Elijah & Elisha in the New Testament

23And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

28And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, He went His way. (Luke 4:23–30)

17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:17–18)

Luke records Christ’s reference to Elijah and Elisha in the context of an illustration of His First Coming. The residents of His hometown became so incensed at the notion that Gentiles could take their place that they decided to undertake the ultimate approach to “silence the messenger” by attempting to kill Him. But in James’ Epistle in chapter 5, in which another reference to Elijah is found, the main topic of discussion is the Second Coming of Christ. In other words, both references are eschatological, it’s just that the first provided by Christ pertains to the eschatology of His First Coming, and the following by James to the eschatology of His Second Coming. There are many examples throughout God’s prophetic Word where a single thing is recapitulated in related but slightly different ways for both Christ’s First and Second Comings.

Add to this the fact that in Jesus’ usage pertaining to His First Coming, the emphasis is on the withholding of rain and the ensuing famine, but James provides the added qualification of not just making it rain again, but ending the famine so that “the earth produced its fruit”. Whereas Christ’s example leaves off with His rejection in keeping with the results of His First Coming and comparing it to a drought and famine, James’ usage picks up in parallel with the restoration promised to come in conjunction with Christ’s Second Coming and is not just identified with ending the drought and famine, but invoking a season of fruitfulness.

As previously mentioned, [See “Usage in Eschatology—The Mathematical Terms”] these two passages contain a unique biblical measurement for Elijah—“three years and six months”, which is distinct from all other references thought to be the equivalent of “3-1/2 years”. As discussed at length in the chapter, “The Hermeneutic of Synonyms”, this either indicates that if “Elijah to come” is, indeed, one of the final Two Witnesses of Revelation 11, that there is some kind of distinction to which the Holy Spirit is singling out for just him alone, separate from the other Witness, or that he is distinct and not actually one of them. Obviously this author subscribes to the latter.

In either case, it presents a further interesting question as to the timing of this “three years and six months” because the parallel to John the Baptist is unavoidable in either case. It is very difficult to find a chart depicting the events of the End Times—(and a Google Internet image search on the term “Tribulation Chart” will net you hundreds upon hundreds of examples), which does not carefully and precisely overlay each and every item assigned a 3-1/2 year quantity neatly on top of one another. Whether it is “42 months”, “1,260 days”, “time, times and half a time”, or “three years and six months”, the repeated behavior is to ascertain how to tailor fit them on top of each other so that they exclusively occupy the first or second half of the final seven year tribulational period, providing some kind of justification so as to prevent them from overlapping in any fashion, or to avoid being assigned to the perceived “wrong” half of Daniel’s 70th Week.

First of all, we have to recognize the fact that John the Baptist’s ministry not only began well before that of Christ’s, but overlapped and extended into it for a significant amount of time. Although we are not provided with precise dates, it is not uncommon to find those who have put together parallels of the four Gospels who estimate that John’s death did not take place until some point during the second year of Christ’s ministry. In other words, if this is correct, and if John had only been baptizing and preaching beyond the Jordan for 18 months prior to Jesus’ baptism and the start of His ministry, it’s very possible that John operated for a 3-1/2 year period which greatly overlapped the 3-1/2 year ministry of Jesus. Even if it was not exactly 3-1/2 years, we nonetheless cannot avoid the fact that John’s ministry did not precisely begin and end in synchronous harmony with that of Jesus’, and therefore should have no expectation that the timing of  “Elijah to come” will break precedent, whether it overlaps a little or a lot.

In Scripture there are a variety of things which are specifically assigned a duration equivalent of approximately 3-1/2 years: “the times of the Gentiles” (Rev. 11:2), the Antichrist/Beast (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:4-7), “the woman in the wilderness” (which is a picture of Israel—Rev. 12:6, 14), the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3), the time which Daniel states will span between the Abomination of Desolation at the midway point of the final seven years until the end (Dan. 12:6-7), and the references to Elijah by Jesus (Lk. 4:26) and James (Ja. 5:17).

