Grace Theological Journal 3.2 (1982) 221-33.

[Copyright © 1982 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Grace Colleges and elsewhere]

 

 

 

THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL

OF ELIJAH IN MALACHI

AND THE GOSPELS

 

 

 

WALTER C. KAISER, JR.

 

 

            Was John the Baptist the fulfillment of Malachi’s prediction

about Elijah the prophet who was to come before that great day of

the Lord comes? The hermeneutical solution to this question is

offered in a generic fulfillment. or what the older theologians called

the novissma. Therefore, Elijah has come "in the spirit and power"

witnessed in John the Baptist and will yet come in the future.

Generic prophecy has three foci: (1) the revelatory word, (2) all

intervening historical events which perpetuate that word, and (3) the

generic wholeness (one sense or meaning) in which the final or

ultimate fulfillment participates in all the earnests that occupied the

interim between the original revelatory word and this climactic

realization.

                                                *      *     *

 

THE NT's interest in the prophet Elijah may be easily assessed

from the fact that he is the most frequently mentioned OT figure

in the NT after Moses (80 times), Abraham (73), and David (59);

Elijah's name appears 29 or 30 times.1

            Even more significant, however, are the six major and explicit

references to Elijah in the Synoptic Gospels. There, some of Jesus'

contemporaries identified our Lord--in the second of three opinions--

as Elijah (Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9). Jesus' disciples were also aware

of this popular confusion, for they too repeated it (Matt 16:13-20;

Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21). This connection between Jesus and

Elijah continued to hold its grip on many even up to the time of the

crucifixion, for those who heard Jesus' fourth word from the cross

thought he was calling on Elijah to rescue him (Matt 27:45-49; Mark

 

            1 J. Jeremias, "h[l(e)iaj," TDNT 2 (1964) 934. The disparity of 29 or 30

is due to textual problem in Luke 9:54.

 



222                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

15:33-36). And who should appear on the mount of transfiguration

but Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus (Matt 17:1-19; Mark 9:2-10;

Luke 9:28-36)?

But there were two other references in the Synoptics which

referred to a future coming of Elijah. One came when Jesus' disciples

asked why the scribes claimed it was necessary that Elijah had to

come first (Matt 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13). Jesus responded that

"Elijah had come" and said it in such a way that the disciples knew

that he meant he was John the Baptist. If any doubt remained, Jesus

said just that in Matt 11:14--"he is Elijah, the one who was to come."

However, when one turns from the Synoptics to the Fourth

Gospel, none of these six references are present. Instead, we find

John categorically denying that he was either Christ, "that [Mosaic]

prophet," or Elijah (John 1:21, 25)! John's clear disavowal is so stark

by way of contrast with the way he is presented in the Synoptics that

the Synoptics and John appear to contradict one another flatly. What

explanation can be offered for this phenomenon? And what impact

does it have on the question of the NT author's use of OT citations?

 

THE ISSUES

At stake in this discussion are three critical points of tension: (1)

the identity of that coming messenger or future prophet named

Elijah, (2) the time of his coming, and (3) the task(s) assigned to him.

Each of these three questions raises a number of hermeneutical and

theological issues that have left their mark on various traditions of

interpretation.

However, even before these three tension points have been

joined, perhaps there is a prior question which asks if Elijah's coming

is at all connected with the coming of the Messiah. A recent study by

Faierstein concludes that:

. . . contrary to the accepted scholarly consensus, almost no evidence

has been preserved which indicates that the concept of Elijah as

forerunner of the Messiah was widely known or accepted in the first

century C.E. . . . The only datum. . . is the baraitha in b. Erubin 43a-b,

a text of the early third century C.E. . . . The further possibility, that the

concept of Elijah as forerunner is a novum in the NT must also be

seriously considered.2

 

2 Morris M. Faierstein, "Why Do the Scribes Say That Elijah Must Come First?"

JBL 100 (1981) 86. John H. Hughes, "John the Baptist: The Forerunner of God

Himself," NovT 14 (1972) 212 is of the same opinion: "There is no reliable pre-

Christian evidence for the belief that Elijah was to be the forerunner of the Messiah,

and this helps support the suggestion that the conception originated with Jesus." [!]

