Bear with me. I’m toying with some oddities in Scripture and wondering if they somehow go together. This is what is called speculation. Blue sky thinking. Brainstorming. And I’m doing it in public.
I know, right?
Just before the people of Israel enter the Promised Land, God shows it to Moses from the top of Pisgah:
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. (Deuteronomy 34:1-5)
On the Mt. of Transfiguration, the apostles see Jesus transfigured, and they see Moses and Elijah.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 16:28-17:8)
So what happened there? Are they only witnessing a change in Jesus’ appearance? Or are they “seeing the Son of Man coming into his kingdom”? That is, are they seeing into the promised land of the eternal kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven–from their perspective, still in the future–where Moses and Elijah happen to be?
When the witch of Endor brings up Samuel, is he a ghost–or is what Saul witnesses something akin to what the Apostles saw with Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration?
When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”
“There is one in Endor,” they said.
So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”
But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”
Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”
Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel,” he said.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”
The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”
“What does he look like?” he asked.
“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night. (1 Samuel 28:5-20)
Was Samuel a ghost? Or was he like Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured? Was this a vision, or a visit to the eternal kingdom? What does it mean that Samuel was disturbed by being brought up? What is actually going on? Can these odd and difficult to make sense of events be linked in some way?
Is it possible that Moses saw the promised land as it would be when Israel was living in it, or as it would be in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven? Did Jesus take his three disciples up Mt. Tabor and give them a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven? Especially given the context where he explicitly announces, just before the story of the transfiguration occurs in the text of Matthew—that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)