"And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:30).
What a theme! His decease! The exodus from this life of the Son of God! It occupied heaven, and was a worthy subject for that high and holy place, for He who was about to accomplish His decease was the Lord of heaven. The hosts of angels had worshipped Him at His entrance into the world, for when God brought in the First-begotten into the world, He said, "Let all the angels of God worship Him." They had followed His lowly way through it, for He, who was God manifest in flesh, was "seen of angels," and now that He was to make His exit from the world they must have been absorbed with the fact. He was about to return to heaven, to His Father, not as He was before the foundations of the earth were laid (though as to His Person He never ceased to be what He ever was, the Son in the Godhead) but as having become a man for the fulfillment of all the will of God. What anticipation there must have been among the angels of God in view of His return, and yet the manner of His exodus from earth must have been a deep mystery and wonder to them, they must have "desired to look into [it]" (1 Pe. 1:12). Could they understand it? I question it, for angels do not die, and His exodus from the earth was to be by death. Not angels then appeared in glory to talk with Him at that great crisis in His earthly life, but men - two men who had reachedthe other side of death, Moses and Elias.
Each of them had had his exodus, both unique and wonderful, when the time for them to go out was reached. Never before nor since had man died as Moses died. He was one hundred and twenty years old, but his eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated. And when the time for his departure came, God would not allow those people whom he had led with such patience and faithfulness to see any diminution of strength in him. In ringing tones he pronounced that great benediction upon the people, "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thine excellency? Thine enemies shall come cringing to thee; and thou shalt tread on their high places." Then the Lord led him to the top of Pisgah to view the land of promise as He saw it, and there with His own hand closed his eyes in death. Satan desired to have his body when the life had passed out of it, for what purpose we cannot tell, but Michael, the great prince that stands for Israel, triumphantly withstood him, and there in the land of Moab, far from the habitations of men, he was buried by God, and no man knoweth his sepulcher unto this day. That was a noble decease, the crown of a noble life - God's "Well done!" to a good and faithful servant, for God remembered in that hour all his labours, and precious in the sight of the Lord was the death of Moses, the saint of God.
And Elias also, what an exodus was his! On the other side of Jordan, with one faithful companion near him, Elisha, who was to succeed him as God's prophet to the people, and fifty sons of the prophets standing afar off as eye-witnesses of the event, he was caught up to heaven in a whirlwind, with a chariot and horses of fire attendant. In this way did God put His seal upon the service of His servant, so that even though the people were unchanged by all his words and acts of power, they might yet believe that a prophet of God had been in their midst. Never before or since had man had such an exodus.
But not of their own exodus did these two men talk, as they stood upon the holy mount with their Lord - they had a greater and more wonderful theme. Of neither could it be said that he accomplished his exodus, nor could it be said of any other man. Every man is compelled by reason of death to terminate his stewardship on earth, for none are free from failure and sin, even though, as in the case of Elias, his faithfulness was signalized by a unique out-going, but Jesus could have lived on, for there had been no failure in Him.
These two great men had been sorely tried, and had sorely failed, and that in their strongest points of character. Moses, the meekest man in all the earth, lost his temper at last, and did not honour God before the people. Elias, the most courageous man of faith that ever stood for God, fled from his post at the threat of an idolatrous woman. It might be said that their lives were broken off; they did not accomplish their life's mission, to say nothing of their exodus, for Moses did not lead the people into the land, nor did Elias succeed in turning them back to God. They made way for others to take up the work that they laid down unfinished. Yet there would be no sting in death for Moses, as God, in great compassion, closed the eyes of His servant and friend, and gathered his spirit to Himself; and the grave had no victory over Elias as he was raptured to heaven by angelic power. But if the powers of darkness failed to triumph over these men of God in their exodus, it was because of the decease that the Lord afterwards accomplished, and well they would know it as they talked with Him of it. Yes, Moses failed and Elias was discouraged, but of Jesus it was written, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged." God had to rebuke both these eminent servants of His, but of Jesus He said, "Behold, My Servant, whom I have chosen; My Beloved, in whom My soul is well pleased!"
How well chosen are the words with which the Holy Spirit describes the death of Jesus here: "His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." He accomplished His decease: it was a great achievement, the crowning act of His life. It was the fulfillment of the "one obedience," the completion of His mission to earth. His own words to His Father describe it. "I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." As He stood on the Holy Mount the whole way lay before Him. While His disciples dreamed of a throne, He beheld the cross, and saw the way to it beset and barricaded by hostile forces. The hatred of men against God was there - hatred that would congregate and heap upon Him all the shame that it was possible for them to devise; and the powers of darkness were there, marshalled in one desperate attempt to crush Him. There was more there than these, much more, for if men were to be redeemed, a price had to be paid, a price beyond all human computation: His soul made an offering for sin. As He looked upon it all, the glory was so near: one step and He would have been there, and worthy to be there, but not for that at that time had He come. He had come to accomplish His decease at Jerusalem, and He turned His back upon the glory and set His face toward Jerusalem, and talked of His decease which He should accomplish there.
No wonder that the Father's voice was heard from the excellent glory, saying, "This is My Beloved Son: HEAR HIM." That is what we desire to do, and so we follow Him to the accomplishment of His decease, for He has spoken by His death as He could not speak by His life; it is by His cross that He has told out to us all the love of God. For "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ diedfor us."
But how different was His exodus from that of Moses and Elias. They went suddenly, out of lives of trial and labour, to rest in God; they trusted in God, and in the hour of their exodus they were not confounded; but how different it was with Him when His hour came and He bore His cross to Calvary:
We see Him there by men despised,
No crown but thorns awarded Him,
With malefactors crucified,
His cup of shame filled to the brim.
Lover and friend stand off afar,
Nor to the Cross dare they approach;
While foes press round and eager are
Upon His head to heap reproach.
We hear His broken cries ascend,
But to His need the heavens are dumb,
No angel to His aid can bend,
No succour from on high can come.
To Him were meted pain and grief,
To Him the bitter cup of woe,
The gloom of death without relief
No light above, no help below.
But we know why it was. He loved us and had come to save us, and no man took His life from Him. He laid it down of Himself. He submitted Himself, as a lamb led to the slaughter, to His foes, that from the cross he might proclaim the love of God, and by the cross redeem our souls.
We see Him there the Substitute
For our offences to atone;
To Him our guilt did God impute,
And there He bore God's wrath alone;
That we, forgiven and set free -
Redeemed by His most precious blood
From sin and all iniquity -
Might find our peace and joy in God.
For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and He has entered His glory. He has accomplished His exodus, and in such a way that God is glorified, the enemy is defeated, and our souls are saved. And now by the preaching of the gospel He is gathering out of this world a people for His Name, and a bride for His everlasting joy. And we have been arrested and saved by the gospel; well might we talk of His decease that He accomplished at Jerusalem and sing about it and praise His Name for it now, as we shall certainly do when we see Him in His glory.