It is very possible that some of these things do, indeed, precisely take place in parallel with each other, sharing the exact, same beginning and end points, but we cannot ignore the fact that this was not the case for the 3-1/2 year span of Christ’s First Coming and the multi-year public appearance of His forerunner in the character of Elijah, John the Baptist. At the very least, we cannot expect that the replay of John in the Second Coming by the “Elijah to come” will break precedent and suddenly synchronize when the first did not, but that it will once again overlap, beginning ahead of the final sequence of events to come and extending into it. And if we are absolutely honest about it, where there is one overlap, we at least have to consider what factors may be indicating that perhaps some of these things cannot be stacked one upon the other as traditionally presented in our customary End Times charts.

This phenomenon may help to explain why Daniel refers to two specifications which are absolutely not equal to 3-1/2 standard lunar years, “1,290 days” (Dan. 12:11) and “1,335 days” (Dan. 12:12), and a term which is not equivalent to either 3-1/2 or 7 years, “2,300 evenings and mornings”, (Dan. 8:13-14) which by biblical standards equals just under 6.4 lunar years. One of the possibilities we should seriously consider in tandem with any other biblical examples which we can find of these things is that they fit together in an overlapping fashion rather as a strictly synchronized string of end-to-end windows, even if the overlaps are small. Or perhaps since Daniel’s “1,290 days” and “1,335 days” refer to the second half of that week of years from the midpoint of the Abomination of Desolation to the end, we are being told that the first half is not precisely equal to the second.

The Expectation of Elijah

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)

14And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” (Mark 6:14–15)

19This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” (John 1:19–21)

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13–14)

The belief in Elijah’s return was not something merely confined to academic circles at Christ’s First Coming, but one of the most commonly held beliefs among the general population. Explanations for the activities and teachings of both John and Jesus were proposed to be fulfillments of the expected return of Elijah.

Over the intervening centuries between Malachi’s prophecy and the arrival of John the Baptist and Jesus, the Jews did not limit their expectation of what Elijah would do upon his return to just what was contained within the brief text which Malachi provided. There were many notions and traditions which became institutionalized in their thoughts and practices, such as putting out an empty chair for Elijah at Passover, or the belief that Elijah would return at Hanukkah to give instructions as to what to do with the desecrated altar they removed from the Temple when Antiochus Epiphanes IV committed the Abomination of Desolation upon it, precipitating the Maccabean Revolt nearly 200 years earlier. There were various notions about Elijah coming to perform a variety of signs and tasks which actually persist within classic Judaism to this day.

Whereas Malachi emphatically highlighted a ministry of spiritual reconciliation, the beliefs which sprung up around Elijah’s return, much as they still remain today, mostly attached signs and wonders and many such visible types of working rather than the greater spiritual goal to restore the heart. Just as they ignored Scripture pointing to a Messiah who would first come to die for sin and instead over-realized the Scriptures for His Second Coming establishment of a Millennial Kingdom, the same kind of mindset re-cast their definition of what a return of Elijah would look like. Scripture explicitly assigns Elijah a role of spiritual reconciliation, but tradition heaped upon him all manner of supernatural speculation.

It is very likely, therefore, that the same confusion will be the hallmark of the final ministry of the “Elijah to come”. On the one hand, within most circles of the various sects of Judaism, there is still an expected return of Elijah which is very often attached to an association with miracles and signs. Jews will probably challenge the authority and authenticity of this figure should, like John before him, his emphasis be on the preaching of a message stressing a baptism of repentance in preparation of the coming of the Messiah rather than working signs and wonders. But since he is so prolifically assigned to be one of the Two Witnesses by so many Christian factions, a pair directly attributed by Scripture to publicly perform signs and wonders as part of their prophetic ministry, many from that other side of the aisle are likely to discredit such a one replaying John’s ministry, even with a double portion of his spirit.

