The Old Testament prophet Malachi spoke of the Lord’s promise to send Elijah before the day of the Lord. Has this Old Testament prophecy been fulfilled? If so when and by whom?
Let’s take a few moments to find out if we can expect the prophet Elijah to rise from the dead in the last days.
Malachi 4:5-6 Matthew 11:7-15 Luke 1:11-17 John 1:19-28
The Old Testament prophecy that we will be looking at is found in Malachi 4:5-6…
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 heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
There are several things we can learn about this coming Elijah from the text of this prophecy:
First of all his coming is said to take place “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:”. What is meant by this phrase? There are two possible interpretations of this phrase. It can be referring to the second coming of Christ when He will judge the world before our entrance into eternity (2 Peter 3:10). Or it can be speaking of the first coming of Christ which was soon followed by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Matt 24:15-22, Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:20-24).
Secondly, we are told that “he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” At his coming, Elijah would proclaim the gospel message. For family members who were at war with one another… when they accepted this message of grace, their lives would be changed and they will enter into a peaceful relationship with God and one another. (Col 3:15) However, for those who would not accept the gospel proclaimed by Elijah they would be facing the judgment of God for their sins… “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”.
Malachi’s prophecy mentioned to John the Baptist in John 1:19-28…
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 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. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Here, we find that the priests and Levites were sent to find out the identity of John the Baptist. During the course of their questions the subject of Elijah came up…. “Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?” After denying he was the Messiah, John then responded to their inquiry that he was John the Baptist. His response… “And he saith, I am not.”. Here we find that John the Baptist, clearly, without hesitation denied that he was Elijah.
To answer their question about his identity, John referred them to another OT prophecy. This prophecy was given by Isaiah who said “I [am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3)
The entire prophecy from Isaiah (Isa 40:3-5) states…
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see [it] together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].
In other words, John the Baptist was to make clear and plain to all that Jesus was the Messiah, who was the very glory of God Himself shown to the eyes of all men.
Christ’s Teachings about Elijah that was to come in Matthew 17:9-13 and Matt 11:7-15…
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. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 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. (see also Mark 9:12-13)
Here, in Matt 17:, we find Christ being questioned about Malachi’s prophecy concering he coming Elijah. Jesus answered them by saying “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.” Christ now tells them something that is totally unexpected. Christ claims that the prophecy about the coming of Elijah is a valid prophecy, but it has already taken place! He goes further and says that Elijah was not recognized and because of their lack of identifying Elijah they have done with him as they pleased.
Christ goes further to explain how they abused this unknown Elijah… “Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them”. In other words, the same type of abuse that Elijah had to withstand would be the same type that Christ Himself would have to endure (false accusations, imprisonment, painful suffering and death).
We are then told that the followers of Christ come to recognition that He is speaking about John the Baptist. “Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist”
It is at this point we can begin to see a seeming difficulty in these verses. Please keep in mind in our previous text, John 1:, we saw that John the Baptist clearly denied that he was Elijah. And yet, here we see the disciples are thinking that it was John the Baptist that Christ was equating with Elijah. The simple solution to this issue is to recognize that the disciples were making a wrong assumption. Could it be that Christ was not speaking of John the Baptist in this teaching?
We will see that Christ clarifies of whom He is speaking in our next text from Matt 11…
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft [clothing] are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is [he], of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. 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.
Here, in the context, Christ is clearly speaking of John the Baptist, “Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John”. In His discussion of John, Christ begins to describe John using an Old Testament prophecy that applied to John….
“For this is [he], of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Isa 40:3, Mal 3:1) In other words, John was sent by God to prepare the way of Christ, declaring who He was and baptizing those who would eventually become followers of Christ.
He continues to describe John’s ministry, pointing to his importance, as well as describing the powerful effects upon mankind that John’s message would accomplish. It would break the sin hardened heart of men (kingdom suffereth violence) causing them to run desperately seeking to receive the rule of God in their heart (the violent take it by force). John’s message concerning the Messiah was supported by the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets.
But finally, Christ makes a statement that clarifies this entire issue concerning John the Baptist and the prophecy concerning Elijah…. “And if ye will receive [it], this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” So now there is no misunderstanding. The disciples had gotten it correct. Christ was speaking of John in Matthew 17, and clearly stated the same here in Matthew 11.
So we are now faced with another difficulty…. Did John the Baptist lie when he denied that he was the promised Elijah? Our last verse in this study will help us to understand this difficult issue…
The Angels’s testimony concerning the coming John The Baptist in Luke 1:11-17…
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw [him], he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 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.
As the angel spoke to Zacharias about the birth of his son John, we find him comparing John to the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He makes the statement… “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.”
John the Baptist, during the course of his ministry would demonstrate the same Holy Spirit empowered ministry as that of Elijah. Also, he would share the same motivations and attitudes of the heart as that of Elijah. He would dress in a similar way and eat a similar diet to that of Isaiah as well. He would share the same office and title of “prophet”; and would share the position of forerunner with Elijah, John being the forerunner of Christ, while Elijah was the forerunner of Elisha. In many ways, the ministries of these great men of faith were overlapping and similar.
Conclusion Of Our Study…
As we can now see that both Christ and John the Baptist were being truthful about John’s relationship to Elijah. When John said that he was not Elijah he was telling the truth, he was not Elijah come back from the dead. Christ made it plain that the prophecy concerning the coming Elijah was fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist; in other words, John coming in “the spirit and power of Elijah” was a fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy.
But we can take this one step further, if you notice the phrasing of the teaching of Christ we see that John was not simply “a” fulfillment of the prophecy but was actually “the” fulfillment of the prophecy…
“And if ye will receive [it], this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Christ did not say this is one fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy. He said plainly that “this is Elijah which was for to come.” In other words, John the Baptist was the complete and total fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy.
May the Lord bless you as you seek His truth.