In Malachi 4:5-6, Jehovah said that He would send Elijah before the coming of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. When Elijah came, he was to “restore all things,” more specifically, he was to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” His task was that of moral restoration. Elijah was to warn Israel that unless they turned back to the Lord He would “smite the earth with a curse,” in the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. Elijah was thus to be the precursor and sign of the coming of the Lord. Has Elijah already come, or is the world still waiting for him?
When John the Immerser came he was asked if he was Elijah, and he said “No.” However, in Matthew 11:10-14, Jesus said of John “If you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Why did John say he was not Elijah, and yet Jesus said that he was? Is this a contradiction as some claim? No.
The Jews expected Elijah to be physically resurrected and appear, or some believed that since he had never died, he would just be manifested. The point is, they believed that the actual prophet Elijah would come. When John was asked if he was Elijah he could truthfully say “No,” since he was responding to their concept of the coming of Elijah.
However, Jesus knew that John truly was Elijah, in the sense intended by Malachi. According to Luke, John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
Jesus was unequivocal, John was Elijah, as foretold by the prophets. Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, and then disappeared. On the way down from the mount, Jesus emphatically told the disciples not to tell anyone of what they had seen. They were perplexed and asked “Why then do the prophets say that Elijah must come first?” (Matthew 17:10). They knew that Elijah was to come before the Day of the Lord, and they had just seen Elijah–the “real one”! But they were now being forbidden to tell of this stupendous event! Why?
Jesus responded, “Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him.” The disciples “understood that he spoke to them of John the baptist.”
It is lamentable that modern Bible students refuse to believe Jesus. Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey, and most premillennial writers affirm that Elijah has not yet come! The reason they deny this–although they admit that John was a type of Elijah–is because, in their view, the Great Day of the Lord did not occur in the first century, therefore John could not be Elijah! This is a denial of Jesus’ words!
Hear the words of Jesus, “Elijah has come already!@ He did not say that John was a type of the true Elijah. He did not say that the real Elijah would come later. He said “Elijah has come already.” And, as we will show below, John proclaimed that the end–the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord–was at hand.
Malachi 4:5-6 said “Elijah” would come before the Day of the Lord. This is one of the most significant predictions in the Bible, for Jesus clearly said that Elijah came in the first century. This means that the Day of the Lord had to have occurred in the first century as well!
In Matthew 11:9-15, Jesus spoke of John the Immerser, and said he was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, “Behold I send my messenger before my face, and he will prepare the way before Me.” This is the same as saying that John was Elijah, because Malachi 3:1f and Malachi 4:5-6 are parallel. Jesus goes ahead to confirm that John was the predicted Elijah, “For all the prophets and the Law was until John, And if you are willing, to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (My emp.)
Our premillennial friends like to say that Jesus was saying John was Elijah Acontingently@; in other words, he was Elijah only if Israel accepted him as Elijah, but since they didn’t, then he wasn’t! This is
Note that Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear!” This was a call to spiritual discernment. It was a call to look beyond appearances. The Jews expected Elijah to come literally, and to be a dominant force in society, correcting societal ills. However, when Jesus was speaking, John sat in prison, and would soon die due to the wickedness of Herodias. Thus, sitting in prison, John certainly did not meet the preconceived ideas of the day. But Jesus, by using that idiomatic expression, “He who has ears to hear”, was telling them that appearances did not determine the truth of who John really was!
For more on John and his significance in regard to judgment, see my YouTube video here:
In Matthew 17, the disciples, with Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, saw Elijah. On the way down from the Mount, Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone of what they saw. Perplexed, they asked, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (v. 10). They had just seen the “real” Elijah, and naturally wanted to tell everyone, but Jesus would not let them! Why? Was it because Elijah would “come again” in the future? No, it was because the “real” Elijah was not what the prophecies predicted.
Jesus continued, “Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things, But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished.” Then disciples “understood that he spoke to them of John the baptist.” (Matthew 17:12-13).
Now, if John was Elijah only if the Jews accepted him, then Jesus was wrong to say that Elijah had come already, because the Jews had already killed John! According to the Ahe was Elijah contingently@ theory, Jesus should have announced to the disciples that the “real” Elijah would come some day, because the “contingent Elijah” had been rejected. But he did not do this.
Jesus did not look forward to another Elijah, he looked back to the work of John, ignoring the fact that the “real” Elijah had just appeared, and said “Elijah has come already!” This has profound implications for when the Day of the Lord was to come, for when we look at the message of Elijah, aka, John the baptist, there is no doubt that he preached that the Day of the Lord was near in the first century! If John was Elijah, and if he said that the Day of the Lord was near in the first century, then the Day of the Lord either happened then, or John, as Elijah, failed the test of a prophet!
As we have just seen, in clear terms, Jesus identified John the Baptizer as the prophesied Elijah (Matthew 11:10-15; 17:11-13). Elijah was to urge Israel to Aremember the Law of Moses@, and warn them of Athe Great and Terrible Day of the Lord@ (Malachi 4:5). Elijah was to be a sign of the Day of the Lord.
What did John, as Elijah, have to say about that Day? The first part of his message has been tragically misunderstood by many. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This has wrongly been applied to the events of Pentecost. However, in scripture, the coming of the kingdom is the time of judgment, (Matthew 16:27-28; 25:31f), and this did not happen on Pentecost! In Isaiah 40, where it predicted the coming of the Voice in the Wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, the Lord’s coming is the coming in judgment (Isaiah 40:10).
John’s language is graphic. In Matthew 3:7 John warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come?” The word picture is that of snakes fleeing from a burning field, and conveys the idea that the “fire” was already burning. In other words, the judgment was near! In addition, since there are no Pharisees or Sadducees today, it should be pretty apparent that John’s
words have already been fulfilled. In fact, judgment did overtake them!
In Matthew 3:10, “Elijah” was even more graphic. He said, “Even now, the axe is laid at the roots.” This is a clear echo of Malachi 4:1, that said the Day of the Lord would “leave them neither root nor branch.” John voiced this warning to emphasize the nearness of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. The image of an axe already held over the roots hardly conveys a message of timelessness, protraction, or delay! Judgment was about to fall!
In Matthew 3:12, the Immerser further emphasized the nearness of judgment. He said, “his winnowing fork is already in his hand”, and, “he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Once again, he echoes Malachi’s prediction of the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:1). Like the image of the axe at the root, this metaphor powerfully conveys the idea of nearness. There is not one word in Matthew 3 to indicate that John taught that the Day of the Lord, of which he was a sign as Elijah, was not to occur for 2000 years, or longer. Interestingly, Malachi never said the Day was at hand, but John did! Every word he uttered would, and did, indicate to the hearers that the Day of the Lord was near.
The first century presence of John, as Elijah, shows beyond doubt that predictions of a yet future Elijah are false. As a sign of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, the presence of John, as Elijah, means that the Day of the Lord occured in the first century as well, otherwise his words of imminent judgment were false. However, judgment did fall on Israel in John’s generation, and his role as Elijah was vindicated with the judgment of Israel in A. D. 70. That was the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord he foretold.
John the Baptizer, as Elijah, stands as one of the most significant eschatological figures in the New Testament, and yet, his presence and his message are too commonly ignored, or blithely waved aside. To take his presence seriously however, challenges all doctrines of a future Day of the Lord.