We titled this class “The Days of Elijah” and have focused on what Jehovah did during the days of His prophets Elijah and Elisha as recorded in 1&2 Kings. However, the days of Elijah were not limited to the time of the divided kingdom, because there was another Elijah to come. As Jesus stated, “if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11.14). So, as we conclude our study of “The Days of Elijah”, we will focus on the role of John.
Similarities between Elijah and John
The old testament concludes with this prophecy: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6, NASB95) Significantly, Luke’s account of Jesus’ life begins with the Lord’s angel revealing to Zacharias that he and his would wife would have a son who would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1.17). Interestingly, there were some Jews who thought the actual Elijah would return since he didn’t die (see 2Kings 2). It may be for this reason that John stated he was not Elijah (see John 1.21). So, let’s note some similarities between these two men:
- There was a similarity in their appearance. Recall that Elijah was described as a “hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins” (2Kings 1.8). Furthermore, we know there were times when God provided for Elijah in the wilderness (1Kings 17.5-6; 19.4-8). Similarly, John lived in the deserts (Luke 1.80) and wore a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt and ate the food that was available in the wilderness, i.e. was provided by God (Matthew 3.4).
- Both were opposed by rulers of their day. Ahab would refer to Elijah as the “troubler of Israel” (1Kings 18.17) and his enemy (1Kings 21.20), while Jezebel would seek to kill the prophet (1Kings 19.1-2). John was killed by Herod because he spoke against his illicit marriage (Mark 6.17-30).
- Both urged loyalty to Jehovah. Elijah urged the people to not “hesitate between two opinions” and declare loyalty to Jehovah rather than Baal (1Kings 18.21). John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3.3).
- Both had times of doubt or misunderstanding. Elijah asked the Lord to take his life (1Kings 19.4), despairing that he alone was faithful (vs. 10). John, while in prison, sent messengers asking Jesus if He were the “Expected One”, likely not understanding why his faithfulness to God had resulted in his present circumstances (Matthew 11.1-3)
- The announcement that John would come in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1.17) also makes a strong parallel to the Elijah story when we see Elisha request to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2Kings 2.9). Elisha received his request, enabling him to carry on the Lord’s work. John coming in the “spirit and power of Elijah” would insure his ability to carry out the Lord’s work as well.
The Malachi prophesies
Malachi records two prophecies regarding the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming, Malachi 3.1 and Malachi 4.5-6. Let’s consider the second prophecy first, including the preceding verse:
Malachi 4:4–6 (NASB95)
4“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.
5“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
6“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
- First, there is the call for Israel to remember God’s Law that was delivered by Moses on Mount Horeb (vs. 4)
- Next, it is stated that Elijah would come before the day of the Lord (vs. 5). Significantly, Elijah came exactly because Israel was not following the Law, having turned aside to follow after Baal.
- Finally, we are told of Elijah’s mission (vs. 6). “we favor the point of view according to which the semantic domain of “turning back,” is not so much the projected social order but the covenant relationship as such. When Elijah comes he will restore the covenant relationship. In this process he will turn about the hearts of the wicked posterity to the hearts of them with whom God has entered into a covenant at Horeb.” (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
- So, just as Elijah had come to try and bring the people back into covenant with God, so this future Elijah (i.e. John) would come to do the same.
Now, let’s note the second prophecy. This one does not name Elijah, but Jesus plainly stated that it was fulfilled in John (see Matthew 11.10).
Malachi 3:1 (NASB95)
1“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
- In this prophecy the Lord stated that His messenger would “clear the way before Me”, i.e. before God Himself.
- John understood the uniqueness of his work, so he proclaimed that the One coming after him would be mightier than him (Luke 3.15-17).
- Jesus also understood the unique nature of John’s work and that it made him greatest of those born among women, even though those who lived to see the Kingdom would surpass him (Matthew 11.9-11).
- So, John may be Elijah (Matthew 11.14), but Jesus was greater because He is the Lord Himself (see Matthew 16.13-16; 17.1-13).
The Days of Elijah
We have emphasized throughout that our study of Elijah and Elisha was in fact a study of the Lord’s work. Well, that is certainly true of John. He was the forerunner of the Lord, and the One who came after Him would both save and judge His people (Luke 3.16-17). And just as the Lord worked through Elijah and Elisha to reach individuals from among the nations, John prepared the way for the One who would be able to save those from every nation (cf. Luke 3.8-9).
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