Why does Elijah have to come first?

Have you ever wondered why Elijah has to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord? 

The prophet Malachi tells us in Malachi 4:5-6, ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

In order to really understand why Elijah must come first, we have to understand what Elijah did both in person and through the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus spoke of John’s ministry when He quoted Malachi 3:1 and told His disciples in Matthew 11:10, “Behold I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” He told them again in Matthew 17:11-12, that “Elijah is coming first and will restore all things, But I say to you that Elijah has come already.” He was again referring to the ministry of John the Baptist. So let me ask you another question. What exactly did John do? Did John perform any miracles? No, as far as Scripture is concerned, not a one (John 10:41). John preached repentance! He told people to repent and be baptized so that they would be ready to receive their Messiah. 

If you look at the prophet Elijah, it’s easy to forget what he really did because all we ever think about with Elijah are the miracles that he did while on earth. Or, perhaps you might think about the fact that Elijah got raptured (check out 2 Kings 2:11 “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”). But Elijah’s main ministry was a message of repentance to the king of Israel, King Ahab. You can read all about Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings and how Ahab calls him “a troubler of Israel” because God had used Elijah to bring judgment on Israel because of all the idolatry.

I think it is hard to understand what exactly is meant in Malachi when we are told that Elijah has to come first. It is easy to get confused. Obviously Elijah did not come back to earth and pretend he was John. But we are told in 2 Kings 2:15 what’s really going on. “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” Remember Elisha? He was Elijah’s disciple. In other words there is a certain “spirit” that clearly rested on Elijah and then on Elisha and then on John the Baptist. This spirit of Elijah will return to the earth before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Remember, Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 17:11 that Elijah is coming and will restore all things. 

And that brings me to a word that is not well received or preached about these days: sin. In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus tells His disciples a parable that they don’t fully understand. It is commonly called the parable of the wheat and the tares. In order to even begin to understand this parable, we have to know what tares are. The Bible dictionary tells us that tares are an injurious weed resembling wheat when young. It is a type of rye grass, the seeds of which are poisonous. It is very difficult to tell them apart from wheat until both are fully mature. When I read this definition, the phrase wolves in sheep’s clothing, immediately comes to mind. Now I want you to notice something about these tares, they are poisonous! It’s not, as I and perhaps you, have thought, just another weed, taking up space in the garden. No, this weed will poison you. So what is Jesus saying in this parable about wheat and tares? He’s telling us that there are people right smack dab in the middle of the church, people who look exactly like real Christians, who know the talk and know the walk. People who often put themselves into positions of leadership, authority, or influence, but deep in their hearts, they are hypocrites. They are wolves, intent on poisoning the sheep.

I know this is hard to believe or accept. The first time I ran into one of these wolves, it really did a number on me. I thought my pastor was a wonderful, godly man. My kids loved him. I loved him. I would not have guessed in a million years that this man was not who he claimed to be: a mature Christian pastor who cared about his sheep. And then one day, the Lord told me to tell him to repent and allow His spirit to be in control, or his church would split and fall apart. I asked for confirmation and got it from the other pastors and elders on staff. They told me they had tried to talk to him numerous times and he would not listen. He didn’t listen to my words either. As a matter of fact, he called me a false prophet and some other choice words. I was horrified to see a side of this man that I did not know existed. This happened almost 20 years ago and it changed me forever. Needless to say, that ministry no longer exists today. The building that this church met in has since been sold and become a place where people go to die. Was this pastor a tare? Absolutely. A wolf masquerading as a shepherd. 

So why am I telling this story now? Because for the past 2 or 3 decades the Lord has been telling pastors like the one I mentioned, to repent. He has been telling them to turn from their wicked ways, and feed His sheep. But like ancient Israel, they would not. The prophet Jeremiah tells us of such people:  An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? (Jeremiah 5:30-31) 

Jesus warned us about such false prophets. In Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”. Jeremiah asks the question “what will you do when the end comes”? Jesus gives us the answer in the parable of the wheat and tares. When He explains to them what this parable means, this is what He said:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43)

It seems that almost every day now we hear of another “godly” man or women who dies prematurely. Many of these are pastors, prophets or teachers. Others were just sitting in pews. Am I suggesting that every single person who dies right now is a hypocrite? No. But it does make me pause and consider. It puts the fear of the Lord on me. And it should on you as well. Maybe you have some tares in your life and you are in denial. It’s hard to accept that someone would deliberately deceive others for their own gain. But it happens all the time. It’s painful when it happens to us. Our eyes must be on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Don’t allow one of these tares to poison your heart and mind and make you lose your faith. Don’t let them win.

Or perhaps you are one of those hypocrites, one of those tares who goes around poisoning other people? Are you someone who has pretended to be something you’re not? If you are, and I’m sure you know it, then I suggest you repent! This is the end of the age. The angels are going around gathering up the tares into bundles, ready to be burned in the fire. Don’t be one of them! 

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