J. Robert Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

More than 2,800 years ago, Elijah, God's special messenger, labored untiringly for Israel during the great apostasy Ahab and Jezebel instigated. God honored his enormous faith and zeal by taking him to heaven without his tasting death (2 Kings 2:11, 12). Elijah's fearless ministry qualifies him as one of the greatest of the prophets.

The last two verses of Malachi 4 contain the Old Testament's final reference to this prophet of fire. Bible students have puzzled over this striking prediction: "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord" (verse 5, NASB).

Because of this prophecy, many first-century Jews believed that Elijah would literally return to earth to herald the Messiah's appearance. During the Trans figuration event, Peter, James, and John witnessed Christ conversing with Elijah and Moses on the mountain top. The supernatural glory of the Transfiguration convinced these disciples anew that Christ was truly the Messiah. Aware of Malachi's prophecy and seeing Elijah in person, they asked Jesus, "Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" (Matt. 17:10, RSV).

Christ's response clearly indicates that Elijah had come, but neither God's people of that day nor those of the world had accepted him. "Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist" (verse 13, RSV).

Was John the Baptist the reincarnation of Elijah? The angel Gabriel standing beside John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, predicted that their son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and that he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Using some of the wording of Malachi 4:5, 6, Luke 1:17 states, "He [John] will go before him [Christ] 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 for the Lord a people prepared" (RSV).

Gabriel's testimony and the word of Christ Himself indicate that John the Baptist came, not as literal Elijah, but rather in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare a people for Christ's first advent.

Twentieth-century Elijahs

If God, in mercy and love for the world, sent a messenger to prepare people for Christ's first advent, surely the most cataclysmic event of all ages, the Second Advent, calls for similar treatment! Malachi's prophecy implies as much: One would come in the spirit and power of Elijah "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord."

Our battered world needs a ministry that has the power of Elijah and John the Baptist, a ministry that will fearlessly call sin by its right name, pleading for people to serve the true God with love and obedience! The characteristics common to Elijah and John the Baptist help us to discover whether or not we are preaching the Elijah message.

Elijah and John the Baptist each stood alone, one on Mount Carmel and the other in the desert. Both labored under corrupt governments—Elijah under Ahab and Jezebel, and John the Baptist under Herod and Herodias.

Both chose to forgo the enjoyments and luxuries of life for the stern discipline of wilderness and country living. Both were trained in the classroom of nature by God Himself rather than in the schools of the day. Both were committed to a simplicity of lifestyle and dress. Both experienced at times a severe loneliness of spirit. By precept and example, both taught that those who would perfect holiness must learn the lessons of temperance and self-control.

Both believed that the most important qualification for any leader is implicit obedience to the word of the Lord. Both resisted the influence of the human devisings that would have disqualified them for their missions. Both understood the importance of the work of reform to be carried on in their eras. Both had a stern fidelity to God's rule yet were filled with love and pity for His people.

Both men sensed the importance of their God-given missions and exercised an enormous amount of faith. Both experienced success in their missions because of their submission to the Holy Spirit rather than because of inherent qualities.

Both made mistakes—Elijah fled for his life from Jezebel, and John momentarily questioned whether Christ really was the Messiah. Though each had his imperfections, through union with God they each became an irresistible power for good.

Both Elijah and John the Baptist labored in a time of great unbelief and apostasy from God's law, warning of coming judgments. Both denounced national corruption and rebuked prevailing sins. Both were ministers of reconciliation. Both lifted up God's authority as supreme. The messages they each pro claimed were based on a "Thus saith the Lord."

Both realized the sacredness of their offices and the holiness of their work, staying clear of worldly politics and policies. Both bore their messages with faithfulness regardless of the consequences.

God used both of these men to bring revival and reformation to His church. Both helped many to return to the worship of the true God.

Meditation upon the qualities Elijah and John exhibited brings conviction to my heart. Am I calling people from modern Baal worship to worshiping God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life? Am I bravely upholding God's holy law of ten commandments, both in the letter and in the spirit? When I present the gospel, do I call for repentance? Am I, through the power of the Spirit, placing the feet of men and women solidly on the eternal Rock, Christ Jesus? Am I humbling my own heart before God, pleading for an understanding of the times in which we live? Do I sense that the end is near and that our Lord Jesus is soon to come?

I firmly believe that preaching in the spirit and power of Elijah means warning our judgment-bound world that its probation is soon to end and that soon our Lord Jesus Christ will appear as King of kings and Lord of lords. Where do you stand, fellow minister?—J. Robert Spangler.


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J. Robert Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

March 1989

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