“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
When I was a dispensationalist futurist still trying to find my way around eschatology* I used to believe that Elijah was to return in the future as one of the 2 witnesses (Moses being the other one) of Revelation chapter 11 basing my belief upon the prophecy of Malachi just quoted.
Being a futurist any mention of the “the day of the Lord” was automatically without question equated with the Return of Christ so I could only understand that Malachi prophecy as pointing to the end of time. But “the day of the Lord” is an expression found often in the prophetic books and does not always refer to the very end of time. Please check out Isaiah chapter 13 for example which mentions a “day of the Lord” prophecy, now accomplished historically, of the Medes judging Babylon.
Today I read Matthew chapter 11 and I specially noticed some words which show us (for “those who will receive it”) that we are to figuratively understand the Elijah Christ speaks of :
“And IF YOU WILL RECEIVE IT, this is Elias, which was for to come. 15 HE THAT HATH EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR.” (Matthew 11:14-15)
In the context of Matthew chapter 11 Christ was speaking about John the Baptist and no one else. Before and after verses 14 and 15 He spoke of John the Baptist. He was basically saying to the the people gathered there : “If you will receive what I am telling you, John the Baptist is the Elias which was supposed to come.” The implication of John the Baptist being the “Elijah” that was to come was that Jesus Christ was teaching them (to “those who would receive it”) that He was the Messiah that was to follow “Elijah”. The words “he that hath ears (or an ear) to hear, let him hear” were used by Christ elsewhere in connection with PARABLES (Matthew chapter 13) which used known physical realities to point to spiritual realities. The words are also found in the Book of Revelation, a book of SIGNS and SYMBOLS (Revelation 1:1). The “receiving” part implies God-given understanding. God sovereignly gives the spiritual hearing and understand. Later in the very same chapter Christ proclaimed these non-Arminian words : “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25-27)
The angel Gabriel gave his “commentary” of the Malachi prophecy to John the Baptist’s father:
“And many of the children of Israel shall he [John the Baptist] turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him IN THE SPIRIT AND POWER OF ELIAS [Elijah], TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN [JUST LIKE THE WORDING OF MALACHI’S PROPHECY], and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)
We are to understand this “Elijah that was to come” spiritually/figuratively. If I read the words “he ran with the speed of Usain Bolt” I would not understand the “he” as being Usain Bolt but rather someone who can run with the speed of Usain Bolt. The “he” who comes “in the spirit and power of Elias” is not to be understood as Elijah himself but refers to one who shared traits with Elijah. We are not to understand Malachi’s prophecy as pointing to the literal Elijah, somehow reincarnated and reborn, but rather pointing FIGURATIVELY (Hosea 12:10) to John the Baptist as the true fulfillment of the prophecy. John the Baptist was correct in saying that he was not Elijah literally (John chapter 1).
The beginning of the Gospel According to Mark equates the Malachi chapter 3 prophecy with John the Baptist and joins together the “messenger preceding the Lord” prophecies of Isaiah chapter 40 and Malachi chapter 3 as both pointing to John the Baptist. In Malachi chapter 3 it speaks of the “messenger of the covenant” (the Messiah) coming into that second temple. Christ fulfilled that prophecy during His earthly ministry unless you want to believe Christ is to return to some rebuilt temple in Jerusalem with sons of Aaron serving as priests offering animal blood to God for “atonement” (see for example Hebrews 10:12,14,18 and 26).
When one is Christ-centered and doesn’t see the 1st century as unimportant** prophecy-wise well Bible prophecy starts making more sense when you let Christ and the apostles teach you how to interpret the Old Testament. In the context the “day of the Lord” in connection with the “Elijah that was to come” (John the Baptist) was the judgment which came upon the Jews in 70 AD which he warned the Jews about during his ministry (see Matthew chapter 3… the Roman axe was ready to strike at the Jewish trees). Malachi chapters 3 and 4 have been fulfilled. Christ came. “Elijah” came before Christ. The unbelieving Jews were judged during the “day of the Lord”*** marking the visible, formal end of the Mosaic economy.
** without going “preterist” but rather having the right balance and right view of AntiChrist which Protestant Historicism provides… when it comes to understanding Bible prophecy I’d rather line up with godly martyrs of the past than proud speculators
*** not THE last “day of the Lord” mind you… that’s still future and for all humanity… let us rightly divide the Word and not be “preterists”
In Revelation, a book of SYMBOLS, the “2 witnesses” in the SYMBOLIC VISION of chapter 11 no more refer to 2 specific historic individuals**** than the whore of Revelation 17 refers to one prostitute historically. So that puts an X on the whole “William Branham is the second (or third) Elijah” unscriptural idea which I heard years ago. There is no “third Elijah” that is to come. Why would we need another Elijah? Christ already came and He has entered into His kingdom. We have the the perfect and complete Scriptures (2nd Timothy 3:16-17) so we have no need of future prophets.
**** unless you want to believe that the Beast of chapter 11 refers to a literal animal in order to be consistent in interpreting that particular vision… if we are to understand the city of chapter 11 as being Egypt SPIRITUALLY (figuratively) and Sodom SPIRITUALLY then shouldn’t that be a clue that the “witnesses” should be understood SPIRITUALLY as well
For a good book dealing with the fulfillment of Malachi chapter 4’s prophecy and other Old Testament prophecies may I suggest Ralph Woodrow’s^ book “His Truth is Marching On” (sold here)?
^ written decades ago when the author was more reliable in matters of faith, practice and discernment