Just as there was much confusion and conjecture at the First Coming as to someone coming as either the Messiah, Elijah, some kind of other prophet, or even the reincarnation of sorts of John the Baptist himself, it is very likely that this is replayed again not just strictly by ethnic Jews alone, but as a response from Gentile sources as well, even from within the Church.

All Israel Will Be Saved

25For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” (Romans 11:25–27)

There are many parallel supporting Scriptures, but here Paul sums up for us what is actually God’s greater purpose for the Rapture of the Church. The work of the Church Age which began on the Day of Pentecost, here called “the fullness of the Gentiles”, is completed with the removal of the Church via the Rapture, and God’s focus returns to Israel that He may fulfill all His promises to them and complete His work. Notice that Paul says this work comes specifically through Christ—“the Deliverer”, who will remove their ungodliness and take away their sins through the New Covenant. Israel will finally accept Yeshua and what He did for their sin at His First Coming as a crucial fulfillment of all He will subsequently accomplish at His Second Coming.

Unless someone subscribes to one of the forms of Replacementism, which wrongly asserts that Israel had their chance and blew it, hence God is finished with them, and therefore every scriptural reference to “Israel” should now be read as pertaining instead to the Church—in others words, the “Church” has replaced “Israel”, it is difficult to find a teacher or scholar who does not believe in this End Times return of God’s focus upon Israel in the wake of the departure of the Church. Even the majority of those holding to competing eschatologies agree that a major hallmark of the Last Days is an unprecedented, yet anticipated, revival among ethnic Israel when on a large scale they finally accept Yeshua as Messiah. Or as Zechariah expressed it, “…they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the weeping over a firstborn”. (Zech. 12:10) The major point of conjecture and disagreement arises when it comes to the discussion of how this revival will take place and through whom.

The 144,000

4And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: (Revelation 7:4)

1Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1–5)

This role is most often assigned to the 144,000 ethnic Jews who are sealed in Revelation 7:4-8, 12,000 coming from each of the 12 tribes subsequently listed in the passage. It is not uncommon for commentators to label them as “super evangelists” and state that their purpose is not limited to just preaching the Gospel to Israel alone, but that they will be evangelists to the entire world. If this is true, it is an assumption that is never referenced in Scripture. Nowhere in the two passages of Revelation 7 and 14 directly referencing the 144,000 is the activity of evangelization even hinted. For some reason, there is a feeling that someone has to fill in the void left by the just-removed Church to preach the Gospel in their place, and this perceived “vacuum” is most often assigned to the 144,000 even though it is never stated as such in Scripture. I would argue that “sealing” is not associated in Scripture with anointing someone with any kind of teaching or preaching ministry and has a scripturally specified alternative purpose.

3Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. 4The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” 5But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. (Ezekiel 9:3–5)

In preparation for the wrath of God’s final judgment upon Israel leading up to its being given over to the Babylonian Captivity, God undertook the same kind of “marking” or “sealing” in Ezekiel’s day; notice that He marks the faithful, those “who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst”. Does this marking then empower them to undertake some kind of ministry to those not so marked? No, it only exempts them individually from the wrath to come. This same thing happens in Revelation, such as when the angel of the 5th Trumpet judgment is told to strike “only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads”. (Rev. 9:4)

This is further stipulated for the 144,000 if we take note of the fact that in Revelation 14:4 they are specifically described, “These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb”. This term “first fruits” is extremely Jewish-concentric in Scripture, and always means the first and best of many more to come. One of the earliest commandments given to Israel in the Exodus account was the requirement that every firstborn belongs to the Lord and must be redeemed. (Ex. 13:11-16) It is far more likely that the 144,000 represents the first of a wholesale return of Israel to the Lord and speaks of the anticipated prolific spiritual reconciliation expected rather than an inauguration of evangelists, which is not actually attributed to them in Scripture.

