I’ve been reading a little book by Raymond Dillard called Faith in the Face of Apostasy that explores the connections between the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha and the ministry of Christ. This connection is important to demonstrate because so few Christians recognise the importance and relevance of the Old Testament. Dillard provides a good little list of why this is the case.
- We’re Christians, and Christ arrives on earth in the NT, and therefore Christians only come into being in the NT.
- The Old Testament seems more distant culturally than the Greco-Roman culture of the NT.
- The genres of the books of the Old Testament are less familiar to us than those in the NT.
- In all these ways, the OT seems to communicate to today’s readers, “this was not written for you.”
Most often when we do read the Old Testament we gravitate toward the stories. We’re familiar with names like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, and Jonah because we know their stories. We learn from the events of their lives: their victories and failures. But is that the sum of it? Are their lives preserved in Scripture just so we can learn from their examples?Or is there a bigger picture?
So I launched this sermon series by placing Elijah and Elisha within the grand scheme of redemptive history, rather than focusing directly upon their lives. Their mission was to call Israel away from the worship of Baal, and back to God. However, their significance reaches beyond their immediate mission.
The Old Testament closes (Malachi. 4:5) with a promise that Elijah would return before God brought his judgement upon the wicked. This explains why people of Jesus day were looking for Elijah. In John 1:21 people came to ask John the Baptist who he was and they ask, “Are you Elijah?” Later in Mark 8:27-28 when Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds are saying he is, they respond, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah…“.
Jesus himself provides clarity as to how the prophesy in Malachi 4:5 should be understood. In Matthew 11:14 he says, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” So there we have it. John the Baptist is the Elijah predicted by Malachi. Look at the comparisons:
|Both wore “clothes of hair and a leather belt”||2 Kings 1:8 & Matthew 3:4a|
|Both opposed powerful women||1 Kings 19:2 & Matthew 14:8|
|Both had someone build upon their ministry||2 Kings 2:11, 15 & Matthew 3:16|
|The same prophecy was made about each||Malachi 4:6 & Luke 1:17|
As a final point, it’s worth noticing that before John was born, an angel told his father about John that, “he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17)
Elijah was a powerful prophet who came to represent all the men of God. He spoke up for God in the face of strong opposition and accompanied his speech with spectacular miracles. He questioned God at times, but his faith was consistent.
John the Baptist also spoke boldly for God in the face of opposition. He was ultimately killed because of his message. John also called people to follow God, specifically to Jesus, God incarnate. John had questions, but like Elijah, his faith remained firm.
The meaning wasn’t always clear, but throughout history Elijah cast a shadow that ultimately revealed Jesus. The closer Jesus’ arrival approached the more intense the shadow grew. Finally it was Jesus that revealed the culmination of that shadow as he met with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1-3) Jesus was fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
- I know this post is mostly interesting observations and not a lot of application, so let me ask, “How does the Old Testament impact your life and understanding of God?”
- Do you agree with the short list from Dillard’s book at the start of this post?