Jesus explains Elijah’s second coming.

Mark 9.9-13, Matthew 17.9-13, Luke 9.36.

In the previous passage, Jesus took his students up a hill, where they saw him transform into a glowing being, and Moses and Elijah appeared to have a chat with him. Various Christians love to interpret this as Jesus showing off his divinity; I prefer the alternative idea that this is a ὅραμα/órama, “vision,” Mt 17.9 of the glory of God’s kingdom, as indicated by Jesus in the verse right before the transfiguration story.

Probably because this vision is so open to utter misinterpretation, Jesus decided to have his kids keep it to themselves for a while, just till the context of his own resurrection helped make it make sense.

Mark 9.9-10 KWL
9 As they were going down the hill, Jesus commanded the students
so no one who saw these visions would describe them till the Son of Man might rise from the dead.
10 The students kept this word to themselves—
though arguing, “What’s ‘to rise from the dead’ mean?”
 
Matthew 17.9 KWL
As they were going down the hill, Jesus commanded the students, saying,
“Nobody may speak of the vision till the Son of Man might rise from the dead.”
 
Luke 9.36 KWL
As the voice came, the students found Jesus alone.
They were silent, and in those days, reported nothing they saw to anyone.

Obviously they told everybody afterwards, ’cause now the story’s in the synoptic gospels. Though you notice in Mark they were still wondering about this “rise from the dead” business—because in the Pharisee timeline of the End Times, nobody gets resurrected till the very end. This is why Jesus getting resurrected only three days after he died, was completely unexpected.

Because the transfiguration is a vision of the End, naturally the students had the End Times on the brain. Especially since they’d just seen a major End Times figure, the eighth-century BC northern Israeli prophet Elijah of Tishbe. Elijah had been raptured instead of dying, so he went straight to heaven instead of paradise. And Pharisees believed he was coming back from heaven, right before the End, to spark a major revival. ’Cause Malachi said so.

Malachi 4.5-6 KWL
5 “Look: I send the prophet Elijah to you when the great, fearful LORD’s Day comes.
6 He’ll restore the parents’ hearts to their children, and the children’s hearts to their parents,
—or I’ll come and smite the land with my Ban.”

—Well, y’notice if people don’t respond to the revival they’ll be cursed, which is how ancient Christians interpreted when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. But in Jesus’s day, Pharisees figured Elijah would return to warm up the crowd for Messiah. And since Elijah had just appeared to Jesus’s students, part of their terrified excitement was the idea, This is happening! The End has come! The kingdom has arrived! RIGHT NOW!

Only to have the Father order them, “Listen to my Son,” the vision blink out, and Jesus back to normal. It’s not the End yet. Bit of a disappointment.

But since the topic comes up, what is Elijah’s role in the End Times?

The second coming of Elijah.

Darbyists, the followers of John Nelson Darby’s general view of the End, still have Elijah in their timeline. They think he’s one of the two prophets in Revelation who show up and prophesy for about 3½ years. An angel described ’em to the apostle John:

Revelation 11.3-12 KWL
3 I’ll give them two of my witnesses, and they’ll prophesy 1,260 days, clothed in sack.
4 These are the two olive trees, the two lampstands standing on the earth before the Master.
5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and devours their enemies.
If anyone might want to harm them, this is how they have to kill them.
6 During the days of their prophecy, they have the power to shut heaven so it might not rain,
and the power over the waters, to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with whatever plagues they might want.
7 Once they finish their witness, the beast coming out of the Abyss will make war with them.
It’ll conquer and kill them, 8 and their corpses
—in the square of the great city, which is spiritually called ‘Sodom’ and ‘Egypt,’ where our Master was also crucified—
9 all the people, tribes, tongues, and nations see their corpses 3½ days,
and their corpses aren’t allowed to be put in a tomb.
10 The land’s inhabitants rejoice over them, and party, and will send gifts to one another,
for these two prophets were a real pain to the land’s inhabitants.
11 After 3½ days a living spirit from God entered into the prophets, and they stood on their feet.
Great fear fell upon their observers.
12 The prophets heard a great voice from heaven saying this: ‘Come here!’
They went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.”