 



KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      223

 

Faierstein, while conveniently avoiding the strong evidence of Mal 3:1;

4:4-5 and the repeated NT allusions, tends to assign either a post-

Christian date or to reserve judgment on a whole series of evidences

to the contrary from the Jewish community. Certainly the Qumran

fragment J. Starcky cited (lkn  slh l’lyh qd[m], "therefore I will send

Elijah befo[re]. . . .") is incomplete;3 but it should have reminded

Faierstein to take another look at Mal 3:1; 4:4-5 [Heb 3:24-25].

Faierstein also sets aside the same eighteen rabbinic texts which

L. Ginzberg analyzes differently.

Now, in no fewer than eighteen passages in the Talmud, Elijah appears

as one who, in his capacity of precursor of the Messiah, will settle all

doubts on matters of ritual and judicial.4

 

But the locus classicus of these eighteen, m. 'Ed. 8.7, is exceptionally

clear. Elijah would establish legitimate Jewish descent, family har-

mony, and resolve differences of opinion and religious controversies.

He would do all this, says m. ‘Ed. 8.7 ". . . as it is written, Behold I

will send you Elijah, the prophet. . . and he shall turn the heart of the

fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers.”5

Once again, we are brought back to the Malachi texts if we are to

make any decision on what was normative either for pre-Christian

Judaism or the NT itself. To this day, Judaism continues to reserve

for Elijah a distinguished place and loosely to relate it to their fading

expectation of the coming of the Messiah. This can best be seen in the

cup of Elijah and the seat reserved for him at every Passover meal.

The hope and prayer of every Jew at the conclusion of the Passover-

"next year in Jerusalem"--is one piece of a larger picture of the

coming Messianic era. And at the heart of it remains the open door

for the new Elijah.

 

II. MALACHI 3:1; 4:4-5

 

A. The Identity of 'My Messenger'

God's answer to the impious complaints of the wicked men and

women of Malachi's day who mockingly sneered: "Where is the God

of justice?" was to send his messenger to prepare the way for the God

 

3 J. Starcky, "Les Quatre Etapes du Messianisme a Qumran," RB 70 (1963) 489-

505. The fragment is 4QarP. See p. 498 as cited in Faierstein, "Elijah Must Come

First?" 80, nn. 33-34.

4 L. Ginzberg, An Unknown Jewish Sect (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary,

1976) 212. These 18 texts all end 18 talmudic discussions and are known by the term

teyqu which came to mean "The Tishbite will resolve difficulties and problems."

Ginzberg lists the location of these 18 passages in n. 14 on p. 212.

 



224                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

for whom they allegedly searched. He did not promise merely a

messenger, but one that was already familiar to them from the

informing theology of Isa 40:3, for the words used to describe this

messenger were the same as those used there: he was "to prepare the

way."

No doubt the words "my messenger" (ykixAl;ma) were intended to be

both a play on the name of the prophet Malachi and prophetic of a

future prophet who would continue his same work. But he was

certainly to be an earthly messenger and not a heavenly being. This

can be demonstrated from three lines of evidence: (1) in Isaiah the

voice which called for the preparation of the nation came from

someone in the nation itself; (2) this same messenger in Mal 3:1 is

associated with Elijah the prophet in Mal 4:5; and (3) he is strongly

contrasted with "The Lord," "even the messenger of the covenant" in

Mal 3:1.6

Thus this messenger cannot be the death angel, as the Jewish

commentator Jarchi conjectured,7 or an angel from heaven as another

Jewish commentator Kimchi alleged from Exod 23:20, a passage

which finds its context in a time when Israel was being prepared for a

journey into the desert. God's mouthpiece was an earthly proclaimer.

 

B. The Identity of the Lord and the Messenger of the Covenant

 

"The Lord" (NOdxAhA) can only refer to God when used with the

article.8 That he is divine personage is also evident from these

additional facts: he answers to the question of Mal 2:17, "Where is

the God of justice?" (2) he comes to "his temple" (Mal 3:1) and thus

he is the owner of that house in which he promised to dwell; and

(3) he is also named the "Messenger of the covenant" (tyriB;ha j`xl;ma).

