A pastor in Florida quotes the biblical passage which says that the dead know nothing (Eccl. 9:5), and asks how to square that with the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah briefly appear and talk with Jesus, then disappear again.
* * *
Indeed, the Bible describes the dead as going down into Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek), the “unseen realm” for which one might easily coin the English name “Gravedom.” In that “land of forgetfulness,” that domain of “darkness” (Psa. 88:11-12), they are cut off from life and from enjoying blessings from God’s hand (Psa. 88:5).
Most often, Scripture pictures the state of the dead as “sleep” — not only because that is what it resembles, but, more importantly, because from this state one day there will be a great awakening (Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29). The Christian’s hope for life beyond the grave rests solely and securely in God’s power and promise to raise the Dead, not in some amorphous theory about the supposed immortality of human souls (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:16-19). God only has immortality — anyone else becomes immortal only as a result of God’s gracious gift (1 Tim. 6:16).
The Transfiguration story is not inconsistent with these general biblical principles. According to Matthew’s account, Jesus himself explained the appearance of Moses and Elijah as a “vision” (Matt. 17:9). If we allow that word its usual meaning of a waking dream, the story says nothing at all about the condition of the deceased. Even if this were not a “vision,” it would be no greater problem for God to bring Moses and Elijah temporarily back from the dead than it was for Jesus to temporarily revive dead Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter or the son of the widow of Nain.
The primary point of this marvellous occcurence, of course, was to encourage Jesus and his three apostles with a glimpse — on the eve of his suffering and death — of the “glory” that awaited Jesus on the other side of the grave in his resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand. It is fair to say that the striking events witnessed that day made an indelible impression on those who beheld them (2 Pet. 1:16-18; 1 John 1:1-3).