The Hermeneutic of Pattern

5“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6)

12Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:12–17)

7As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,


11“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:7–15)

10And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10–13)

There are those who restrict their approach to biblical prophecy to being a one-time, specific fulfillment of a set prediction. While this may be true at times in Scripture, it is far more often the case that there are actually multiple fulfillments, each foreshadowing a final, ultimate fulfillment. What is often communicated through a prophet not only can have a literal, historical meaning for his time and place, but can have a further parallel revelation describing something yet to come in the future to his time, something which was to take place at the Messiah’s First Coming, an event or activity of the Messiah’s Second Coming, or even all of these conditions simultaneously. The first literal and historical fulfillment, along with any subsequent repetitions of the same pattern, is a way in which the Holy Spirit is teaching us about the nature of the ultimate fulfillment to come.

In this case, Elijah provides the basis for John the Baptist’s coming in his character, which Jesus Himself plainly tells us is a partial, initial fulfillment of an ultimate, final return of Elijah to take place yet again. Commentators most often tell us this will occur either with Elijah’s literal reappearance, or someone in his character at the Second Coming in the same way as exemplified by John the Baptist coming in his character at the First Coming. There was Elijah, then Elisha, then John the Baptist, but they are all essentially precursors and shadows of the final “Elijah to come”. These iterations are each partial fulfillments teaching something about the final, ultimate prophetic fulfillment yet to take place.

Pattern & Fulfillment

This is but one of many examples of this hermeneutic at work within Scripture and is not limited to Elijah alone. There was the original historic Babylon founded by Nimrod in Genesis 11 (also known as “Shinar”) from which the world’s false religions sprung, but this was followed many centuries later with the rise of the world kingdom of the same name. Many more centuries later, the Apostle Peter tells us that by New Testament times the character of Babylon and its continuing role to deceive both spiritually and politically was carried out by Rome. (1 Pe. 5:13) Alexander Hislop’s seminal work, The Two Babylons, documents historically how the mystery religions birthed in the original iteration of Babylon in Nimrod’s day migrated over time through Pergamum in modern-day Turkey (which in Revelation 2:13 Jesus identifies as the place “where Satan’s throne is”) and found their resting place in Rome and that empire’s Pantheon accommodating all false gods. (This legacy continues in some way to this day as it has been absorbed and born by the Roman Catholic Church in its penchant for saints and the veneration of idols.) But then we are told through the Apostle John in Revelation that there is still “Babylon the Great” yet to come. (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 21) The original and all its repeated parallels throughout history combine to provide a picture of the final, ultimate fulfillment of Babylon still yet to come. Biblical prophecy is far more often found to be a pattern than simply predicting a single event on a given date, something Christ more likened to “birth pangs” increasingly coming closer and stronger in frequency until the final “birth”, or event, so to speak. (Mt. 24:8; Mk. 13:8)

The same phenomenon is repeated with Daniel’s revelation concerning the “Abomination of Desolation”. (Dan. 11:31; 12:1) The Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC) during the Inter-Testamental Period was initiated when the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV went into the Temple, not only erecting an image of Zeus using his own face in an act of self-deification, but sacrificing a pig and thus desecrating the altar. Before the First Coming of Christ there would be seen a second literal fulfillment of the Abomination by the Roman General Pompey in 63 BC. But then Christ, knowing of these previous historical fulfillments, speaking of Daniel’s Abomination of Desolation, says that it is going to happen yet again. And not only is this witnessed with Titus in the course of the Temple’s destruction of 70 AD, but Hadrian’s remodeling of Jerusalem and a temple built on that site to Jupiter in the 2nd century AD, and yet again in the 4th century A.D. by Constantine’s nephew Justinian the Apostate, who also tried to erect a temple. One could make the case that the Muslim Dome of the Rock erected on that site and standing there today after many centuries is a perpetual Abomination, especially considering that on its exterior is a quote from the Quran which essentially states, “God has no son”. In other words, there have been many Abominations of Desolation throughout history continuing up to the present, but Paul and Christ both tell us there is yet a final, ultimate Abomination of Desolation yet to come at the direction of the Antichrist himself; each teaches something about the last one to come.

One of the unfortunate reactions to Catholicism’s way of handling Scripture, which has been handed down to us today from the Reformation, is a rule of interpretation declaring that any given Scripture can only have a single meaning and that the reader should seek no further explanation from the text; these are but a few unambiguous examples from God’s Word which clearly refute that notion. The proper response to those of that legacy who allegorize Scripture to such an extreme that it is rendered historically ineffective is not to replace one bad hermeneutic with another, but to set things in their proper order. Scripture is rich with such examples providing the boundaries which keep us from exceeding what is acceptable, but there is definitely more taking place than a single, “look no further” interpretation. It has been perfectly expressed that this hermeneutic is properly used when limited to illuminating and illustrating existing doctrine and never misused to provide the sole basis for defining doctrine or creating a “new” one. When it is employed to create rather than illuminate, that is the point where error creeps in and begins to take over.

So Elijah’s life and ministry, then passed on to Elisha with a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, both provide the basic characteristics and activities not only of John the Baptist, but as confirmed by Christ, the final, ultimate Elijah yet to come, whose ministry will combine elements of the historical Elijah, Elisha and John the Baptist. Each contributes to our understanding of the nature and ministry of Elijah’s final appearance which Christ unassailably states has a future fulfillment.

There are many antichrists in Scripture and history, each teaching about the ultimate, final Antichrist; there are many false prophets pointing to the ultimate, final False Prophet; there are many Abominations, each providing aspects of the final, ultimate Abomination of Desolation; there have been many iterations of Babylon to teach about the last one to come. These are a few of many such examples which conform to Jesus’ teaching that the End Times plays out in the character of birth pangs, each getting stronger and coming with ever greater frequency until birth is given to the ultimate, final fulfillment. (Mt. 24:8; Mk. 13:8) Likewise, the pattern of Elijah was played out at Christ’s First Coming, but there is yet an ultimate one still to come at His Second Coming.

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