There’s a strange but interesting story in the Bible.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” (Matthew 14:1-2)
Herod had killed John the Baptist. Read the rest of Matthew 14 to recount the gruesome story. The question that remains for us is why did Herod proffer that Jesus was John resurrected from the dead? Was Herod simply trying to appease his guilt-ridden conscience? Was he making a shrewd political move? Or did he actually believe in the resurrection? After all, John was highly regarded as a prophet by the multitudes, and now Jesus had inherited a similar spotlight. The news of Jesus’ mighty works and the power of his teachings had spread like wildfire throughout the region.
Jesus and John were first cousins; their mothers Mary and Elizabeth were close. We don’t know much about the growing years of the boys. They were about 30 years of age when it was John who introduced Jesus to the multitudes. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29)
Later, when speaking of John, Jesus attributed to him the legendary status of being in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9)
Jesus had taken his closest disciples, Peter, John and James with him high up on a mountain, and while they were secluded, the disciples had witnessed a vision of Jesus, shining bright as the sun, talking with Moses and Elijah.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “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 17:10-13)
In fact, John’s entire life from conception, as conveyed by the angel to Zacharias his father, was destined to be “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. (Luke 1:13-17)
Notice that Jesus says two things about Elijah. First Jesus indicates that “Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.” And then, “that Elijah has come already…”
Jesus here seems to speak of a future reiteration of “Elijah”, as well as that of one just past being in the person of John the Baptist. Biblical prophecy is often characterised by dual echos; things that happen in the past have yet a still future reverberation.
Elijah was a man characterised by the wearing of a leather belt. He was a quite an untamed man of a few words, and is remembered for bringing down fire on the prophets of Baal as well as commanding that it not rain for three years. (John the Baptist also wore a leather belt, but may have been more “talkative” than Elijah was).
As for a yet future “Elijah” type, we need to only turn to the last book of the Bible. The Book of Revelation states its purpose in the opening verse:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. (Revelation 1:1)
Looking far into the future at the end of this age, two prophets (or witnesses) appear on the world scene:
“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. (Revelation 11:3-12)
The two end-time witnesses are attributed with initiating events that are not unique to history. Not only are Elijah-like events foretold in Revelation, like no rain for three and a half years as well as fire from heaven, we also read of Moses-like events of turning water into blood and to strike the earth with all kinds of plagues.
Revelation tells us that after their witness is completed, they are killed and left lying in the streets of Jerusalem – characterised here as Sodom and Egypt, symbols for wickedness and slavery. The whole world celebrates. But not for long. Three days later “the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet…”
The spontaneous celebration of the death of these two witnesses (or prophets) apparently quickly turns into one of great fear. They are resurrected! Live television footage is broadcast instantly around the world. The evidence is shocking and unexpected. No conspiracy theories or expedient explanations can deny what has just happened. Two dead Christian prophets, widely regarded as “terrorists”, have come back to life!
Returning for a moment to Herod’s comments regarding “the risen John”: was he aware that an end-time “Elijah” character was going to be resurrected? We don’t know apart from what he did postulate.
We probably have more questions, I suppose, when it comes to what lies directly ahead. Who are those two witnesses? How are they commissioned? Are they literal flesh-and-blood men, or do they represent a figurative metaphor we have yet to understand? Is it an event we’ll see in our lifetime, or is it yet still “over the horizon”? Will nominal Christianity at large (as opposed to followers of Christ) recognise and affirm the work of the two witnesses? We can be sure, however, that those who live through those days will make the connections that God intends to impress on humanity.
The resurrection themes, events and discussions recurring throughout the pages of the Bible illustrate in many different ways a powerful testament to our ultimate destiny – to ultimately become glorified sons of God. Everything in “history” it seems centres on the resurrection of the righteous.
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God… For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:19,22)
How we get there, and what it’s like when we experience it, will probably be more surprising and more amazing than we could ever imagine.
John T Klassek
Copyright John T Klassek 2011
Scriptures from New King James Version