Our lessons this last week had a 'end of the world' flair and some people took it literally -- both in the texts and the study groups I was in. Our Old Testament Lesson was taken from Malachi:
Malachi 4.5-6. Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.
In one group I led, I asked the men they understood this passage. The ones who answered said that is was still in our future. I'm sure that many people, especially here in the States, do too. But let's do a little theme study.
Matthew 11.11-15. "I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!"
Matthew 17.10-13. Then his disciples asked him, "Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?"
Jesus replied, "Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer." Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.
One of the gentlemen at a study questioned that this meant that John was the reincarnation of Elijah. But if we look at Luke 1, we will see this is not the case.
Luke 1.17. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.
So the answer is no. John the Baptist is not Elijah reincarnated. He is John but he has 'the spirit and power of Elijah.' Heck, John even dressed like Elijah (2Kings 1.8; cf. Matthew 3.4)! Something else that proves this assertion is the fact that the angel stated that John would 'turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.' This is exactly what we read in Malachi, thus showing that, just as Jesus said, John the Baptist was the Elijah that was to come before the 'great and dreadful day of the Lord'.
Now, I know what you're thinking. 'This can't be right. The "great and dreadful day of the Lord" is the "Great White Throne Judgment".' Well, perhaps. But perhaps not. To see where this is going we need to look at another one of the Lessons for last week.
Luke 21.5-19. Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”
He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you,for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.
Now there is a lot packed in here but I just want to focus on a few things. First, Jesus was answering their question about the destruction of the Temple (v.7).
Second, notice the word 'you'. It is used roughly 18 times in this short passage. Clearly, the disciples would have understood that Jesus was talking to them about things that they would experience before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Third, we see that the disciples would be 'dragged in synagogues' (v.12). This means that there would be a time of persecution led by the Jews.
Lastly, if we take just a glance at the Acts of the Apostles, we will see this taking place just as Jesus predicted. In Acts we see earthquakes (Acts 16.26; see also, Josephus, War.VI.5.3); famines (Acts 11.28); false Messiahs (Acts 5.33-37); and the persecutions, well, just read the whole book of Acts and you will see that it was mostly the Jews who were persecuting the early Christians.
Therefore, the most shocking realization comes to us...Jesus was not talking to us. We weren't even thought of in this passage. This passage has everything to do with the disciples.
Later, we will look at the rest of the chapter and see if what we have discovered so far continues to fit.
Peace be with you.