Furthermore, it is clear from passages such as Zech 4:14 and 6:5,

"NOdxA of the whole earth," that NOdxA is used interchangeably with

Yahweh.9

The title "Angel or Messenger of the Covenant," is found nowhere

else in the OT. Nevertheless, the title is very reminiscent of the more

 

5 Herbert Danby, The Mishnah (London: Oxford University, 1958) 437 [italics his].

6 These three arguments are substantially those of E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology

of the Old Testament (trans. James Martin) (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1875) 4.164.

7 R. Cashdan, Soncino Books of the Bible: The Twelve Prophets (ed. A. Cohen;

London: Soncino, 1948) 349.

8 So argues T. V. Moore (The Prophets of the Restoration: Haggai, Zechariah and

Malachi [New York: Robert Carter and Bros., 1856] 376). He refers to Exod 23:17;

34:23; Isa 1:24; 3:1; 10:16, 33; Mal 1:12, etc. In Dan 9:17 NOdxAhA seems to refer to the

Son.

9 So argues Joyce G. Baldwin (Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi [Tyndale Old

Testament; 1).


KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      225

frequently used, "Angel of the Lord." That was the same "Angel"

who had redeemed Israel out of the land of Egypt (Exod 3:6), had

gone before the army as they crossed the Red Sea (Exod 14:19),

led Israel through the wilderness (Exod 23:20) and filled the temple

with his glory. He was one and the same as Yahweh himself. This

Angel was God's own self-revelation, the pre-incarnate Christ of the

numerous OT Christophanies.10 He is the same one discussed in Exod

23:20-23; ("Behold, I send an Angel. . . My name is in him") 33:15

("My Presence [or face] shall go with you") and Isa 63:9 (The Angel

of his Presence or face").

The covenant of which he is the messenger is the same one

anciently made with Israel (Exod 25:8; Lev 26:11-12; Deut 4:23; Isa

33:14) and later renewed in Jer 31:31-34 as repeated in Heb 8:7-13

and 9:15. Therefore, while the covenant was a single plan of God for

all ages, this context addressed mainly the Levitical priesthood (Mal

1:6-2:9) and the nation Israel (Mal 2:11; 3:5, 8) for violating that

covenant relationship.

Still, it must be stressed that there are not two persons represented

in "The Lord" and the "Messenger of the Covenant" but only one, as

is proven by the singular form of "come" (xBA).11 Thus the passage

mentions only two persons: "The Lord" and the preparing messenger.

 

C. The Connection Between the Announcer’s Task and the Work of the Lord

 

The preparing messenger was "to clear the way before [the

Lord]." The striking similarity between this expression (hnApAl; j`r,D, hn.APiU)

and that found in Isa 40:3, (hvhy j`r,D, Un.Pa) 57:14 and 62:10 is too strong

to be accidental. The resemblance between Isaiah and Malachi was

drawn out even to the omission of the article from j`r,D,, "way"; the

only difference is that in Malachi the messenger is to prepare the way

while in Isaiah the servants of the Lord are urged to prepare the road.

Under the oriental figure of an epiphany or arrival of the

reigning monarch, the text urged for a similar removal of all spiritual,

moral, and ethical impediments in preparation for the arrival of the

King of Glory. Whenever a king would visit a village, the roadway

would be straightened, leveled, and all stones and obstacles removed

from the road that the king would take as he came to visit the town.

The only other instance of this expression is in Ps 80:9 [Heb 10]: tAyn.iPi

hAyn,pAl;, "You cleared [the ground] before it [= the vine (or the nation

 

10 See W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1918) pp. 85, 120. 251-58. See references to the "Angel of the Lord" in

such texts as Gen 16:1; 22:11, 15; Judg 2:1; 6:11, 14.

11 So argues E. W. Hengstenberg. Christology,4.168.



226                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Israel) brought out from the land of Egypt]." Once again, however, it

was necessary to do some clearing away as a preparation before the

nation Israel, here represented as a vine, was to be able to be planted

and to take deep root in the land.

This future messenger would likewise clear out the rubbish,

obstacles, and impediments "before me"--the same one who was iden-

tified in the next sentence as "The Lord," "even the Messenger of the

Covenant." The equation of these three terms can be argued for even

more convincingly when it is noticed that the waw, "and," which

introduces the phrase "and the messenger of the covenant whom you

desire" is an epexegetical waw used in apposition to the phrase "The

Lord whom you are seeking." Therefore we translate the whole verse:

 

Behold, I will send my messenger. He will clear the way ahead of me.

