Grace Theological Journal 3.2 (1982) 221-33.
[Copyright © 1982 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
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
* * *
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 -16; Luke 9:7-9). Jesus' disciples were also aware
of this popular confusion, for they too repeated it (Matt -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
-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;
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 -13; Mark -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 , 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?
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
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
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.
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 -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
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
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 (
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
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
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
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 , "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
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;
8 So argues T. V. Moore (The Prophets of the Restoration: Haggai, Zechariah and
34:23; Isa 1:24; 3:1; , 33; Mal 1:12, etc. In Dan NOdxAhA seems to refer to the
9 So argues Joyce G. Baldwin (Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi [Tyndale Old
KAISER: THE PROMISE OF THE ARRIVAL OF ELIJAH 225
frequently used, "Angel of the Lord." That was the same "Angel"
who had redeemed
gone before the army as they crossed the
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
33:14) and later renewed in Jer 31:31-34 as repeated in Heb 8:7-13
and . Therefore, while the covenant was a single plan of God for
all ages, this context addressed mainly the Levitical priesthood (Mal
and the nation
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 (
Zondervan, 1918) pp. 85, 120. 251-58. See references to the "Angel of the Lord" in
such texts as Gen 16:1; , 15; Judg 2:1; , 14.
11 So argues E. W. Hengstenberg. Christology,4.168.
226 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
was necessary to do some clearing away as a preparation before the
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 ). 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
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
12 T. Laetsch (Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets [
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,
V. 4, 7;
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 ) 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 ) 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
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
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 ), as well as a day of salvation and
deliverance (Joel ).
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.
) 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.
Crowell, 1905; reprinted,
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
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 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 (= Luke ),
"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 , 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 ). 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 (
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 (
Books, 1974) 185-87; Tertullian, "A Treatise on the Soul," 3:217.
21 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho," 1:219-20; Aurelius Augustine,
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 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 , 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
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 . 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 , 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
23 Jer ; ; 23:8; 24:6; Hos 11:10
24 Amos 5:15. I owe these references to David A. G. Knight, "John the Baptist and
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.;
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 ) "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
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
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com