The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
The Failure of John the Baptist and Elijah
Scripture references are to the NIV-UK
. . . I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’
– Mal. 4: 5, 6 –
This important prophetic text conceals a double meaning. The thought seems to be that Elijah’s work will be to convert the parents to a humble, childlike condition and to turn their hearts from error, sin and unfaithfulness, and lead them back into harmony with their (national) fathers (as the Hebrews regarded their patriarchs).
Malachi’s prophecy was the last message from Jehovah to Israel and seems to have deeply impressed them, especially the last two chapters, which refer to Messiah’s coming and to the trouble which would accompany it. Israel drew comfort from the promise that their revered prophet, Elijah – who had once converted the entire nation from the worship of Baal to the worship of God – would prepare them against the troubles which Messiah’s coming would stir up. But they misunderstood, and this prophecy was not fulfilled at the first advent of our Lord.
The mission of Elijah and that of John the Baptist are related. John, the ‘voice in the wilderness’, was the herald of Christ’s first advent but, in a reversal of chronology, he also prefigured the Elijah work of the Gospel Age. As our Lord said of him, ‘he is the Elijah who was to come’, adding, ‘whoever has hears to ear, them hear’ (Matt. 11:14). In Matt. 17:11-13, Jesus states, ‘Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished. . . . Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them bout John the Baptist’.
Christ’s presentation to Israel and the calamity which befell them when they rejected Him was, as God had foreseen and intended, a foreshadowing of the particulars contained in the prophecy of Mal. 4:5, 6. In the spirit of Elijah, John did a conversion work towards Israel similar to that expected of Elijah, but he failed, and the nation would not be converted (Luke 1:17; Matt. 3:5, 6, 11, 12). At length, trouble and a curse came upon Israel, evidenced by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in A.D. 70.
The Elijah to come was, in fact, the Gospel-Age Church, whose mission was to prepare the world for Christ’s second advent, by the dissemination of the Gospel message, in the long-sought conversion of the world to Christianity. But this Elijah also failed, and the world was not made ready. As a consequence, the Time of Trouble, a worldwide affliction of economic, political, and social stress, would inevitably smite the global order (Matt. 24:21). We are in that period now.