Title: The Instruction concerning Elijah
Scriptures to Read: Mark 9:9–13; Matthew 17:9–13; Luke 9:36b
Now we’ll listen to their conversation as they come down from the mountain.
Policy of silence
Now, as they come down from the mountain, Jesus takes the opportunity to give them a command. What does He tell them? They are to tell no one what they have seen, until He has risen from the dead. So He continues His policy of silence concerning His Messiahship.
Did they obey this order? Read Luke 9:36b.
Rising from the dead
His command did cause them some confusion as we see in Mark verse 10. What is it that they didn’t understand? They didn’t understand “what rising from the dead meant.” And this shows that they do not understand that the Messiah must come twice.
The coming of Elijah?
So they ask Him a question about Elijah. They asked him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” In other words: You’re here Messiah, but we didn’t notice Elijah! Wasn’t he supposed to come first? It was the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees that Elijah must come first and restore all things. And this is a correct deduction from Malachi 4:5-6:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The promise of this scripture was that Elijah would come before the second coming. But He was not promised before the first coming! Malachi 3:1 did prophesy an unnamed forerunner to come before the first coming, but chapter 4 talks about Elijah before the second coming. “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty (Mal 3:1).
Elijah does come first
Notice that Jesus affirms the scribes teaching because it is a correct understanding of Malachi 4:5-6. In verse 12a: “And he said unto them, Elijah does come first to restore all things”. But, in keeping with Malachi’s prophecy, it is the second coming of the Messiah that Elijah will come before.
Son of Man’s suffering
Then, having affirmed that Elijah will indeed come before the second coming, Jesus ask them a rhetorical question to make an important point: “And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” (Mark 9:12b) What is the point Jesus is making here? What would be the consequence if Elijah came and did his work of restoration before the Messiah’s first coming? It would mean that the Kingdom would be established at Messiah’s first coming and that the prophecies about His sufferings would not be fulfilled! But, as Jesus points out, the Messiah must first “suffer many things and be treated with contempt.” Then sometime later Elijah will come and restore all things, and then the Messiah will return to set up the Kingdom.
John the Baptist
Then Jesus appears to contradict Himself in verse 13 of Mark’s account: “But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” Matthew helps us to understand what Jesus means here: “Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (Matt 17:13). John is a type of Elijah in that he was a forerunner of the first coming and Elijah will be the forerunner of the second coming.
Review John & Elijah
Let’s review what we have learned about the connection between John the Baptist and Elijah the prophet.
1. John was asked if he was Elijah, he said “I am not.” So John denied being Elijah the prophet.
2. When the angel announced the coming birth of John, he said that John would be a forerunner of the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah (with the same spirit that Elijah had).
3. Jesus taught that had the kingdom offer been accepted, John would have fulfilled Elijah’s role, which was to restore all things. But since he was rejected he did not fulfill Elijah’s function and therefore Elijah himself must come to do so at the appropriate time.
4. John is a type of Elijah because he was a forerunner of the first coming just as Elijah will be the forerunner of the second coming.
Summary of events
Now, to summarize the order of events concerning the Messiah’s coming:
1. The unnamed forerunner and herald in Malachi 3:1 comes in the person of John the Baptist.
2. Jesus’ first coming, which fulfils His role as the Passover lamb.
3. The person of Elijah, who did not die, will come back to earth to fulfil his role in Malachi 4:5-6.
4. Jesus will return to the earth to begin the Messianic Kingdom promised to Israel, fulfilling His role as King.