Times and Signs—Conclusion

Restoration in the Kingdom

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” —Malachi 4:5,6

THE expression, “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” is one which is used in the Bible to describe a time in the outworking of the divine plan for human salvation when the Lord would no longer permit the human race to continue in its selfish and sinful ways unhindered by him.

For several hundred years after Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, delivered his message to the Jewish people, there was no special indication that the Lord was taking any particular notice of the people’s waywardness; not until the appearance of John the Baptist, and following him, Jesus.

Through the ministry of these two servants of God, Israel was called to repentance and reformation, but the call was not heeded except by the few. John foretold that as a result of the failure to respond to this call to repentance and to accept their Messiah, dire calamity would come upon the nation. Speaking particularly to the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, John said: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into. the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”—Matt. 3:7-11

Our text declares that prior to the coming of this day of the Lord, Elijah the prophet would be sent. Every devout Israelite looked for the coming of the promised Messiah, and to the divine government which the prophets foretold he would establish in the earth. But here, seemingly, was another important personality, a prophet who must also come prior to the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

There was still another personality, as the Israelites understood it, who had been promised in the writings of Moses. In Deuteronomy 18:15-18, the Lord speaks of a prophet like unto Moses, a prophet who would give the people that which they desired at Horeb, which was the ending of God’s voice against them in order that they might live. This great one the Israelites were accustomed to speak of as ‘that prophet’.

Thus, when John the Baptist began his ministry, the Jews sent priests and Levites to interview him for the purpose of learning just who he claimed to be. John denied that he was the Messiah. Then these messengers inquired, “Art thou Elias?” or Elijah, having in mind the prophecy of Malachi. John’s straightforward reply to this question was, “I am not. Then the messengers asked, “Art thou that prophet?” Again John said, “No.”—John 1:19-21

However, as far as John the Baptist’s being the foretold Elijah was concerned, his negative answer to the priests and Levites did not entirely settle the matter. The angel who prophesied the birth of John said, “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias [Greek for Elijah], to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”—Luke 1:16,17

This prophecy comes short of definitely identifying John the Baptist as the foretold Elijah. It simply states that he would conduct his ministry in the spirit and power of Elijah. The Prophet Elijah had been fearless and courageous in the conduct of his work, and it was in this same spirit and power that John called the nation to repentance. In many respects John’s work was similar to Elijah’s, and certainly the courageous manner in which he conducted it was identical.

In a reference to John the Baptist, Jesus said to the multitudes, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias [Elijah], which was for to come.” (Matt. 11:7,14) Here again we have a qualified identification of John—“If ye will receive it.” Evidently what Jesus meant was that to those who were reached and reformed by John’s ministry he was the promised Elijah. This would seem to indicate that the work of reformation described in Malachi’s prophecy is the key to its understanding rather than some certain individual or individuals who might perform that work.

If the work of reformation described as ‘turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children’ should fail, then a great curse would come upon the earth, ostensibly as a punishment to those who failed to heed the message of the reformer.

We have an illustration of this in the case of John the Baptist and his ministry in Israel. Many gave heed to his call to repentance, and in doing so were blessed. However, the vast majority of the nation did not. Not having heeded John’s message, they were not prepared to accept Jesus as their Messiah, and were willing and ready to crucify him. In the outworking of the divine plan, this led to disaster for the nation. Within the generation, and involving the very ones who rejected John and called for the crucifixion of Jesus, the foretold curse fell. This was the destruction of their Temple and city of Jerusalem, and later their being scattered throughout the earth.

Continued Call to Repentance

Since, as Jesus explained, John the Baptist was the foretold Elijah to those who could receive it, and not the Elijah to those who did not respond to his message, it is evident that we cannot properly look for the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy in and through a single individual. Rather, the name Elijah is used in the prophecy merely as symbolic of a work similar to that accomplished by the original Elijah. This was a work of reformation calling for repentance in which the people of Israel were called upon to return to their God, and to acknowledge his sovereignty in the nation.

So the foretold Elijah work would be a calling upon the people to repent, to reform, and to recognize that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. John the Baptist began such a work, but it was by no means concluded with him. Matthew 4:17 reads, “From that time [when John’s ministry was stopped] Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was the same message as delivered by John.—Matt. 3:1,2

In Mark 6:12 we read that when the disciples of Jesus went out into the ministry they preached that men should repent. After the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost, the call to repentance was still preached. In his Pentecostal sermon, Peter said to his audience, “Repent, and be baptized.” (Acts 3:19) In a later sermon he said, “Repent … and be converted.” (Acts 3:19) In his sermon on Mars’ Hill Paul said that now the Lord commanded all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30) Explaining his ministry to Agrippa, Paul said that he “showed first unto them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”—Acts 26:20

It is evident from these scriptures that the call to repentance continued right on from John the Baptist, Jesus as well as his followers participating in it. This was the foretold Elijah work. Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, which clearly implies that the Elijah work was to continue through the ministry of the church.

World Not Converted

But throughout the age, and now, the world has not heeded the message of the Elijah, even as the nation of Israel did not give heed to John the Baptist.

