Elijah has come!
Big news. The prophesied Elijah to come has come! Why, he admits it himself. He's 76 years old (well, he was when he made the proclamation), wears "only Wrangler jeans", and lives in a remote part of Colorado (see pic at top). Actually, I should not make fun of the man; although he seems as sincere as a newborn babe, he is obviously not well. I'm not sure if the man realizes he has a lot of competition. (Anybody who has some time to kill could easily fill it googling them all down.) Though I haven't seen him for almost twenty years, I know another Elijah quite well. In this case, the man is not content with being merely the Elijah to come; he has arrogated to himself and his wife the role of the two witnesses as well. Actually, I have less trouble understanding the mind of those who make such claims (they are just mentally ill) as I do understanding the thinking of sane people who follow them. Which is why I'm writing this piece; if I can help just one person stay out of the clutches of a self-proclaimed Elijah I will be happy.
Before the curtain of history comes down on this ungodly age, someone will fulfill the prophesied role of Elijah to come. The base data is found in Malachi 4:5-6):
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 (Mal. 4:5-6).
Both the man-in-the-street (Matt. 16:14 etc.) and the religious leaders (John 1:19-21) of Jesus' day believed wholeheartedly in the plain thrust of this passage - someone would fulfill the critical mission of "turning the hearts" of God's chosen people before the world-shattering events of the day of the Lord Mk2. (See "The day of the Lord cameth" concerning Mk1.) Even though the chosen people would also suffer during the day of the Lord (Zeph. 1:1-8) they would come out of it and be restored to their land (Jer. 50:4-5) to live under the glorious reign of King Messiah (Zeph. 3:14-17). Naturally, the coming of the prophesied Elijah was anticipated with great excitement. Exactly what the people expected him to do is unclear; the Malachi prophecy may have left them wondering as much as it leaves us wondering what is meant by the reciprocal turning of "fathers'" and "children's" hearts. The general idea, however, is undoubtedly clarified by the original Elijah's activities. At the famous episode in which Elijah slaughtered the priests of Baal, he prayed,
Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again (1 Kin. 18:36-37).
John the Baptist, the prototypic fulfillment of the end-time Elijah (Matt. 17:11-13), evidently succeeded in spearheading a revival of interest in God - people came from near and far
to be baptized for the remission of their sins against God. The end-time Elijah will undoubtedly do the same thing; knowing and fearing God is the very basis of all truth. But Jesus' words suggest that he will accomplish even more than stirring up the chosen people, Israel, to repent and turn to God. Note Jesus' amazing addition to Malachi's words:
Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things (Matt. 17:11).
Restore all things? Oh that we could know exactly what Jesus meant. We can only make educated guesses. Evidently his activities will produce some sweeping changes. The context of Malachi's spine-tingling prophecy may give a hint as to another dimension of restoration; the verse immediately preceding the prophecy of interest says,
Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
Probably in addition to serving as God's agent to restore a fear of God among the populace, the Elijah to come will facilitate a return to the law of God. It is well-known that the majority of Jews living in Palestine today are "secular" - they neither fear the Holy One of Israel nor live by His statutes and judgments. He will, of course, be a disciple of Jesus Christ, too.
Might he also succeed in stirring up the Jews to rebuild the temple and practice animal sacrifice again?
His successes in restoration will not, however, entail long-lasting change in the depths of the heart. One can draw that conclusion from Jesus' own prediction (Matt. 24, etc.) that during the Great Tribulation and the day of the Lord, following the Elijah's labors, Jerusalem would be "trodden down of the Gentiles", the inhabitants of the Promised Land would have to flee to the mountains, and pregnant women would have a dreadful time of it; when God is involved, sufferings such as these are brought on sinners, not on the righteous. The limited nature of the restoration comports fully with the work of the literal Elijah and of John the Baptist. After Elijah's prayer noted above, wicked Ahab continued as king, and we see no sign of any extreme makeover of the peoples' hearts. The limited success of John the Baptist's ministry is self-evident.
You and I need pay absolutely no heed to anybody who identifies himself as the Elijah to come. When he comes, the divine origin of his authority and activity will be evident to all men and women of good will. He will be in the news big time. Further - although it cannot be proven as certainly as Pythagoras's theorem - he will be living and working in the land promised to the seed of Abraham. Thus it has always been; I for one cannot imagine the restorer of all things conducting his ministry in New York, London.