Suddenly, the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple;

even the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come says

the Lord of hosts.

 

Over against this preparatory work, the Lord and Messenger of

the Covenant was to arrive "suddenly" (MxAt;Pi) at his temple. The

people had longed for the coming of God in judgment as a redress to

all wrongs (Mal 2:17). Indeed, he would come, but it would be

"unexpectedly.”12 The ungodly hoped for a temporal deliverer, but

Mal 3:2 warned that most would not be able to stand when that day

of judgment came. Not only would the heathen gentiles be judged,

but so too would the ungodly in Israel. It would appear that the final

judgment associated with the second advent has been blended in this

passage with the Lord's arrival in his first advent. It was necessary to

be prepared for both!

 

D. The Identity of Elijah the Prophet

Does Malachi expect the Tishbite to reappear personally on the

earth again? It would not appear so, for Mal 4:5-6 specifically said,

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the13 prophet, before the great and

terrible day of the Lord comes." Only the LXX reads "Elijah the

Tishbite." The reason Elijah was selected is, (1) he was head of the

prophetic order in the nation Israel and (2) many of his successors

 

12 T. Laetsch (Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets [St. Louis: Concordia,

1956] 531) says "Suddenly, pit‘om, is never used to denote immediacy; it always means

unexpectedly, regardless of the lapse of time (Joshua 10:9; I 1:7; Num. 12:4; Ps. 64:5, 8,

A. V. 4, 7; Provo 3:25; 6:15; Isa. 47:11; Jer. 4:20, etc.)."

13 Jack Willsey ("The Coming of Elijah: An Interpretation of Malachi 4:5,"

[unpublished Master's dissertation, San Francisco Conservative Baptist Theological

Seminary, 1969] 31) notes that the use of the article with xybinA refers "to Elijah:

specifically, the Elijah who was known to the readers as the prophet (as opposed to any

other possible Elijah)."



KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      227

 

indirectly received the same spirit and power that divinely was

granted to him. There was, as it were, a successive endowment of his

gifts, power, and spirit to those who followed in his train.

This phenomenon is known already in the OT, for 2 Chr 21:12

mentions "a writing from Elijah the prophet" during the reign of King

Jehoram when Elijah had already been in heaven for many years.

Furthermore, many of the acts predicted by Elijah were actually

carried out by Elisha (2 Kgs 8:13) and one of the younger prophets

(2 Kgs 9:13).  Indeed, Elisha had asked for a double portion, the

portion of the firstborn (OHUrB;, 2 Kgs 2:9), as his spiritual inheritance

from Elijah. Thus, just as the spirit of Moses came on the seventy

elders (Num 11:25) so the "spirit of Elijah"14 rested on Elisha"

(2 Kgs 2:15).

We are to expect a literal return of Elijah no more than we

expect a literal return of David as the future king over Israel. Surely

passages like Jer 30:19; Hos 3:5; Ezek 34:23; and 37:24 promise a new

David. But it is universally held that this new David is none other

than the Messiah himself who comes in the office, line, and promise

of David. Consequently, we argue that the new Elijah will be endowed

with this same spirit and power without being the actual Elijah who

was sent back long after his translation to heaven.

 

E. The Connection Between Elijah and the Forerunner

 

There can be little doubt that Elijah the prophet is one and the

same as the messenger whom the Lord will send to prepare the way

before him. Mal 4:5 marks the third great "Behold" in this book (3:1;

4:1, and here) and therefore carries our mind and eye back to the

other two passages. A second similarity is to found in the participial

phrase, "I am sending." There is also, in the third place, a similarity

of mission; for both the verbs "to clear the way" (hOn.Pa) and "to

restore" (bUw) are based on verbs which also mean "to turn" and

hence imply a repentance or turning away from evil and a turning

towards God. In the fourth place, the play on sending "my messenger"

with Malachi's name in 3:1 is matched in 4:5 by sending "Elijah."

Finally, both 3:1 and 4:5a are followed by references that speak of the

awesomeness of the day of the Lord (3:2; 4:5b).