Elijah’s known for praying for the rain to stop, and Moses (well, Aaron too) is known for smiting Egypt with lots of plagues, including the water-to-blood plague. So various Christians note the similarity to Moses and Elijah… and some Christians are pretty sure these guys are literally Moses and Elijah, even though Moses is dead. Dt 34.5-7 Not that God can’t resurrect Moses before the End, same as Jesus, but since Revelation says these two prophets get killed, Rv 11.7 it’s likely not Moses. Resurrection appears to be permanent.

So again, prophets who are like Moses and Elijah. Although why these men have to be Old Testament saints, and not present-day Christians, makes no sense to me… and in any case I don’t believe these prophets are meant to represent literal men at all. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Same with Malachi. He wasn’t speaking literally of Elijah’s second coming, as Jesus quickly makes clear. This is a prophet like Elijah, of Elijah’s spirit and power, whom Jesus had already singled out as fulfilling that prophecy.

Matthew 11.14-15 KWL
14 “If you want to receive this, John is ‘the Elijah to come.’ 15 Those with ears: Hear.”

Gabriel had told John’s father Zechariah the same thing, even going so far as to quote Malachi.

Luke 1.17 KWL
17 He’ll precede him in Elijah’s spirit and power, ‘to turn back fathers’ hearts to their children,’ Ml 4.6
and rebels back to orthodox thinking—to get the people ready for the Lord.”

John the baptist was pretty sure he wasn’t Elijah, and publicly said so. Jn 1.21 But Jesus knows better. So when the students asked him about Elijah, that’s what he told ’em.

Mark 9.11-13 KWL
11 The students asked Jesus, saying this: “Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”
12 Jesus told them, “Indeed Elijah’s coming is first; he restores everything.
How is it written about the Son of Man?—he might suffer much; he might be despised.
13 But I tell you Elijah also came, and people did to him whatever they wanted, just as was written of him.”
 
Matthew 17.10-13 KWL
10 The students asked Jesus, saying, “So why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”
11 In reply Jesus said, “Indeed Elijah comes, and will restore everything.
12 And I tell you Elijah came now, and people didn’t know him, but did to him whatever they wanted.
The Son of Man is also about to experience the same things.”
13 Then the students understood Jesus spoke to them of John the baptist.

Of course Darbyists are more attached to their timelines than the bible, so they wanna explain Jesus away by pointing to how he said, “Elijah also came” Mk 9.13 and “Elijah comes [and] Elijah came now,” Mt 17.11-12 and insist Jesus is speaking of multiple comings of Elijah. There’s the first coming in the eighth century; the second coming, i.e. John the baptist; and a third coming during the End Times, in the person of one of the prophets of Revelation 11.

But Malachi’s Elijah prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in John the baptist. It needn’t be fulfilled again. Not in our End Times prophecies, nor elsewhere.

There are always gonna be prophets who do Elijah-like things. Which stands to reason: They’re filled with the same Holy Spirit who empowered both Elijah and John. And some of them, like Elijah and John, are gonna be into long hair and leather. But the Second Coming of Elijah isn’t a literal second coming; it’s John.

And the restoration of everything doesn’t start with the End Times. It started with the birth of John the baptist. It began when John was born, grew up, proclaimed God’s kingdom, and pointed to Jesus. It continued when Jesus started teaching about his kingdom, died to free us from sin so we could enter his kingdom, and left so we could get to work spreading his kingdom. It ends when Jesus returns to reign over it personally.

To listen to some of the End Times watchers, they sound like the restoration of everything doesn’t start till the rapture. So what’re they doing in the meanwhile? Well they might be spreading the kingdom, but not intentionally! They spend far more of their time worrying about it.

Don’t you worry about it. Jesus wins. Meanwhile, seek his kingdom. John the baptist is the sign the last days have begun, and God is making all things new. Join him.