Friday, February 10, 2012

120210 - Matthew 17-18 - The Transfiguration and the promise of Elijah

Friday SOAP: On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples saw the veil between this world and Christ's Kingdom dropped for a moment. Somehow they could recognize Moses and Elijah, having never met them. And this reminded them of a key prophecy of the Old Testament which we don't stress as much as their own culture did. Maybe my own confusion about it reflects the reason we don't stress it as much. Things are usually much clearer in the light of New Testament fulfillment. This one seems almost... cloudier...?

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S: And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. (Mt 17:10-13).

O: Malachi 4:5-6 are the final verses of the Old Testament. Ending on such a dramatic note, these words must have been burned into the minds of all Jews. With these words, the last writing prophet closes the Old Testament canon with the promise from God telling them to expect Elijah before the Day of the Lord. What a cliffhanger! For 400 years! So, with expectations so high, Jesus helps them understand that John the Baptist is a fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy: in Luke 1:17, at the annunciation of his birth, Gabriel had promised John's father, that he would go before the Lord their God (v. 16) in the spirit and power of 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."

The way the disciples understood that passage to be fulfilled is ultimately unsatisfying. Malachi 4:5 said, "I will send you Elijah." John the Baptist may have been in the spirit and power of Elijah, (in the same sense that Elisha was...? 2 Kings 2:9-14), but he was not Elijah. Jesus said, mysteriously, "if you will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come." (Matthew 11:14) Would John the Baptist have been swapped with Elijah? Was Elijah, who never did die, reincarnated as the baby John? That doesn't make sense. (And he denied it - John 1:21.) What does make a little sense is that Christ knew all things and knew they would reject His Kingdom - but John coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, essentially acting just as Elijah would have acted, demonstrated that the offer was genuine. I have to admit, this passage is one of the most confusing ones in the New Testament.

A: One thing it does for me, though, is to sharpen my interest in the Malachi prophecy. If, in John, it's only partially fulfilled, we can look forward to the final fulfillment of it before the return of Christ. Elijah will come, and will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers. He'll "restore all things." Does this mean his return and witness will turn Israel to Christ, resulting in twelve thousand Messianic Jews from each tribe, who will go forth and evangelize all nations? Will I be here to see it? I don't think so, but either way, I guess it leads me to another thought that is itself a close-of-canon cliffhanger: "…come, Lord Jesus."

P: Lord Jesus, the thought of seeing you in your glory as Peter, James and John saw you, makes me long for that day when you restore all things, when all things are under your feet, when you make all things new. Let your way be prepared, let your gospel be preached into all the world as a witness, and let that day come quickly.

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