 

F. The Time of Day of the Lord

This messenger, who is called the prophet Elijah, is to appear

"before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes." That day was

 

14 For a long discussion of the Christian history of interpretation of the NT identity

of Elijah, see E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950) 2. 499-

502 and E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology, 4. 195-200.



228                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

described in similar terms in Joel 2:11, 31 and Zeph 1:14. A number

of the OT prophets view that day as one day and a collective event

which entailed this three-way puzzle: (1) though five prophets refer to

that day as "near" or "at hand," their prophecies are spread over four

centuries (Obad 15; Joel 1:15; 2:21; Isa 3:6; Zeph 1:7, 14; Ezek 30:3);

(2) these prophets also saw different immediate events belonging to

their own day as being part of that "day of the Lord" including

destruction of Edom, a locust plague, or the pending destruction of

Jerusalem in 586 B.C.; and (3) nevertheless, that day was also a future

day in which the Lord "destroyed the whole earth" (Isa 13:5) and

reigned as "King over all the earth" (Zech 14:1, 8-9), a day when "the

elements will be dissolved. . . and the earth and the works that are in

it will be laid bare" (2 Pet 3:10), as well as a day of salvation and

deliverance (Joel 2:32).

It is just such a day that Mal 3:2; 4:1, 5 mention. The principle of

generic or successive fulfillment is most important if we are adequately

to explain and be faithful to all the biblical data. T. V. Moore stated

it this way:

There are a number of statements by the sacred writers that are

designed to apply to distinct facts, successively occurring in history. If

the words are limited to anyone of these facts, they will seem

exaggerated, for no one fact can exhaust their significance. They must

be spread out over all the facts before their plenary meaning is reached.

There is nothing in this principle that is at variance with the ordinary

laws of language. The same general use of phrases occurs repeatedly. . . .

Every language contains these formulas, which refer not to anyone

event, but a series of events, all embodying the same principle, or

resulting from the same cause.

[Thus] . . . the promise in regard to the "seed of the woman," (Gen.

3:15) refers to one event but runs along the whole stream of history,

and includes every successive conquest of the religion of Christ. . .

[This] class of predictions. . . is . . . what the old theologians called the

novissima. . .15

 

Thus, the "Day of Yahweh" is a generic or collective event which

gathers together all the antecedent historical episodes of God's judgment

and salvation along with the future grand finale and climactic event

in the whole series. Every divine intervention into history before that

final visitation in connection with the second advent of Christ con-

stitutes only a preview, sample, downpayment or earnest on that

climactic conclusion. The prophet did not think of the day of the

 

15 T. V. Moore, Zechariah, Malachi, 396-99:



KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      229

 

Lord as an event that would occur once for all, but one that could

"be repeated as the circumstances called for it".16

Now, the future Elijah, the prophet, will appear "before that

great and terrible day of the Lord comes," Furthermore, as shown in

Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3, he will prepare the way for Yahweh. But which

coming of the Messiah is intended by Malachi--the first or second

advent? Since most conclude along with the NT writers that the

messenger's preparation was for the first advent of our Lord, and

since the events included in that day in Mal 3:2ff and Mal 4:1ff

involve the purification of the Levites, the judgment on the wicked

and the return of the Yahweh to his temple, it is fair to conclude that

that day embraces both advents, This is precisely the situation which

Joel 2:28-32 presents. The fulfillment of Joel's words at Pentecost is

as much a part of that day as the seismographic and cosmological

convolutions connected with the second advent,

The basic concept, then, is that Malachi's prophecy does not

merely anticipate that climactic fulfillment of the second advent, but

it simultaneously embraces a series of events which all participate in

the prophet's single meaning even though the referents embraced in

that single meaning are many.17 In this way, the whole set of events

make up one collective totality and constitute only one idea even

though they involve many referents which are spread over a large

portion of history. Perhaps the best way to describe this phenomenon

is to call it a generic prediction which Willis J. Beecher defined as:

 

. . . one which regards an event as occurring in a series of parts,

separated by intervals, and expresses itself in language which may

apply indifferently to the nearest part, or to the remoter parts, or to the

whole--in other words, a prediction which in applying to the whole of

a complex event, also applies to some of its parts.18

 

III. JOHN THE BAPTIST AND NEW TESTAMENT FULFILLMENT

 

The NT question may now be asked: "Was John the Baptist the

fulfillment of Malachi's prophecies or was he not?"

