Imagine yourself in the midst of a heated discussion about Jesus. You’re wearing the traditional clothing of a Jewish tradesperson and talking with one of the religious leaders in your town. Jesus has recently come through with a few of his followers, and he happened to heal one of your friends who had been seriously ill. You feel that Jesus must be the Messiah. The man you’re talking with reasons, “Jesus can’t be the messiah because the prophet Malachi says, ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’ And Elijah has not yet come so Jesus cannot be the Messiah!”
What a dilemma! You see evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, but your leaders have compelling Biblical arguments that say He must be something else.
Part 1: Who was Elijah?
Background on Elijah (1 Kings 17 and 18)
Transport yourself back in time several hundred years. To keep things consistent, you’re a tradesperson that happens to be part of a guild that is negotiating with king Ahab for a contract when suddenly, without introduction or warning, a man appears and says, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” Before anyone can detain him, he disappears.
Was it a miracle? A trick? A stupid prank?
As the dry, hot days turn into weeks and then months, it’s clear to you and to the nation that this man has stopped the rain.
Behind the scenes God is taking care of Elijah. He eats a simple diet—at first provided by the ravens at the brook Cherith and later at the home of a widow. During this time he performs some pretty amazing miracles, including raising a dead boy to life and multiplying the flour and oil of the widow he stayed with.
Then, three and a half years after his original proclamation (take note of that word), he called all the people together to make a choice—to either choose Baal or choose God; you can’t stand in the middle any longer—repent.
It’s this theme of calling people to repentance that gets picked up in later verses about Elijah.
Part 2: The spirit of Elijah part 1
Malachi 4:1, 3, 5-6
“For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“That will leave them neither root nor branch.
You shall trample the wicked,
For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet
On the day that I do this,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
Elijah will come before the “great and dreadful” day of the Lord, when the wicked will be destroyed. The Jews might have thought this was a prediction of the Messiah’s first coming, but it’s clear that this type of judgment will happen in the context of the final punishment of the wicked which doesn't take place until after Jesus' second coming.
Turning the hearts is more than just a ministry of reconciliation. Elijah’s great work was to turn the hearts back to the God of heaven—to point people to the REAL God, the God of truth. And it was this process of repentance that brought families back together because they were no longer separated—a parent serving God, and a child serving Baal.
16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘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.”
In the book of Malachi we hear about the great and dreadful day of the Lord, but Gabriel clearly applies Malachi’s prophecy to John the Baptist when he tells Zacharias that his son would come in the spirit and power of Elijah and would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
Let’s turn to Matthew 3:1-11 to see how this played out.
Matthew 3:1-4, 7-11
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Saying things like “brood of vipers” doesn’t sound like reconciling parents and children! Maybe this is why the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t think that Elijah had come—they didn’t feel that John the Baptist was the reconciler that they had hoped Elijah to be.
Rebuking false worship WAS Elijah AND John’s method of reconciling families. Elijah was rebuking the worship of Baal and turning people back to the worship of God while John focused on rebuking self-worship, pride, and frivolity, and called the people back to a simple faith and obedience to God.
It’s also interesting that Luke pays special attention to what John wore and ate. It’s as if these characteristics—which tied him to the Old Testament character Elijah—were important to the process of calling people to repentance.
I find it revealing that John says that the one who does not repent (bear good fruit) will be thrown into the fire and that Jesus will baptize with fire—both references to the judgment portrayed in Malachi.
Part 3: The spirit of Elijah part 2
Here’s what we know at this point:
Elijah lived simply, ate simply, and made a big proclamation that brought the issue of religion to a head, rousing the people out of their apathy and idolatry and causing them to repent.
John lived simply, ate simply, and spent months drawing big crowds to the wilderness where he called them to repent and return to God and be baptized.
There is yet another coming of the Messiah, and yet another fulfillment of Malachi’s Elijah prophecy—because while Jesus came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit the first time (See Acts 2), he has yet to baptize the world with fire (something He’ll do following His second coming).
Maranatha, Chap. 14 - The Elijah Prophecy
The work of John the Baptist and the work of those who in the last days go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to arouse the people from their apathy are in many respects the same. His work is a type of the work that must be done in this age. Christ is to come the second time to judge the world in righteousness.
“As John the Baptist . . . called their attention to the Ten Commandments, so we are to give, with no uncertain sound, the message: "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come." With the earnestness that characterized Elijah the prophet and John the Baptist, we are to strive to prepare the way for Christ’s second advent. (Maranatha p 22)
Just like Elijah we have a work to do in giving a proclamation with no uncertain sound: “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.”
We must give this message with the same earnestness that characterized Elijah.
How did Elijah give his message? At the tip of a sword. Standing on Mount Carmel, Elijah knew that at the end of the day either he would die, or the priests of Baal would die.
Earnest. Intense. This is how we must give our end-time message.
The Adventist church presented the three angels’ messages in the mid-1800s, beginning a movement that continues today. But the Bible speaks of “another angel” which lights the earth with glory…
After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. 2 And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! 3 For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.
This other angel repeats the messages of the 2nd and 3rd angels of Revelation 14, and immediately following this angel’s proclamation Jesus comes on a white horse, the beast and his armies fall, and the millennium is ushered in followed by the purification of the earth with fire and the final destruction of the wicked. In other words, this Angle represents the final Elijah message.
Testimonies for the Church, V 7, pp 139-140
And in a large degree through our publishing houses is to be accomplished the work of that other angel who comes down from heaven with great power and who lightens the earth with his glory.
Understanding the importance of literature in the last Elijah message helps give context to those quotes that indicate literature evangelism is a “most import” work…
Manual for Canvassers, p 15
The canvassing work is more important than many have regarded it. If there is one work more important than another, it is that of getting our publications before the people, thus leading them to search the Scriptures.
God is calling a world to make a choice, and he’s doing it through the printed page. Today we employ many mechanisms for sharing the written word, including physical books, digital media, and online resources. Each of these mediums has a role to play, but the literature evangelist is an essential part of this “most important work.” If you are a literature evangelist then you must know that your work is so much more valuable than simply selling a book—you’re leading people to repent and surrender to Jesus. If you aren’t a literature evangelist, you may be tempted to think that selling books is a) outmoded by other methods of communication, and b) an annoyance to people and therefore a faulty method of evangelism. This thinking couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’d like to close with this quote:
Gospel Workers, p 354
…City missions must be established where colporteurs, Bible-workers, and practical medical missionaries may be trained… we must also have… consecrated evangelists through whom a message is to be borne so decidedly as to startle the hearers.
Jesus doesn’t need tame “reconcilers” to prepare the way for His second coming any more than He needed one for His first coming, He needs bold proclamations that will reveal His true character, warn people of the coming judgment, and draw families to together in loving surrender to God.
God needs Colporteurs to do this work. And Bible workers and medical missionaries and evangelists—let’s not leave them out either.
Oh, and by the way, that whole idea of having “missions” established where “colporteurs, Bible workers, and… medical missionaries may be trained” sounds a whole lot like what SOULS Northwest is doing in the Seattle area.
Let’s take the gospel to the world with the spirit and power of Elijah—Jesus wants to come again and all He needs is for us to prepare the way.