas He, the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), was able to manifest that glory only in a brief transfiguration.
Ryle commented thus on the subject of the conversation among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, “His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem:”
This expression is remarkable. It means literally, his “Exodus” or departure. It is used for “death” by St. Peter, speaking of his own death (2 Peter i.15). It is also remarkable that in Acts iii we have a Greek word used for our Lord’s “coming” to take his office of a Saviour, which might be translated literally His “entrance.” Both expressions are singularly applicable to Him who came into the world and was made flesh, and after doing the work He came to do, left the world and went to the Father. The beginning of His ministry was an “Eisodous,” or entrance; His death, an “Exodus,” or departure.
Our Lord had already spoken of His coming death and resurrection to His stunned and non-comprehending disciples (Matt. 16:13-28). Because their minds were concentrated on their expectations of Jesus, they could not accept or understand His plain statements of the meaning of His coming and His atoning death.
This revelation and transfiguration was a witness to the unity of God’s revelation, of what we call the Old and the New Testaments. It was a witness to the three selected disciples, as it is to us, to the church over the centuries. Moses and Elijah did not come to console nor to strengthen Jesus, nor was it their sole purpose to witness to Peter, John, and James. All that Moses and Elijah had done was essentially and totally tied to the work of Jesus Christ, and the work of our Lord is essentially and totally tied to the work of Moses and Elijah. Christ did not come in fulfilment of Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, or any other religion, but in terms of the law and the prophets, in terms of God’s covenant.
The law and the prophets are meaningless without the atonement, and the atonement is stripped of its meaning when separated from the law and the prophets. God’s covenant with man is a covenant of grace and law. For the sovereign Creator of all things to enter into a covenant with man is an act of grace, pure and total grace. At the same time, a covenant is a treaty of law whereby God declares that the way of peace with Him is to walk in terms of His law word, the way of righteousness or justice.
We come now to another very, very important fact: in John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is the way, the truth, and the life. The word way is hodos in Greek. It is very closely related to the word exodus, which is literally ex-hodos, and entrance or entering is eishodos. In Jeremiah 5:4 (and elsewhere) we have a reference to the law as “the way of the LORD;” in the Septuagint, it reads hodon kieriou. To walk in the way of the Lord means, in the Old Testament, “to act according to the will of God revealed in commandments, statutes, and ordinances (1 Kings 2:3; 8:58). God’s law is called ‘the way of the LORD’ (Jer. 5:4) for which the prophets have to struggle to see that it is observed.”4 In Psalm 119, in the Septuagint, the way and the law are equated.
The curious fact is that we are asked to believe that, after most of the Bible tells us that the way of the Lord is the way of the covenant of grace and law, suddenly, with the New Testament, this meaning is dropped! This is an interpretation which is contrary to all common sense as well as intelligent interpretation.
We must thus conclude that Jesus, in declaring Himself the be the way, means plainly that He is the incarnation of God’s grace and justice: He is the way. The law is the expression of His being as God the Son, and His obedience as very man of very man. He is the covenant law incarnate as well as the incarnation of covenant grace: He is God in the flesh.
The presence of Moses and Elijah makes it clear that God’s covenant is brought to its perfection in Jesus Christ, and both the law and the prophets are validated. At the same time, the covenant grace and mercy are realized in Him and His atoning death. By His resurrection, He overthrows the power of sin and death.
His exhodos in Jerusalem thus means that God’s justice as judgment against sin is executed. His resurrection, as part of His exhodos, means that the powers of sin and death are broken and a new creation begun of which He is the firstfruit (1 Cor. 15:20), and man is freed to walk in the way of the Lord. This way of the Lord means the freedom to exercise godly dominion, and, by means of God’s law, to bring about the rule of God’s justice.
This was the exhodos, the way, which our Lord opened up for us at Jerusalem.