A textual issue concerning the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8 which nags at me and for which I have never read a completely satisfying answer, is that it the 144,000 become born-again in Christ at this point, why are they then left behind and not taken along with the multitude in the succeeding passage in Revelation 7:9-17? The cannot have been taken because they are obviously present in Revelation 14. Is the answer that they are sealed before the Church’s removal, but come to faith after in the character of the prophets in the wake of Elijah’s rapture? [I mention this for honesty’s sake and so readers will know that, like everyone else, I’m still a work in progress.]

The Two Witnesses

1Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. 2Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

3“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

7When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. 11But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. 12And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Revelation 11:1–13)

The second most popularly taught assertion as to who will bring spiritual revival to ethnic Israel after the Church is removed is assigned to the Two Witnesses. The highlighted points in the above passage, which is the only section of Scripture devoted to them in literal, unambiguous detail, do not reference evangelization or any kind of preaching of the Gospel to anyone. They provide a “testimony” which is specifically characterized as “prophesy” and “prophesying”, and their chief activity is categorically stated to be that they “tormented those who dwell on the earth”.

While it is true that they seem to operate out of Jerusalem, and this is where they will be killed and resurrected, there is no textual connection to their facilitating a spiritual revival of any kind; in fact, it would seem that they are a source of angst and conflict. As a matter of record, in Revelation 11:1-2 just prior to this, a description is given of the “times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24), when Jerusalem is “tread under foot” by the nations—the Gentiles. Assigning them a role of evangelizing anyone, especially Israel, is an idea that has to be introduced by a presupposition originating completely outside of this text and, if such is the case, they do not appear to have much success in that regard in Jerusalem where they are active.

It is worth noting that none of the forerunners of “Elijah to come” in Elijah, Elisha or John the Baptist are ever found working in Jerusalem. This aspect of the Two Witnesses’ association with Jerusalem is another textual proof that they are not working in the character of Elijah and are instead something independent of him entirely.

What these activities lend themselves to is a parallel to the primary type of these Two Witnesses as discussed previously, Joshua and Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:11-14. [See, “The Strongest Scriptural Connection”] Ezra, Zechariah and Haggai record their primary struggle with the Temple and non-Jews in the land either wanting to participate in its operation or hinder it completely, historical events which seem likely to be recapitulated in the activities of the final Two Witnesses in Revelation 11. Neither Joshua and Zerubbabel, the “two olive trees” in Zechariah 4, nor these Two Witnesses identically referred to in Revelation 11 as the “two olive trees”, undertake roles as evangelists to anyone, but are rather antagonists.

In fact, if we revisit all the primary examples of a pair of witnesses, we find this activity consistently absent in them as well, and they are all also found to be operating in parallel eschatological contexts: the two angels at Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), Moses and Aaron in the Exodus account, and the two spies at Jericho (Josh. 2). [See “Many Examples”] Of all the many more minor but supporting examples, the only case where preaching the Gospel was involved is found in Jesus’ sending out the Apostles and then the Seventy in pairs, of which it could be argued that although operating in pairs, they are part of a much larger group rather than strictly operating in isolated duos.

6And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:6–7)

But going back to the question of the role of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11, if they, or the 144,000 for that matter, are functioning as “super evangelists” not just to Israel but the entire world, why is the only mention of any kind of communication of the Gospel after the removal of the Church is limited to angelic agency when it is presented in the interlude between the trumpet and bowl judgments?

There is only one figure in Scripture to whom this role is specifically assigned, that of Elijah. And it is Jesus Himself who not only says that Elijah came and executed it at the First Coming in the form of John the Baptist, but follows up categorically stating that Elijah will come yet again. And just as this function in the First Coming was focused and limited to only literal Israel, so after the Church is removed in the course of the Second Coming will “Elijah to come” likewise address only literal Israel yet again. In the character of Joseph’s brothers who finally recognized him in their second meeting with him (after the Gentile servants were sent away in Genesis 44-45) and openly mourned and wept in the course of finally being reconciled to him after their obvious initial rejection of him, so the whole of the twelve tribes they spawned will likewise finally accept Yeshua in a similar manner under parallel circumstances.

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