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In Luke 9:33, when Peter suggests setting up tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, the author of Luke says he “didn’t realize what he was saying.” What did Peter not realize? What was wrong about his proposal?

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  • If Moses was speaking to Jesus, then He was simply reading aloud & coping the scroll of Deuteronomy (as required for His kingship - Deuteronomy 17:18). Peter did not have access to Torah scrolls to understand Jesus was required as King of Israel to copy the scroll. Dec 14 '20 at 21:08
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    @ChurchQuestions please elaborate your comment in an answer Dec 14 '20 at 21:34
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Unlike the other answers, I don't think Peter believed Elijah and Moses were physically present and so needed a roof over their heads. All the years I've read this passage that thought never occured to me, because even one as stubbornheaded as Peter would know the difference.

The verse says:

And it happened that as they were going away from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. And let us make three skenas, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” not knowing what he was saying.

First the scripture doesn't say that Peter believed they had physical bodies and that's why he should build a tabernacle -- indeed building a tabernacle for them would be an even more ridiculous suggestion if they had bodies -- but rather he wants to build these three tabernacles because "It is good for us to be here", with the connotation of "remain here". He wants to build a monument to these three and start a city right on that spot -- possibly even his own cult serving at the tabernacle.

If Peter thought Moses needed a roof over his head in order to remain there, then why not build enough tents for all the disciples who were physically present? Why only build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah?

Because the tents were not needed as shelters, but were tabernacles -- e.g. centers of worship. Skene in the NT almost always refers to a dwelling for a spirit or heavenly dwelling, because at that time, people lived in stone houses, not tents. The days of Israel being shepherds and nomads was far in the past. House, or oikian, was the word used to refer to shelter for humans, not skene. Tent was used in the NT only to refer to the home of a spirit or heavenly dwelling, and there is one passage looking back on the patriarchal era that mentions Jacob living in a tent during the past.

The one time that people in Peter's time lived in something that could be called tents would be during Succoth, but again if the intention was to observe Succoth right there, why not build booths for everyone? And Peter would not be one to destroy the booths of Moses, Elijah and Jesus on the eigth day.

So I believe Peter was proposing setting up a temple with religious services in honor of this vision, which was indeed ridiculous. He wanted to linger there and worship.

Moreover by lingering here and creating a worship site, Peter was trying to keep Jesus from continuing with his ministry, and not for the last time.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, God forbid, Lord! This will never happen to you!” But he turned around and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a cause for stumbling to me, because you are not intent on the things of God, but the things of people!” Matt 16.22-23

So this interpretation is in line with what we know of Peter's character and has the advantage of solving the three thorny problems of why only three booths were proposed, why only Peter would want a tent to be built for a revered human when everyone else lived in a stone house, and why in this one place skene should refer to an ordinary dwelling rather than a dwelling for a spirit.

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  • Thank you @robert! I also felt that while the interpretation of Peter being confused between a vision and physical reality is plausible, it did not seem to strike me as the focus of the rebuke that he "did not know what he was saying." Thank you for bringing up the context of "Skene" and the spiritual significance of the passage - that Peter would have been keeping Jesus from the path He needed to tread - rather than just the "physical." This was very helpful!
    – Gremosa
    Feb 16 at 23:27
  • Thanks for your kind words @Gremosa
    – Robert
    Feb 17 at 0:02
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Luke describes their appearance:

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. — Luke 9:30–31

Compare with other uses of the phrase "in glory":

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. — 1 Corinthians 15:42–44

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. — Colossians 3:4

What Peter saw was how Moses and Elias would appear following their resurrection as spiritual beings.

But notice that Revelation 1:5 says that Jesus would be "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead".

At the time of this incident, Jesus hasn't died yet, so obviously Moses and Elias can't have been resurrected yet, otherwise Jesus wouldn't have been the firstborn from the dead.

The obvious explanation is that what Peter witnessed was a vision, not an actual appearance.

And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. — Matthew 17:9

(Peter later experienced another vision as described in Acts 10.)

When Peter suggests setting up tabernacles, he clearly doesn't yet realize that it was only a vision.

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There are three accounts of thr transfiguration in Matt 17:1-13, Mark 9:1-13, Luke 9:28-36. Of these only those in Mark and Luke record Peter's comment about building three tabernacles. These are:

  • Mark 9:5, 6 - Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For they were all so terrified that Peter did not know what else to say.
  • Luke 9:32, 33 - Meanwhile Peter and his companions were overcome by sleep, but when they awoke, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with Him. As Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

From this account we learn that:

  1. The disciple were awake but only very recently
  2. The disciples were sleepy
  3. The disciples were terrified/fearful - it was a dazzling and glorious scene!!
  4. Peter begins talking without knowing what he is saying; in modern jargon he would be described as "blathering" - talking nonsense.

That is, Peter did not realize the significance of the event he was witnessing, and that it was direct fulfillment of Jesus prophecy just a few days earlier in Matt 16:28 -

Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Thus, Peter's "babbling" was close to incoherent nonsense. That is why he did not know what he was talking about or what he was saying he was so terrified.

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What was Peter's personality?

He was impulsive, always had to urge to say something. He was quick to say the right thing (Matthew 16:16) and quick to say the wrong thing (Matthew 16:13) and sometimes within minutes of each other.

What was his condition at Luke 9:33?

Luke 9:32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

Mark 9:6 He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.

Peter was half asleep and frightened when this transpired.

What did Peter not realize?

In that condition, he could not distinguish between physical reality and spiritual vision. he could not keep himself quiet either. In this extraordinary situation, he had to say something.

What was wrong with his proposal to set up tabernacles?

Luke 9:33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

If what Peter saw was a spiritual vision, it made no sense to build physical tents for them.

Even if Moses and Elijah were physical beings, they were about to leave. You only need to set tents to rest for a while or longer term. It was pointless to set tents as they were leaving.

Either way, it was pointless. Peter did not know what he was saying.

At least Peter was a character and he was remembered fondly. James and John did't do anything here other than witnessing the event.

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What did Peter not realize in Luke 9:33?

In Luke 9:33, when Peter suggests setting up tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, the author of Luke says he “didn’t realize what he was saying.” What did Peter not realize? What was wrong about his proposal?

Peter did no realize that it was a vision, as they were weighted down by sleep ,when fully awake, the apostles listen and watch in amazement. To Peter, the vision appears so real that he presumptuously suggests erecting three tents.

32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him.

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