Elijah the Prophet
Is Elijah the Prophet a sign of the end? The Bible is very clear in its predictions of the signs of the endtime.
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."(Malachi 4:5, 6)
This Old Testament prophecy outlines the role this lastdays Elijah plays in the fulfillment of the endtime. He must come before the day of the Lord. Not much is said about him in some futurist camps because he totally messes up their futurist prognostications. In other words, this Elijah arrives too early for comfort on the Biblical scene of modern day prophets.
Now since New Testament eschatology is the reiteration and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (a paradigm that makes interpreting endtime prophecy unbelievable easy), we will allow the New Testament to guide us in understanding when, how and in whom this prophecy is fulfilled.
Our attention is turned to a conversation Jesus has with his disciples as he taught them during a preaching mission to the cities around Galilee.
Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the baptism until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied 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.Matthew 11:11-15
The Lord tells us plainly that John the Baptist was Elijah the prophet who was to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. But why is he showing up in the first century, in Jesus' own generation if the day of the Lord is not for another 1900 plus years. That's the problem, the day of the Lord was going to happen in Jesus' very own generation. See Matthew 24:34. That's why John showed up as Elijah.
Elijah the Prophet and the Mission of John the Baptist
At John's birth, the angel of God appeared to Zecharias who was praying and burning incense in the temple. In answer to his prayer, the angel informed Zecharias that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. He also prophesies concerning the mission of the child.
"And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
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."(Luke 1:16, 17)
Recall from Malachi's prophecy that the primary mission of this lastdays Elijah was repentance and reform of the people of Israel. He would turn the hearts of many to God, the hearts of the disobedient to that of the just. The angel affirms this was would be done by John the Baptist. He is introduced as the great reformer in Israel who prepares the people to receive Christ. (Mark 1:1-4; Luke 3:3-6)
Elijah the Prophet and the Transfiguration
One of the most fundamental points of covenant eschatology (fulfilled bible prophecy) is understanding that the endtime is fulfilled when all the law and the prophets are fulfilled.
Jesus said, 'For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.' (Matthew 5:18)
Here, the passing of the Law is the passing of heaven and earth. The passing of heaven and earth is happens at the coming of the dreadful day of the Lord, i.e. the Parousia or second coming. In connection with his Parousia, Jesus said, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words, shall not pass away.,(Matthew 24:35)
Therefore, the passing/fulfillment of the Law equals the passing of heaven and earth, hence the Parousia. Look for this clue in scene at the transfiguration.
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
While he was still speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, Hear Him!
...When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Observe at this point, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the prophets, had passed away from the scene. In other words there was transition from the authority of the law and the prophets to the authority of Christ, a point God makes unmistakably clear when saying to the disciples, hear him.
Peter, James and John, then understood that the Old era of Moses was passing away and when completed, it would mark a new era or age under Christ.Having understood this, the following conversation occurs;
And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?
Jesus answered and said to them, Indeed, Elijah 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. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.
Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
The scribes were teachers of the Old Testament. No doubt, the disciple trio had heard them mention often that Elijah the prophet must come first before the day of the Lord. When the disciples saw the representative passing of the Old Law and the new era of Christ, they wondered about Elijah and his mission.
Note also, they did not mistake Elijah who appeared in the vision with Moses as fulfilling the prophecy. Once Jesus clarified the matter telling them that Elijah the prophet per Malachi's prophecy had already come, they understood him to be speaking of John the Baptist.
Elijah the Prophet and the Parousia Vision at the Transfiguration
About 35 years later, Peter reflects back on the transfiguration.
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory. This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain."(2 Peter 1:16-18)
From these words, we can see what Peter and his fellow disciples saw. It was the majesty of Christ at the power and coming [Parousia]. This is why they asked about the coming of Elijah the prophet. They knew he had to come first, before the Parousia could occur.
This was one of the first signs of the endtime fulfilled. It happened in the first century and looks nothing like the fancy footwork of modern day prophets.
See Elijah the prophet and more signs of the end.