The prophet Elijah is an Old Testament character that many New Testament readers will recognize. He appeared with Jesus, Moses, and some of Jesus’ disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. But hundreds of years before this, he was called by God to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel away from idol worship during the reign of King Ahab and his evil wife, Queen Jezebel.
Ahab and Jezebel were not leading God’s people down the path to spiritual success. They had totally given themselves over to the worship of false gods and idols, chief of these being the god Baal. Furthermore, Jezebel had killed most of the prophets of the Lord and had installed 450 prophets of Baal in their place. She was systematically leading the whole nation away from God, making Him quite angry in the process. He sent Elijah the prophet to get the people’s attention and to help turn their hearts back to Him.
God used Elijah to do some amazing things, but he was not a superman, just a human like you and I. The biblical author James later wrote of him:
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:17 NKJV
Elijah had a deep faith and was obedient to whatever God asked him to do, no matter how scary or risky. It was not an easy thing for him to take on Jezebel and King Ahab. Elijah was absolutely terrified of her, and rightly so. But he obeyed each difficult task that the Lord set before him to do.
Through the prophet’s faithful obedience, the Lord re-established Himself in the hearts of His people and the nation. Unfortunately, this lifeline He extended did not last, and the people slipped into further idolatry. Ultimately the Northern Kingdom was overthrown and taken captive by the Assyrian Empire.
But Elijah had been successful turning the hearts of those with him back to God. So much so, that he received another assignment for the future. Malachi records this prophecy in the final words of the Old Testament, written several hundred years after Elijah walked on the earth:
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 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 4:4-6 NKJV
Many interpret this to mean that Elijah will return to prepare the way for the coming installation of the Messiah. For many centuries, the Jewish people have celebrated Elijah’s return as part of the Passover Seder, leaving a symbolic glass of wine poured and waiting for his arrival to usher in the long-awaited Messianic kingdom.
Long after Malachi’s writings, Elijah would miraculously re-appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Moses as they spoke of Jesus’ imminent suffering and crucifixion. Here Jesus revealed His divine and radiant glory to them and to three of His disciples to witness.
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1-3 NKJV
Christians believe that John the Baptist, who was miraculously born to an aged relative of Jesus’ mother, Mary, was somehow connected with the spirit of Elijah. John was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah as a voice in the desert, smoothing and leveling the spiritual ground, as written about by the prophet Isaiah. John came as a witness and a herald of the coming of the Messianic age, but was ultimately put to death by King Herod.
10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 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.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13 NKJV
Just as Elijah had come to the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses to encourage Jesus before His crucifixion, many biblical scholars believe that he (and possibly Moses) will return again in the future as one of two unnamed witnesses written of in Revelation 11. These two prophets will prepare the way for the whole world to experience Christ’s Second Coming.
Jesus came the first time as a sacrifice for the sins of all imperfect humans who seek His redemption and forgiveness. He will return a second time to rule and reign over all the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. The prophet Elijah will undoubtedly be a part of that final restoration.
Elijah was a human being like you and I, yet the Lord used him to do the miraculous to turn God’s people away from idolatry. Later, Elijah’s spirit was somehow connected with John the Baptist, who proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Though at times he experienced moments of fear and depression, Elijah had faith and obeyed the Lord, even when difficult. For this reason, God chose him to fulfill many important and divine purposes for His Kingdom. One of these purposes was to prepare the way for the first coming of Jesus Christ, who today is calling all men and women to Himself in love and mercy. Through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, Jesus offers complete forgiveness and restoration to all who seek Him. Elijah will likely be seen once again on the earth to prepare people for Jesus’ return as Ruler and King in the Messianic Age.
God, help us to have the faith to stay true to You and to be obedient, even when it is hard. Use us to help herald in Your kingdom and to reach the hearts of those around us. Amen.