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THE ENSIGN MESSAGE

THE RETURN OF ELIJAH – (3)

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Finally, we have the promise of the THIRD messenger, Elijah. Each of these ‘messengers’ had their respective duties at their appointed times. We have the FIRST messenger, John the Baptist, who proclaimed the First Advent of the SECOND messenger, (who was the Lord Jesus  Christ) as the Messenger  of the Covenant.  This was to be followed ultimately by the THIRD messenger­ Elijah – proclaiming  the  imminent return  or Second Advent of the SECOND messenger, who would then implement the full glory of His Covenant.

Let us now turn to Matthew 11 :7-15;

“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 in the wind?

But what went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they  that  wear  soft clothing are in king’s 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 the way before thee.’

Verily I say unto  you, among  them  that  are born of women there hath not arisen 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 Elijah, which was  for to come.

He that hath ears to hear, Let him hear.”

Without doubt this passage must, and I’m sure does, present  quite an enigma  both to students and casual readers of God’s Word alike. So before we do anything else, let us take special note of verse 15;

“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear”,

This  phrase is used  fourteen times  in the  New Testament, (excluding the repetition of the same narratives in the, Gospels), seven  of which follow the messages to each of the seven churches in the Book of the Revelation. A study of these references reveals that in every instance,  they were spoken  by our Lord Jesus Christ ,  and  in every  instance the  message which preceded them had  a very  special underlying significance. It is thus incumbent upon us, as students and lovers of God’s Word, to take special  note of the words preceding  these words, and to

“Study to  shew  ourselves approved unto  God, workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (II Tim. 2:15.).

With this in mind, let us take a closer look at our last reading.   On the surface  it appears that our Lord has said that John the Baptist was Elijah. The statement reads

And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah which was for to come.”

Similarly, if we turn to Matthew 17:13 to which we referred earlier, we read;

“Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist;”

Now here are two statements which, on the surface, identify John the Baptist as Elijah. What is really meant by these  statements? How do we  understand these apparent anomalies?

Let us take a closer  look at what  our Lord said as recorded in Matthew 11:11 where we find;

“Among them that are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater (prophet) than John the Baptist.”

Thus we see that our Lord Jesus Christ regarded John the Baptist as the greatest prophet to be born of woman. The reason of course is quite clear. John the Baptist was there to herald the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  No other  prophet had  ever  been  given  that privilege. This ties in with verse 13 where Christ says;’

“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”

John announced the culmination of everything that had been  previously said, both in the law, and  by the prophets,  relative to the coming and to the ministry of the Messiah. We read in Galatians 3:24;

“The law  was  our schoolmaster to bring  us to Christ.

Not only did our Lord Jesus Christ fulfill the laws of ordinances which  were  the laws of sacrifice  for the forgiveness of sin, but by becoming the Redeemer of Israel, He bought His people Israel back from the curse of the law, which was, on a national  basis, death  and separation  from their God. By this act of redemption, Israel was now able to return to the full blessings of God’s Laws; which were their national prerogative and heritage, and to their peculiar relationship with God which had been instituted by God between Himself and Israel alone. This ‘law relationship’ with God was ne”er ever made with any other nation but Israel, and in itself is a major mark of identity of true Israel in the world today.

The prophets spoke of this very time, when the Lord Jesus  Christ, or as they knew  Him, Jehovah,  the Lord God of Israel, would come  among  His people  for, the purposes already outlined above.

Now apart  from the foreknowledge of God, who knew what was going to happen, the people at that time could have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ for what He was. They were given the opportunity. It was, humanly speaking, a  possibility, although  God  foreknew otherwise. So our Lord said, If you will accept  what the law and the prophets have stated  about the man whom John  the Baptist heralded; if you accept  this man Jesus as the Messiah, the Deliverer, Redeemer, and King of Israel, then John the Baptist  would have fulfilled the ministry of Elijah.”

Our Lord’s words were;

“If ye will receive  it, this is Elijah which was  for to come” (Matt. 11: 14).

