Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 4, 1958

Studies From Elijah (IX.)

Connie W. Adams, Bergen, Norway

The Second Elijah

Not long ago the writer received a letter which began with the announcement "I am Elijah of Malachi 4:5." Reading through some old papers we found an article by Brother L. O. Sanderson reviewing a letter he had received from a man making the same claim in 1943. Inasmuch as we have undertaken a rather lengthy study of the prophet Elijah, and since, from time to time, men demonstrate their ignorance of the word of God by a mishandling of what it says concerning the coming of Elijah before Christ, we think it proper to close this study with some remarks concerning the second Elijah.

1. Elijah Promised. The last two verses of the Old Testament concern our study. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." Mal. 4:5,6.

2. Elijah Expected. That the Jews expected Elijah to appear before their Messiah should come is discernable from several passages. Not only did they expect him, they associated great and unusual occurrences with his coming. When Jesus asked his disciples what others said of him, one reply was "Thou art Elias" (the Greek form of the Hebrew word Elijah). Mt. 16:14. The same estimate was given in Mark 9:15 and Luke 9:8,19. On the mount of transfiguration the voice out of heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." Then the disciples present asked, "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?" Mt. 17:5,10. Jesus then confirmed the fact that "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things." v. 11.

3. Elijah Came. "But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." There are many speculators, including the Mormons, who do not believe Elias has come. Christ said he had, and the apostles understood that he spoke of John the Baptist. "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Mt. 11:13-15. This passage is significant in this study. Jesus had been discussing the preaching of John the Baptist. He pointed out that John was more than a prophet, he was the one of whom it was written, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." v. 10. But why did Jesus say, "If ye will receive it, this is Elias" unless their expectations of Elias were contrary to what the prophets intended. It is well known that the Jews misinterpreted many of the prophecies concerning Christ and his kingdom. They had visions of a carnal empire ruled by a sword-wielding Messiah. They found it difficult to accept the teaching "My kingdom is not of this world." "The kingdom is within you" and it "cometh not with observation." Likewise they found it hard to conceive of a "coming" of Elijah in any manner except that of an actual, bodily appearance of the Old Testament prophet.

The question might legitimately be raised, "Why then did John say he was not Elias?" "And they asked him, what then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias." John 1:21-23. How could Jesus say John was the Elias promised when John himself denied it? The answer is found in the difference between the Jewish concept of the promised Elias, and the manner in which John did fulfill the prophecies about Elias. He was not Elijah literally returned from heaven, yet in his work he fulfilled all the demands of the prophecies concerning Elias. The solution is readily seen in Luke 1:17. "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Thus the angel who spoke to Zacharias before the birth of John clarified the matter by showing that in his work of making ready a people prepared for the Lord, he was going forth "in the spirit and power of Elias." Was John really Elijah returned in the flesh? John himself said "No." Was he the Elijah of prophecy who was to prepare the way for the Messiah? Yes, in this he went forth in the "spirit and power" of the Tishbite who came so suddenly on the scene of Old Testament history to call apostate Israel back to the altar they had neglected and to the service of Him whom they had forsaken. Many errors have been foisted upon the world by those who are moved by a blind materialism and who cannot conceive of the spiritual aspects of the kingdom of Christ. They have blundered in the same way — the Jews did in their carnal expectations. It is small wonder that they have misinterpreted the work of John, since he came in the "spirit and power" of Elijah.

These passages uproot a number of errors: (1) they disprove any concept that John the Baptist was Elijah in a physical sense returned to earth; (2) they show that John did fulfill all the demands of the prophecies concerning the coming of Elijah in his work of preparing a people for the Lord; (3) they immediately give the lie to any modern "prophets" who claim to fulfill these prophecies; (4) they point up the foolishness of such groups as the Mormons who tell us these prophecies are yet unfulfilled.

4. Elijah and John. Having shown that John was not physically Elijah, but that he was that prophet in "spirit and power," we turn next to an analogy between the two men and their work. The work of comparing and contrasting characters in the Bible and the functions they performed is generally a hazardous business. There is ever present the danger of overdrawing such analogies and finding comparisons that may only exist in the writer's mind. On the other hand, realization of that danger, while necessary, may suggest another one equally as great; i.e., that of failing to point out comparisons or contrasts that do exist for fear of overdoing it. The only safe procedure is to confine such matters to the realm of that which is plainly revealed in the scriptures. With these