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Elijah Will Come First

Elijah coming to prepare the saints and restore all things, prior to the second coming of Christ (ref. Matthew 4:11, Malachi 4:5), is not a concept widely talked about in the church today. Maybe this is an entirely foreign concept to you, or maybe you have already heard about Elijah coming. But do you really understand who he is, or why he has to come first? If we don’t understand who Elijah is or what he is coming to do, we can completely miss him and be unprepared for Jesus’ second coming too. Right now, we are in the timeframe of the second coming of Christ, and it is absolutely vital we understand the coming of Elijah.

First, let us take a closer look at the scriptures about Elijah coming prior to the second coming of Christ:

“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts.

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. 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 4:1-6)

Some interpret the prophecy in Malachi 4:5 as referring to John the Baptist (as Elijah), but Malachi is clearly talking about the second coming of Christ because he speaks of the time of the final judgement in verse one. The final judgement is only at the advent of the second coming of Christ (ref. Revelation 14:7). Furthermore, the task that Elijah will accomplish according to Malachi’s prophecy is that he

will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” (Malachi 4:6).

Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to their fathers is referring to more than restoration of natural families. Malachi was prophesying the re-establishment of the true fathers of the faith, the apostles, and the children of God being raised up by them. Just as the Apostle Paul writes to the church of Corinth:

 “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” (1 Corinthians 4:14-15).

Paul is saying that he spiritually birthed the church of Corinth and hence he is their spiritual father. (9) Yes, John the Baptist came as an Elijah (ref. Matthew 17:12-13), but John the Baptist was also beheaded (ref. Matthew 14:10) and did not fulfil this prophecy in Malachi. So, was this prophecy made null and void because John the Baptist was killed? No, it was not. God always had a deeper plan.

Let us take a look at the New Testament to see what is said about Malachi’s prophecy:

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!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” 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. (Matthew 17:1-13)

Jesus tells Peter, James, and John that Elijah is still to come, and his role will be to restore all things. This aligns perfectly with Malachi’s prophecy. Jesus also says that Elijah had already come, referring to John the Baptist, but he was killed because the Jews didn’t recognize him. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord, according to Matthew 3:3; exactly what Malachi prophesies the end-time Elijah will be sent to do, prior to the second coming of Christ. Because John the Baptist was sent as the precursor to Christ, but they didn’t recognize him, they therefore didn’t recognize Christ also. God always works in patterns, just as Solomon wrote

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

If we miss the coming of Elijah in our generation, just as the Jews missed John the Baptist, we can entirely miss the second coming of Christ. This should be an extremely sobering warning to us as the body of Christ. 

Tertullian, a third-century early church father writes regarding how Elijah will return: 

How, then, could John be Elijah? The voice of the angel tells us: “And he shall go before the people in the spirit and power of Elijah,” not in the soul or body of Elijah. These substances are the specific property of each man, while “spirit and power” are extrinsic gifts conferred by the grace of God, and so they may be transferred to another according to the will of God as happened long ago with respect to the spirit of Moses. (1)

Tertullian enlightens us that the coming of Elijah in the form of John the Baptist is not speaking of a physical reincarnation. So, we can see that Malachi’s prophecy wasn’t referring to the physical Elijah coming back, but what Elijah represents being released and reestablished. The first Elijah preached a hard word to bring repentance (1 Kings 21). Likewise, the second Elijah (John the Baptist) preached repentance saying,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).

This is the same character of the end-time Elijah, to bring repentance to the church,

“And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers. . .” (Malachi 4:6).

Repentance in Hebrew means to turn back to God (2) and to be restored (3).

The whole early church (pre 325AD) were in agreement with Scripture that Elijah was to come before the second coming of Christ, and they gave us greater insight into what this would look like. Victorinus, a third-century early church father gave this understanding: 

Rev 7:2 “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God”] He speaks of Elias (Elijah) the prophet, who is the precursor of the times of Antichrist, for the restoration and establishment of the churches from the great and intolerable persecution. We read that these things are predicted in the opening of the Old and New Testament; for He says by Malachi: “Lo, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, according to the time of calling, to recall the Jews to the faith of the people that succeed them.” (Mal 4:5, Mal 4:6) (4)

Victorinus confirms the view that Elijah was to come before Jesus’ second coming to prepare the church. It might be hard to believe that Elijah is coming to prepare the church, not the world, but Jesus himself readies us for this hard-hitting truth when he tells us that most of the church will be fallen away before His second coming: 

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus tells us that many who declare Him as their Lord will not be received by Him. Paul also prophesies about a great falling away of the church prior to the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Falling away literally means a defection from truth (5) and is the same word for a divorce (6). The world doesn’t know God and the world is not married to Christ. The great falling away is clearly not referring to the world, it is referring to the church departing from truth.