When  we refer to the original Greek for the words translated ‘this is’, we find that contrary to the popularly held view and  usage of this phrase,  that it does  NOT mean that the one is literally the other. It means that the one REPRESENTS the other. This is a very good example of the necessity to STUDY the Word of God, and not just to read it. Christ did NOT say that John the Baptist was the actual  prophet  Elijah. What He DID say was that if they accepted what  the law and  the prophets  said of Him, accepted Him for what He was, then John the Baptist would have REPRESENTED Elijah.

This is the literal statement which the Lord Jesus Christ made.

Returning to verse  eleven  of our reading,  we find another statement which appears to be contradictory, or at least difficult to understand. Christ says;

“Notwithstanding, he that is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” (i.e. John the Baptist.)

It is rather a pity that so many of the original Greek words have not been more accurately translated. But if you wish to check in any reliable concordance, you will find that the Greek word here translated  ‘least’  means ‘least in age, or younger’. It has nothing to do with status. Our Lord merely stated, in the context of John the Baptist being the greatest prophet, that he who was younger in the  Kingdom  of Heaven  was  greater than  John  the Baptist.

Now who was it that was younger than John in the Kingdom? Of whom was our Lord speaking?

He was speaking  of Himself, because He was born after John, and was thus younger, or ‘least.’

So we find that our Lord was not confusing the issue, but  rather putting into  its true perspective the relationship between Himself and John the Baptist. He made it quite clear that although John was the greatest of the prophets, He Himself, though younger in human terms, was still greater than John the Baptist.

So much then for the first statement which is so often quoted to identify John the Baptist as Elijah.

Let us now turn to the reference Matthew 17:10-12 which we quoted earlier;

”And His disciples asked  Him saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must  first come?’

And  Jesus answered and  said   unto them, ‘Elijah  truly  shall  first come, and  restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elijah has come already, and  they  knew him  not, but  have done unto him whatsoever they pleased. Likewise shall  also  the  Son  of Man  suffer of them.’

Then  the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John  the Baptist.”

Firstly we note that our Lord said that Elijah would come  and restore all things. It is clear  that John the Baptist did not do this. He did NOT restore  all things. Thus he most certainly did not carry out Elijah’s ministry.

But having just said that Elijah ‘shall’ come  (future tense),  our Lord goes  on to say, “But Elijah IS come already.” (past tense). So apparently we have another anomaly or contradiction. Again, it is purely a matter of studying God’s Word. When we check this phrase,  we find that the original Greek text (see  Panin’s  Numeric English New Testament) requires  the indefinite article ‘an’ before the word Elijah. Thus the literal text would read;

“But I say  unto you, that AN Elijah is  come already.” (Panin’s Numeric English New Testament.)

What a difference this  makes. There is no contradiction. It is simply a reiteration  of what  Christ said in Matthew  10, that John  the Baptist would  have REPRESENTED Elijah, and that he in fact came, as he was prophesied to come, in the spirit and power of Elijah.

The passage in question concludes, in verse thirteen, with the statement that the disciples “understood that Christ spake unto them of John the Baptist.” This verse is constantly  quoted  as  positive proof that John  was Elijah. But let us carefully note that Christ did not make this statement. The verse records what the disciples understood,  NOT what our Lord said. Again we go to the original Greek where we find that the word translated as ‘understood’ means literally ‘to form an opinion based on a mental process.’ So that what is actually recorded is that the disciples, after listening to what Christ said, came  to the conclusion that He was referring to John the Baptist. It does not in any way support the conclusion that Christ actually said that John was Elijah.

Let us then summarise our studies thus far.

  1. The Bible clearly states in Malachi 4:5 that the literal prophet Elijah is to return, or is to be sent by God, back to this earth.
  2. John the Baptist was prophesied as coming, and in fact did come in ‘the spirit and power of Elijah
  3. John the Baptist categorically denied that he was Elijah.
  4. If the people at the time of Our Lord’s first advent had accepted Him, His ministry, and  all that was associated with Him at that time, then John the Baptist would have represented Elijah.
  5. John the Baptist did NOT fulfil the ministry of Elijah. He did not claim to have done so, nor does God’s Word claim it.
  6. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself confirmed the promise of Malachi by categorically  stating  that Elijah was to return.

 I submit, in view of the above, that we are left with no other alternative but that the literal, actual prophet Elijah is to return to the earth to accomplish the Divine Mission already assigned  to him, in order that God’s curse shall not destroy the earth.

End of part three.To be continued

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