Elijah Has Already Come,
And They Did Not Recognize Him

Matthew 17:9-13; Mark 9:9-13; Luke 9:36b

DIG: Why does Christ silence the apostles? When would news of the Transfiguration be made known to the nation of Isra’el? Who does Jesus invite as witnesses? Why only three? Why these three? Why do the Jews of today still believe in two Messiah’s? What do the talmidim learn about John the Baptist? About Jesus?

REFLECT: How does the picture of a suffering Messiah shape your view of what the life of a believer is all about? When it comes to listening to Yeshua, how hard of hearing are you right now? Do people in your life, your family, your work setting, your neighborhood know that you are a believer? Or do you keep the matter to yourself and not tell anyone? Why or why not?

It was the early dawn of another summer’s day when the Master and His apostles turned their steps once more towards the plain. They had seen His glory, something that other Jews could not have seen, and they had gained new insight into the TaNaKh. They had new insight like they never had before, which was to their souls like the morning air that they breathed on that mountain. Everything pointed to Christ and spoke of His death. Perhaps on that morning, better than the night before, they saw a little better what was before them.

It would only be natural that their thoughts should also wander to their fellow talmidim whom they had left in the valley below. How much they had to tell them, how glad they would be to hear the wonderful news! That one night had answered so many questions, especially about His rejection and violent death in Yerushalayim. It should have flooded heavenly light into the terrible gloom for three specific apostles: Philip, who needed to learn to set aside his materialistic, pragmatic, common-sense concerns and learn to lay hold of the supernatural potential of faith; Thomas, who wanted evidence for believing; and Judas, whose burning desire for a Jewish Messiah would overthrow the Romans and put him in a position of power and influence in the messianic Kingdom, had already begun to consume his own soul. Philip’s every question, Thomas’ every doubt, and Judas’ every nationalistic desire would be answered by what Peter, James and John had to say.

But it was not to be so. It was not to be made known. Apparently, it was not even to be made known to the other apostles. It seems Jesus thought if they were not qualified to witness it, they were not prepared to hear it! This was not a matter of favoritism. It wasn’t because Peter, James and John were better loved, but because they were better prepared – more fully receptive, more readily accepting, more entirely self-surrendering.

In keeping with Christ’s new policy of silence to the nation after His rejection (see En – Four Drastic Changes in Christ’s Ministry), Jesus cautions them not to tell anyone about what they had seen on Mount Hermon. As they were coming down the mountain after the transfiguration, Jesus instructed them: Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Yes, Yeshua was the One, but it would be a matter of ADONAI’s timing concerning the coming Kingdom. The truth of the Transfiguration would have its proper time to be made known to the general public, and that time would be after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead (Matthew 17:9; Mark 9:9).

It was Christ’s first step into the valley of humiliation and it was a test. Had they understood the spiritual teaching of the vision on Mount Hermon? Well, their obedience would be the proof of it. But more than that, their submission was so far reaching that they dared not even question their Master about a new and seemingly greater mystery than any they had previously heard: the meaning of the Son of Man rising from the dead. But even being better prepared than the other apostles, they were still ignorant. Too often we make a mistake when we think of these men only as apostles, not as disciples; as our teachers, not as His learners, with all their human failings and sin nature.881

Not only that, after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus was painfully aware that the people wanted to make Him into a king of their own kind only to fulfill their immediate selfish and worldly expectations (Fo – Jesus Rejects the Idea of a Political Messiah). But when they would hear that the Son of Man had been raised from the dead, the entire picture of the two missions of the Messiah would be clearly understood. First, the Meshiach ben Joseph must suffer for the redemption (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption) of the whole world, and secondly, only then will the Meshiach ben David come with ADONAI’s messianic Kingdom (see Mv - The Jewish Concept of Two Messiah’s). Orthodox Jews still believe in this concept of two Messiah’s to this day.