Third-century early church father Hippolytus wrote the following:

But since the Savior was the beginning of the resurrection of all people, it was fitting that the Lord alone should rise from the dead, by whom too the judgment is to enter the whole world, that they who have wrestled worthily may be also crowned worthily by him, by the illustrious Arbiter. [That is, he] himself first accomplished the course, and was received into the heavens, and was set down on the right hand of God the Father, and is to be manifested again at the end of the world as judge. It is a matter of course that his forerunners must appear first, as he says by Malachi and the angel, “I will send to you Elijah the Tishbite before the Day of the Lord, the great and notable day, comes; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, lest I come and smite the earth utterly.” These, then, shall come and proclaim the manifestation of Christ that is to be from heaven; and they shall also perform signs and wonders; in order that people may be put to shame and turned to repentance for their surpassing wickedness and impiety. (7)

Hippolytus confirms that there will be those prior to the second coming of Christ, forerunners, in the spirit of Elijah, preaching repentance to turn the disobedient back to the fathers of the church. Remember earlier we looked at the word “repentance” and it meant to turn back to God and be restored. Only those who have once ‘known’ God can turn back to God. So again, we see this is speaking of the Church having to be prepared by Elijah because they have fallen from truth.

Lastly, we read from early church father Origen, who provides even greater detail of what the end-time Elijah will be sent to do:

And it seems to be indicated by these words, that Elijah was to prepare for the glorious coming of Christ by certain holy words and dispositions in their souls, those who had been made fittest for this, which those upon earth could not have endured, because of the excellency of the glory, unless they had been prepared before hand by Elijah.  And likewise, by Elijah, in this place, I do not understand the soul of that prophet but his spirit and his power; for these it is by which all things shall be restored,[20] so that when they have been restored, and, as a result of that restoration, become capable of receiving the glory of Christ, the Son of God who shall appear in glory may sojourn with them.  But if also Elijah be in some sort a word inferior to “the Word who was in the beginning with God, God the Word,”[21] this word also might come as a preparatory discipline to the people prepared by it, that they might be trained for the reception of the perfect Word. (8)

Origen states that unless Elijah was to first come, we would not be ready for the glory of Christ. This is such a heavy statement. Because of the greatness of God’s glory and the fallen state of man, Origen says we need an Elijah to prepare our souls for the glory. He does not say that because we call ourselves “Christians” that we will be okay. But doesn’t that line up completely with Scripture and everything we have covered? Origen makes an even more incredible statement, that Christ will appear in glory only through His people that have been made prepared, because of the preaching of Elijah. Again, lining up with scripture – (see 2 Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:4, Colossians 1:27). (10)

Scripture and the early church fathers all line up. Without an Elijah, we will not be prepared for the second coming of Christ. To say this understanding is important is an understatement. It is vital to our salvation and key to either an eternity spent in glory or complete darkness. I pray that this article has caused a stir in your heart and has opened up a greater understanding about the requirement for us to be prepared at the end of the age.  Elijah is already here, and he is preparing the saints for the glory of the Lord; but do you know he is? The Lord is drawing the children back to the fathers right now and you can choose to be a part of it.

REFERENCES:

1.     Tertullian, Treatise On The Soul, Ch XXXV

2.     Brown Driver Briggs Dictionary: Repent (H7725) 

3.     Ancient Hebrew Lexicon Bible Dictionary: Repent H7725 

4.     Victorinus, On the Apocalypse of John 1

5.    Strong’s Bible Dictionary: Falling away G646 

6.    Strong’s Bible Dictionary: Falling away G647

7.     Hippolytus of Rome, Fragments, Treatise of Christ & The Antichrist

8.     Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Book XIII

9.     You can read more about the fathers of the faith needed in the church today, at  (https://voh.church/resources/the-need-for-true-apostles-in-the-church_236007/ ).

10.   You can read more in depth about in Jesus appearing in glory in his saints at https://voh.church/resources/the-hope-of-glory_235830/



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