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I arrived at this question when thinking of how John must fulfill Malachi's prophecy, but needed an explanation about how 4:5 talks about Elijah coming but 3:1 only talks about a messenger:

3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

I know there is the explanation of Malachi coming in Elijah's spirit, but looking at the words "the great and terrible day," I couldn't help but think that 4:5 was referencing Christ's Second Coming, way after Jesus' ministry on Earth.

So, so far I've come to this: Malachi is referencing two different people, John in 3:1 and Elijah in 4:5.

Could Elijah come before the Second Coming? Or am I flat-out wrong and being stupid?

Thanks!

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4 Answers 4

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As @Vincent Wong pointed out, Mt. 11 makes it clear that Jesus considered John the Baptist to be both "the messenger" of Mal. 3 and "Elijah" of Mal. 4. However, the question still remains as to whether Elijah will come before the great and terrible day of the Lord.

Having recently been involved in a Passover Seder, I was reminded that Jews still await the coming of Elijah, for whom a special cup is reserved and for whom the door is opened that he might attend. In many traditions the following hymn is also sung:

Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Gileadite. Speedily and in our days, Come to us, With the messiah, son of David; With the messiah, son of David.

So Jews clearly still await Elijah, and Christians - who usually do not think the "great and terrible day" was fulfilled in Jesus' lifetime - may rightly wonder of Elijah will return (again) prior to the Second Coming.

I think the answer to this question is yes, Elijah will return -- for the first time for Jews and for the second time for Christians. In the latter case, the reason is that John did not complete Elijah's mission. In fact, he even denied that he was Elijah (John 1:21). Nor did he succeed in "turning the hearts of the fathers to the children" etc. as Malachi predicted. Crucially, John did not present Jesus with "a people prepared" but went his own way after baptizing him and died in doubt, asking him "are you the one to come?" (Matthew 11:3)

Conclusion: John was both "the messenger" and "Elijah" but did he not completely fulfill his purpose as predicted by Malachi. A third coming of Elijah will therefore be necessary.

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  • You've raised an interesting perspective from Judaism. They don't regard Jesus as the Messiah, nor the acceptance of the New Testament. As such, the interpretation of whether John the Baptist is Elijah may vary depending on one's religious background. I do notice that in Matthew 11:14, Jesus alludes John as fulfilling the role of Elijah, rather than explicitly confirming his identity as such. Your insight enriches the depth of this interpretation by discerning nuances from various perspectives.+1 Commented Apr 25 at 13:23
  • @Dan Fefferman "still away the coming" typo?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 25 at 13:36
  • oops... I meant await. I'll change it. Commented Apr 28 at 1:17
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There are several Bible prophesies that can have more than one application. Here are a few prophecies that have a dual fulfillment:

  1. Matt 24:3 - While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will (a) these things happen, and (b) what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Thus, Jesus combined the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the world when He would return. This includes the “abomination of desolation”.
  2. Isa 7:14 - Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel. This was a prophecy about Isaiah's wife but was also applied to Mary and Jesus as per Matt 1:23.
  3. Joel 2:28-32 is an example of a prophecy that was fulfilled at Pentecost in Acts 2 but which appears to be capable of eschatological fulfillment again in the period before Jesus returns
  4. Hos 10:8 is about the wicked asking to be destroyed by rocks and mountains is a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem; but it also receives a dual application by Rev 6:15-17 at the end of time when Jesus returns.
  5. The prophecy about Gog and Magog in Eze 38 concerns the punishment meted out to these pagan nations in OT times. However, it is given a second impetus in Rev 20:8 in the time after the 1000 years.
  6. Mal 4:5 predicts the arrival of Elijah the prophet before the “Day of the Lord” and the NT claims fulfilment in places like Matt 11:13, 14, 17:11-14, Mark 9:12, 13, Luke 1:17 as John the Baptist. However, the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5) clearly also has eschatological fulfilment and confirmed by the indirect allusions to Elijah in the book of Revelation.
  7. Ps 22 is about the loneliness and isolation of David as were many of his psalms. However, it has been correctly understood by many, including Jesus Himself, as Messianic, as conformed by Matt 27:43, 46, Mark 15:34. Many Jewish interpreters also understood this Psalm as messianic.

Note that in all of these cases (this is not an exhaustive list), the second application can only be claimed where such is explicit in the Bible text itself and NOT simply due to the over-active imagination of the exegete.

Thus, it is quite reasonable that the prophesies in Mal 3 & 4, which apply to John the Baptist (according to Jesus' own statements) could also be used to apply elsewhere; that is, John is used as a metaphor for an eschatological "John".

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Elijah was John the Baptist per Jesus. The messenger is the same person

Mathew 11

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,[d] and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The great, and terrible day of the lord was linked to John. It was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Malachi 3, and 4 are both prophesying it. Acts 2 cites Joel 2 about the day of Pentecost, and about 70 AD. Jude 1: 14-15 cites 1 Enoch 1-9 about the event. There may be other prophecies about it in the old testament. The second coming was linked to the destruction of Jerusalem. So was the rapture, the great tribulation, a second resurrection from the dead (there was one the day Jesus was killed), the abomination of desolation, the man of sin, the anti Christ, and the remnant getting pre saved grace. The whole new testament was written before 70 AD otherwise one of the authors would of spent at least one sentence to mention the event as having happened but they didn't. So all those events must of happened around 70 AD. Revelation 1-12 happened 70 AD but Revelation 13-22 is still in the future. Rev 20 the final judgement, and the resurrection from the dead in the same chapter had nothing to do with all those events first century AD. It is a common fallacy to link them together.

When there are mentions of the end or the end of the age it means the end of the letter of the law of Moses / pre messianic age which the Israelites, and even people before them had been waiting on for thousands of years. It does not mean the end of the whole book of Revelation.

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Let's explore Matthew 11 to gain insight into Jesus' commentary on John the Baptist.

Matthew 11:10-14 NIV

10 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you. 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

It seems that the references to the Lord's messenger preparing the way of the Lord in Malachi 3:1, and the mention of Elijah in Malachi 4:5, both point to John the Baptist. His mission to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and vice versa, echoes the call in Malachi 3:7 for the Israelites to return to the Lord, with the promise that He will return to them.

The 'day of the Lord' signifies a period of divine judgment. In the book of Isaiah, it denotes the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. While in Malachi 4:5, it may allude to the final judgment. However, Malachi 4:6 suggests that God's people are offered an opportunity to return to Him, to repent of their sin - a message echoed by both John the Baptist and Jesus.

Matthew 3:1-2 NIV

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17 NIV

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It's noteworthy that Malachi 3:1 mentions two messengers. John the Baptist is the messenger who prepares the way for the Lord, while Jesus is the messenger of the covenant, representing the new covenant. This aspect of Jesus' role as a messenger is evident in His words to the disciples in John 14:10

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

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  • + 1 ... this answer deals clearly with the OP's issue by showing that Jesus considered John both to by the messenger of 3:1 and the Elijah of 4:5 Commented Apr 25 at 12:37
  • @DanFefferman - thank you Commented Apr 25 at 12:59

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