Next we are going to finalize everything that we have learned about the correlation between John the Baptizer and Elijah the prophet. Up to this point we have learned three things. First, when John was asked if he was Elijah the prophet, he said, “No I am not (John 1:21). However, secondly, John did come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). And thirdly, had the people of Isra’el and the Sanhedrin accepted the offer of the messianic Kingdom, John would have fulfilled Elijah’s function to restore all things. However, since both the Messiah and His offer were rejected, John did not fulfill Elijah’s function. As a result, Elijah must return himself to fulfill prophecy (see my commentary on Revelation Bw – The Return of Elijah).

Having just seen Elijah on Mount Hermon their confusion led to another question. The apostles asked Him, “Why then do the Torah-teachers say that Elijah must come first” (Matthew 17:10; Mark 9:11)? Their teaching was not simply based on rabbinical tradition but on scriptural teaching. The promise of Malachi 4:5-6 was that Elijah would come before the First Coming. And Malachi told of an unnamed forerunner to come before the First Coming. “Look! I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple. Yes, the messenger of the covenant, in whom you take such delight – look! Here he comes,” says ADONAI of heaven’s angelic armies (Malachi 3:1). They did not understand the program of two comings.

Jesus affirmed the teaching of the Torah-teachers because He authored the Scriptures (John 1:1-14). Jesus replied: To be sure, Elijah does come first, and will restore all things (Matthew 17:11; Mark 9:12b). This was another clear indication of the fact the Jesus never had any problems with the Torah. He only objected to the Oral Law (see Ei - The Oral Law) because it was merely the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). Therefore, He would have nothing to do with it.

The point of His question was, however, if Elijah came before the First Coming and did his work of restoration, would that mean that the prophecies of Messiah’s sufferings would not be fulfilled? Then being a good rabbi, Jesus asked the all-important question. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected (Mark 9:12b)? This was the order. Christ would suffer much at the First Coming, then Elijah would come to restore all things, then He would set up His messianic Kingdom after the Second Coming.

But I tell you, there is a sense in which Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him (Mt 17:12a; Mark 9:13a). Malachi promised two forerunners – not merely one: an unnamed one before the First Coming, or John the Baptist, and a named one before the Second Coming, or Elijah. So John was a type of Elijah in that he was a forerunner of the First Coming. In that sense, Elijah had already come because John was a type, or foreshadowing of him. Furthermore, John came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

Nevertheless they killed John, and in the same way the Son of Man was going to suffer at their hands (Matthew 17:12b; Mark 9:13b). Jesus was overturning all the preconceived notions and ideas of His talmidim. They looked for the emergence of Elijah, the coming of the Messiah, the irruption of ADONAI into time and the shattering victory of heaven, which they identified with the triumph of Isra’el. Yeshua was trying to compel them to see that in fact the herald had been cruelly executed and the Messiah must end on the cross. But they still did not understand, and their failure to understand was due to the cause that always makes men fail to understand – they clung to their way and refused to see God’s way. They wished things as they desired them and not as God had ordained them. Remember, what happens to the herald will happen to the King.882

Even today, many Jews question how Yeshua can be the true Messiah if He clearly has not set up the messianic Kingdom. But the fulfillment of the mission of Meshiach ben David will only be realized when the leadership of Isra’el invites Him back to rule over them (see my commentary on Revelation Ev – The Basis of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ).

There is a penetrating story in the Talmud that reiterates this belief as Rabbi Joshua ben Levi is said to be searching for the Messiah. Not surprisingly, he runs into Elijah who directs the rabbi to the Meshiach who is ministering among some lepers. As they greet each other, Rabbi Joshua asks the all-important question: “When will you come, Master?” he asked. “Today,” was Messiah’s answer. On his returning to Elijah, the latter enquired, “What did He say to you?” “He spoke falsely to me,” he rejoined, “stating that He would come today, but He has not.” Elijah answered Rabbi Joshua, “This is what He said to you: Today, if you will hear His voice, He will come (Psalm 95:7 in Tractate Sanhedrin 98a).

In the meantime, Yeshua will actually fulfill all the promises concerning the suffering Messiah as described (Isaiah 53). It was then the apostles understood that He was talking to them about John the Baptist. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant, and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen (Matthew 17:13; Mark 9:10; Luke 9:36b). Christ’s ministrywas coming more and more into focus for the talmidim as they made their way slowly up to Jerusalem.883

 

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