Summary: Jesus seems to speak about two comings of Elijah, one that lies in the future “to restore all things” and another in their immediate past concerning John the Baptist, who would call the nation to repentance. Those days are here again!
1Ki 17:1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.
1Ki 18:17 ¶ And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? 18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. 19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. 20 So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
Introduction: For many Jews and Christians, Elijah is the most prominent prophet to ever minister to Israel. He is the most mentioned prophet in the New Testament. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, He had a visitation with Moses and Elijah, who talked with him about “His departure” (Luke 9:31, NASB).
One of the great expectations in Judaism is that Elijah will come as a forerunner of the Messiah. It is God Himself who announces through the prophet Malachi: “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5 NKJV). That’s why every Passover, Jews hold a chair open for Elijah. It is no surprise that many considered both John the Baptist and Jesus to be types of the Elijah who was to come (Luke 9:19; John 1:21).
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple and announced the birth of his son (John the Baptist), he informed the stunned priest that his son would go before the Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). And Jesus Himself affirmed this ancient tradition of the coming of Elijah. When returning from the Mount of Transfiguration, His disciples asked for His opinion on this ancient Elijah tradition. Jesus responded clearly:
“Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:11–13)
Jesus seems to speak about two comings of Elijah, one that lies in the future “to restore all things” and another in their immediate past concerning John the Baptist, who would call the nation to repentance. Those days are here again!
Also, the book of Revelation speaks about two witnesses that will appear in the last days with a special end-time ministry. Their ministry, as described in Revelation 11:1–14, bears the hallmarks of Elijah and Moses. They are referred to as the two lampstands and two olive trees (v. 4), imagery symbolizing the church (Revelation 1:20) and the “one new man” Paul spoke of in Romans 11:17ff—the olive tree of noble and wild branches. But they can also represent the ministry of unique individuals who will minister in Jerusalem in the power of Elijah.
The above passages indicate a ministry will manifest itself in the last days before the return of Jesus that will prepare the people for the coming of Messiah. And this ministry is needed today as much as it was needed in the times of the kings of Israel.
The Days of Elijah - When Elijah started his ministry in 1 Kings 17:1, Israel had reached the pinnacle of ungodliness. In many ways, it was the worst of times—not economically or politically but spiritually—regarding Israel’s relation to her God.
In the years before Elijah arrived on the scene, the second great dynasty of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had just been established. The preceding dynasty of Jeroboam was brought to an end after four generations because they “did [what was] evil in the sight of the LORD” (1 Kings 15:34; cf. 16:2ff). After a series of short-lived kingdoms, Omri (as chief of staff) rose to power and established a stable kingdom for Israel again. The Bible testifies that Omri did more evil “than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25).
When Omri died, the kingdom was passed on to his son, Ahab, who set a new standard of wickedness, doing “evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30). Not only did he exceed his father’s rebellion, but he engaged in a fatal relationship. He married into a leading political and economic powerhouse of the region, the house of Ithobal according to thehistory books. This Phoenician clan ruled over the city-state of Tyre and controlled much of the Mediterranean trade and established a famous trading post in the ancient city of Carthage. Ithobal held both the office of king and chief priest of Baal and Astarte in his kingdom.