 

16 Willis J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise (New York: Thomas Y.

Crowell, 1905; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970) 311.

17 A most helpful distinction can be found in G. B. Caird, The Language and

Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980) chap. 2. He distinguishes

between meaningV (= value: "This means more to me than anything else"), meaningE

(= entailment: "This means war"), meaningR (= referent: identifies person(s) or thing(s)

named or involved), meaningS (= sense: gives qualities of person or thing) and meaning

(= intention: the truth-commitment of the author).

18 W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 130.

 



230                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

A. Three Basic Positions

Three basic answers have been given to this inquiry: (1) John the

Baptist fully fulfilled all that was predicted of the messenger who

would prepare the way and Elijah will not come again;19 (2) Elijah the

Tishbite will personally reappear and minister once again at the end

of this age;20 and (3) John the Baptist did come as a fulfillment of this

prophecy, but he came in "the spirit and the power of Elijah" and is

thereby only one prophet in a series of forerunners who are appearing

throughout history until that final and climactically terrible day of

Yahweh comes when it is announced by the last prophet in this series

of forerunners.21

 

B. A Generic Fulfillment of the Elijah Prophecy

From our examination of Malachi's prophecy it is clear that we

should adopt the third alternative. The identity, timing, and tasks of

this messenger in Malachi all argue for his appearance in two

different individuals, if not a series of them, rather than a single

individual such as John the Baptist.

The NT evidence yields a similar construction. Matt 11:14 quotes

Jesus as affirming that "he [John the Baptist] is himself (au]to<j e]stin)

Elijah, the one who is to come." Again in Matt 11:10 (= Luke 7:27),

"This (ou$toj) is the one of whom it is written, 'Behold I send my

messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee'."

So John was that one-Elijah the prophet!

Yet it is just as clear that John denies that he is Elijah: "I am not

[Elijah] (e]gw> ou]k ei]mi<, John 1:21, 23); and that Luke assures us that

John the Baptist came only in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (e]n

pneu<mati kai> duna<mei, Luke 1:17). Even when it is clear that John

only denied being Elijah in the popular misconceptions entertained by

the people of John's day, John could be identified as Elijah only

because the same Spirit and power that had energized Elijah had now

fallen on him.

 

19 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1950) 5. 627; E. W. Hengstengberg, Christology, 4. 165; Oswald T. Allis,

Prophecy and the Church (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974) 49; David

Allan George Knight, "John the Baptist and Elijah: A Study of Prophetic Fulfillment,"

(Unpublished M.A. thesis; T.E.D.S., Deerfield, IL, 1978) 115-16.

20 John Paul Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: BMH

Books, 1974) 185-87; Tertullian, "A Treatise on the Soul," 3:217.

21 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho," 1:219-20; Aurelius Augustine,

"St. John's Gospel," 7:27; T. T. Perowne, Malachi (The Cambridge Bible for Schools

and Colleges; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1890) 39; J. T. Marshall, "The

Theology of Malachi," ExpT 7 (1895-96) 126; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958) 311-12.

 



KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      231

C. The New Elijah’s Tasks

Even the task of this coming prophet had this same two-pronged

focus. Mark 9:12 answers the inquiry of Peter, James, and John

("Why do the scribes say the first Elijah must come?") as they were

returning from the Mount of Transfiguration and hearing about the

Son of Man suffering and being raised again by saying: "Elijah has

come [e]lqw>n, past] first and is restoring [a]pokaqista<nei, present] all

things." Matt 17:11, referring to the identical event, combined the

present with the future tense: "Elijah is coming (e@rxetai, present) and

he will restore [a]pokatasth<sei]22 all things." Since this present is

coupled with a future tense, the present must be interpreted as a

futuristic present--"Elijah is coming."

Now the term "restoration" is used in the OT both as a technical

term for the restoration of Israel to their own land23 and as a moral

restoration of the inner man.24 We believe that Matthean and Markan

uses of this verb are parallel, in part, to the noun form (a]po-

katasth<seouj) used in Acts 3:21. In Acts, Peter states that Jesus now

remains in heaven "until the time of the restoration (or 'establish-

ing')25 of all things that God has spoken by the mouth of his holy

prophets." That too is a future work associated with the parousia.

