Who is the Elijah to Come? The Elijah of the bible was the old testament prophet to Israel who famously called fire down from heaven. He didn’t die; God took him to heaven in a chariot. He’s prophesied to return before the Day of the Lord. He appeared along with Moses at Jesus’ Transfiguration. Many prophecy students think he is one of the Two Witnesses during the Great Tribulation.
The Historical Elijah
The prophet Elijah was born about nine hundred years before Jesus. He declared God’s word to the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of the evil King Ahab. Ahab foolishly followed the false god Baal and God led Elijah to confront Baal’s prophets to show that Yahweh was the true God in Israel:
“Now send word out and gather for me all Israel on Mount Carmel, along with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at (wicked Queen) Jezebel’s table (1 Kings 18:19).”
It was a lopsided contest. God’s lone prophet faced off against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and four hundred prophets of Asherah were also there. Elijah proposed that each side place a sacrifice on the wood of the altar, and the god who answered by fire was the true God.
Though the prophets of Baal tried all day, they couldn’t get their god to answer with fire. Then it was Elijah’s turn:
“He arranged the wood and cut the bull in pieces and laid him on the wood and said, “Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.” He said, “Do it a second time,” and … “Do it a third time” (1 Kings 1:18:33-34).
Elijah Called Fire Down from Heaven
Then Elijah called on Yahweh to let it be known that He is the God of Israel and Elijah is His prophet:
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice and the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-29).
So, Elijah famously called fire down from heaven. And that will become a vital sign for team Satan and God’s Two Witnesses again during the second half of the seven-year tribulation.
Elijah Comes Before the Messiah
The last two verses of the Old Testament tell us that Elijah would come again before the ‘dreaded day of the Lord’:
“See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreaded day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
The Jewish religious leaders who lived during Jesus’ time knew their Old Testament scriptures. Based on God’s word in this passage in Malachi, they taught the people that ‘Elijah” would return to spotlight the Messiah.
Elijah Appeared During Jesus’ Transfiguration
Jesus’ disciples had just seen Elijah and Moses appear and speak with Jesus at His Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-4). They knew this teaching, so they questioned their Messiah, Jesus, asking:
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must first come?” (Mark 9:11).
John the Baptist was ‘Elijah’ at Jesus’ First Advent
“He (Jesus) answered, “Elijah indeed comes first to restore all things.… But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they have done to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him (Mark 9:11-13).”
“Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:13).
The angel of the Lord who appeared to John the Baptist’s father had predicted his son’s ministry before John was born:
“He will go before Him (Jesus the Messiah) in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
Will ‘Elijah’ Appear Before Jesus’ Second Advent?
This ministry of ‘Elijah’ at the time of Jesus’ First Advent partially fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy. John the Baptist wasn’t the historical prophet Elijah, but he fulfilled his role metaphorically.
Because Jesus will return at His second advent, ‘Elijah’ may appear again before Jesus’ arrival. This ‘Elijah’ would be one of God’s Two Witnesses during the second half (the 1,260 days, 42 months, or 3.5 years) of the tribulation:
“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3).
Will He be the Historic Elijah?
If one of these Two Witnesses is ‘Elijah,’ he may be the historic Elijah or a metaphoric ‘Elijah’ like John the Baptist.
There are several reasons students of prophecy believe one of the Two Witnesses is the historic Elijah:
• The historic prophet Elijah didn’t die but was taken directly to heaven:
“A chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).
• Elijah called down fire from heaven, and each of the Two Witnesses controls fire:
“If anyone desires to harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies” (Revelation 11:5).
• Elijah prayed, and it didn’t rain for over three years (James 5:17-18), and the Two Witnesses have the same authority:
“They have power to shut heaven, that it may not rain during the days of their prophecy” (Revelation 11:6).
• When Elijah met King Ahab, Ahab asked him, “Are you he that troubles Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17), and the Two Witnesses “tormented those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 11:10).
God took the historic prophet Elijah directly to heaven without dying. God’s Two Witnesses during the tribulation time can perform two of Elijah’s signature miracles: creating fire and causing drought. God promised that ‘Elijah’ would appear to introduce the Messiah. John the Baptist performed the role of ‘Elijah’ at Jesus’ First Advent. Elijah appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration to discuss Jesus’ departure.
In the tribulation, God will have two special witnesses. Students of prophecy have reasons to believe that one of these witnesses will either be the historic Elijah who didn’t die or a metaphorical ‘Elijah’ (a la John the Baptist) who fulfills Elijah’s role to prepare the way for Jesus’ Second Advent.