The world has not thus far been converted by the Gospel. Darkness still covers the earth, and gross darkness the people. (Isa. 60:2) But this does not mean that the world never will be converted or that the foretold Elijah work never will be successful. God has wanted the world to have a witness to help demonstrate that nothing short of the iron rule of the messianic kingdom could succeed in establishing the divine will in earth even as it is in heaven. Now that this demonstration has been given, we can confidently look forward to the near establishment of that glorious kingdom of the Messiah which will enlighten the world, and cause the people to say, “This is our God; we have waited for him, … we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isaiah 25:9

A Vision of the Kingdom

In the Transfiguration Vision shown to Peter, James, and John, we have a further clarification and confirmation of the Elijah symbolism in the prophecies. (Matt. 17:1-13) In the last verse of the preceding chapter, Jesus said, “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Then in the next verse, the first of the following chapter, we read, “After six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart.” This was the Mount of Transfiguration.

When Jesus said that some standing among them would not taste death until they saw him in his kingdom, he evidently meant that they would be given a vision of the kingdom, which three of them were given just six days later. This was Peter’s understanding, for in the first chapter of his second epistle he speaks of an abundant entrance into the “kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (vs. 11) Then, concerning this glorious hope, he adds, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming [presence] of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”—II Pet. 1:16-18

It is clear that Peter, James, and John were given a vision of Christ’s kingdom, and it is significant that in this vision they should see Moses and Elijah’ with Jesus. It would seem to be the Lord’s way of saying that the prophecies concerning Elijah, and that prophet who was to be “like unto Moses,” would have their complete fulfillment in the kingdom. Other scriptures reveal that this is the divine plan.

When Peter, who was inspired by this vision of the kingdom, preached his well-known sermon on the “times of restitution of all things,” adding that it had been spoken by the “mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21), he cited as one of his proof texts the promise the Lord made to raise up a great prophet like Moses. Thus Peter understood that the prophecy recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 would be fulfilled during the times of restitution of all things.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus said that Elijah “shall come, and restore all things.” (Matt. 17:11) In the King James Version this reads, “first come,” but the word first is spurious. The Revised Version translates the text correctly, and reads, “Elijah indeed cometh.” In this statement Jesus is referring to the ultimate accomplishment of the Elijah work during his kingdom reign.

Through John the Baptist, there was a beginning of the Elijah work, but he was rejected by the majority. Then Jesus was rejected and put to death. This work has continued throughout the age, but those giving the message have likewise been rejected and persecuted. Not until the kingdom is established in power and great glory, as so graphically portrayed in the Transfiguration Vision, will the foretold Elijah work finally be accomplished. It will be then that God’s will be restored in the earth, and when all mankind, released from the Adamic condemnation will be awakened from the sleep of death and given an opportunity to be restored to perfection and live forever.

Two Phases of the Kingdom

It was fitting from another standpoint that Moses and Elijah should be shown together with Jesus in that marvelous vision of the kingdom. Moses, as lawgiver and prophet, is a fitting symbol of all the faithful servants of God during the Law dispensation, and even before. All the Ancient Worthies were God’s representatives during the time preceding the first advent of Christ. They upheld the principles of divine righteousness in a sinful world, suffering and dying for righteousness’ sake. But the world was not impressed by their presence and ministry.

But it will be different in the kingdom. This class of ancient and faithful servants of God will then be raised from the dead and become the human representatives of the divine Christ, the earthly phase of the kingdom. Then they will be rewarded by seeing that for which they stood become triumphant in the earth. Through the authority and power of that prophet, the greater than Moses, they will see the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. Then the righteous will not be persecuted. On the other hand, the rebuke of God’s people will be taken away, and “every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.”—Isa. 25:8; Acts 3:23

Since the Lord used Elijah and his work of reformation to symbolize the call to repentance and to the acceptance of earth’s new king, which began at the first advent, we may properly think of him as symbolizing the spiritual phase of the kingdom; The message proclaimed to the world by these throughout the Gospel Age has not turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, nor the hearts of the children to the fathers. The actual accomplishment of this work awaits the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in power and great glory. How beautifully this is shown by Elijah’s appearing with Jesus in that vision of the kingdom.

Unique in the experiences of the original Elijah was the fact that at the close of his ministry he was lifted up from the earth. Although he did not actually go to heaven, as many suppose, his experience readily suggests or symbolizes the fact that the antitypical Elijah class, after proving their faithfulness by witnessing for the truth regardless of the cost to them, are in the resurrection exalted to heavenly glory, to participate with Jesus in the spiritual phase of his glorious kingdom.

Thus in the Transfiguration vision we have a marvelous portrayal of the earthly and spiritual phases of the messianic kingdom, that kingdom in which Jesus himself will be the supreme Head and ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. It will be through that kingdom that the Elijah work of reconciling the world to God will finally be accomplished. With this work completed, the kingdom will be turned over to the Heavenly Father, that he may be “all in all.”—I Cor. 15:25-28

Dawn Bible Students Association
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