In the Spirit of Elijah|
April 4, 2008
The Jewish people have long had a tradition that the coming of the
Messiah would be preceded by the re-appearing of Elijah, one of ’s
most extraordinary prophets. This tradition is evident on the night of
the Passover seder meal, when the doors to Jewish homes are left open
and an empty place reserved at the table for Elijah. It is also
mentioned many times in the Talmud and is inspired by the words of the
prophet Malachi, who proclaimed:
“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 I strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6
Jesus also affirmed this Jewish expectancy in Matthew 17:10-13, saying, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already.” This he told his closest disciples on the way down from the Mount of Transfiguration, where they had just encountered Elijah and Moses. Here was a clear reference to John the Baptist, who came “in the spirit of Elijah” to prepare the way of the Lord. Yet Jesus attested to a future appearance of the prophet as well, which will be marked by such incredible success that “he will restore all things.”
Even so, there is also a call to ministry incumbent upon all God’s saints to come in the “spirit of Elijah” and to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3) in whatever manner we can.
According to Malachi one aspect of this end-time ministry of Elijah will be to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their children. What does this mean? It surely includes the restoration of broken relationships within families and between generations. However the Word of God offers us an additional insight which is just as important today.
In the New Testament, the word “fathers” (pater in Greek) is often used in a very particular way. Out of 52 passages which contain the word “fathers,” it is used only 5 times in the context of a natural parent, as in Ephesians 6:4: “…fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”
In all the other passages, it is used in reference to the Hebrew Patriarchs and our Jewish forefathers in the faith. Here are some examples:
Luke 1:72-73 - “…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham”.
John 6:31 - “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert…”
Acts 3:13 - “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers…”
Acts 28:25 - “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers…”
Romans 9:5 – “who are Israelites …of whom are the fathers…”
Romans 11:28 – “beloved for the sake of the fathers…”
Stephen, even in martyrdom, addresses the hostile crowd of fellow Israelites as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2). In much the same way we find Paul addressing an angry Jewish crowd as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 22:1).
Therefore we see that the various New Testament figures and writers – including Jesus – use the word “fathers” as a term of respect for the biblical Patriarchs and in a broader sense for all the people of down through the generations.
Less obvious is the usage of the word "children," which appears more then 100 times in the New Testament. In most instances, it describes children in the literal sense. But it is interesting to note that in all the books and letters of the New Testament, the body of Gentile believers is also regularly referred to as ‘children’ or ‘little children.’
We see this understanding early on when John the Baptist says, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9) Most Bible scholars take this as alluding to God’s plan to one day bring the nations into the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant alongside Israel.
The Apostle Paul then writes in Galatians 3:7 - “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (See also Romans 9:7)
In other words, the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the natural seed of Abraham as being the “fathers” and the Gentile believers as being their spiritual “children.”
The need for reconciliation
Returning to the prophetic utterance of Malachi, we understand that before the coming of Messiah a work of deep reconciliation would take place which will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the Christian order of Scripture differs from the Hebrew Bible in that we end with the book of Malachi, not II Chronicles like the Jews. Thus the last verse of the Old Testament commands a profound work of repentance, “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Nowhere is this more needed today than in repairing the historic breach between and the Church, a work of reconciliation that would bring change and repentance on both sides. From the very beginning, the early Church leaders were met with stiff resistance from their Jewish brethren and even persecuted. Later, as the Church became predominantly Gentile, they started to retaliate and the dark and bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism began. The atrocities this produced have spanned the centuries and continue to cry out for deep repentance and the fruit thereof.
The biblical commandment “honor your father and mother” was perverted by the church in the most horrific way by our failure to honor the Hebraic roots of Christianity and the natural family of Jesus.
Yet today, we indeed are witnessing a unique phenomenon in that Jews and Christians are reconciling at many levels and in many ways. The true Church and are beginning to recognize the unique bond between them, and this is all very encouraging.
For instance, there have been tremendous changes in the way Christians view and the Jewish people, particularly since the Holocaust and the rebirth of in her ancient homeland. Many have refuted the erroneous teachings of deicide and Replacement theology. Vast numbers of Christians are exploring and recapturing the Jewish roots of our faith. Whole denominations are praying for and becoming active supporters of the people of .
On the Jewish side, one can point to the Knesset – ’s parliament – which has opened its doors to Christians via the Knesset Christian Allies’ Caucus. The revered Holocaust Memorial and Museum in has even recently inaugurated a special desk for Christian Friends of Yad Vashem.
These developments would have been unheard of only a decade ago. But they show that an increasing number of Jews today realize there have been profound changes in Christian doctrines and attitudes towards the Jewish people. They no longer view us as enemies and perpetrators, but as trustworthy friends and partners.
May we continue to turn our hearts towards one another “in the spirit of Elijah.”
Original article: ICEJ
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