Luke has described John's work as one of going before the Lord

to prepare his ways, of giving the knowledge of salvation to his

people and giving light to those in darkness (Luke 1:76-79). He

would also "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children (e]pistre<yai

kardi<aj pate<rwn e]pi> te<kna, Luke 1:17, which follows the MT of Mal

4:6 in the verb e]pistre<fw instead of the LXX a]pokaqi<sthmi."

 

IV. CONCLUSION: HERMENEUTICAL IMPLICATIONS

The emerging picture is clear. How can we disassociate Elijah

who is to come from the day of the Lord? And how can we limit the

day of the Lord entirely to the second advent and the parousia? Both

errors will lead to a result less than what was intended by Malachi

 

22 Both Matthew and Mark's word for "restoration" is found in the LXX. The

Hebrew MT of Mal 4:6 has bywihe. The text of Sir 48:10 followed the LXX.

23 Jer 15:19; 16:15; 23:8; 24:6; Hos 11:10

24 Amos 5:15. I owe these references to David A. G. Knight, "John the Baptist and

Elijah," 93.

25 Some prefer to link this idea with the fulfillment or establishment of OT

prophecy; see K. Lake and H. J. Cadberry, The Acts of the Apostles. The Beginnings

of Christianity (ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and K. Lake; 5 vols.; London: Macmillan,

1933) 4. 38, as cited by Knight, "John the Baptist and Elijah," 94. This is a strange

word to express that concept when so many others were available and used by Luke.

The OT usage appears to be too fixed to allow this novel meaning--especially in a

passage that appeals to the prophets!


 


232                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Elijah still must come and "restore all things" (Matt 17:11) "before

the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Mal 4:5).

Nevertheless, let no one say that Elijah has not already in some

sense come, for our Lord will affirm the contrary: "Elijah has come."

Now, what explanation will adequately answer all of these phenomena?

Were it not for the fact that this same type of phenomenon occurs

with so many other similar prophetic passages, we would need to

conclude that the text presented us with internal contradictions. But

this is not so, for the list of generic prophecies wherein a single

prediction embraced a whole series of fulfillments when all those

fulfillments shared something that was part and parcel of all of them

is a long one.26

Some will argue that this is nothing more than what most name

"double fulfillment of prophecy." This we deny. The problem with

"double fulfillment" is threefold: (1) it restricts the fulfillments to two

isolated events and only two; (2) it usually slides easily into a theory

of double senses or dual intentionality in which the human author

usually is aware of none of these referents or meanings or at most

only one (if it is contemporaneous) with the other or both fulfillments

left as surprises for the future generation in which they take place;

and (3) it focuses only on the predictive word (usually given in

abstraction from the times in which that word came) and on the final

fulfillment without any attention being given as to how God kept that

word alive in the years that intervened between the divine revelation

and the climactic fulfillment.

Only generic prophecy can handle all three foci: (1) the revelatory

word; (2) the series of intervening historical events which perpetuate

that word; and (3) corporate, collective, and generic wholeness of that

final fulfillment with whatever aspect of realization that event has had

in the interim as God continued to promise by his Word and to act by

his power throughout history. The intervening events, then, while

being generically linked with that final event, were earnests, down-

payments, samplers, partial teasers until the total payment came in

God's climactic fulfillment.

That exactly is what happened in the case of John the Baptist.

He was only a sample of a portion of the work that was to be done in

the final day. We can show this by referring to the identities, tasks,

and timing given in Malachi and the Gospels without adding at this

time the further evidence of the work of one of the two witnesses in

Revelation 11.

 

26 See w. C. Kaiser, Jr., "The Promise of God and the Outpouring of the Holy

Spirit: Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:16-21," The Living and Active Word of God, ed.

Morris Inch and Ron Youngblood (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1982).



KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH                      233

 

John then was Elijah as an earnest, but we still await the other

Elijahs and especially that final Elijah the prophet before the great

and terrible day of our Lord. The meaningI is one; not two, three, or

sensus plenior. Only that sense given by revelation of God can be

normative, authoritative, and apologetically convincing to a former

generation of Jews or to our own generation. We urge Christ's

Church to adopt the single meaning of the text and a generic meaning

for prophecies of the type found in Mal 3:1 and 4:5-6.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

www.grace.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu