Elijah’s Ministry: Matthew 17:1-13

Focus Passage: Matthew 17:1-13 (GW)

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the brother of James) and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll put up three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them. Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him!”

The disciples were terrified when they heard this and fell facedown on the ground. But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.”

10 So the disciples asked him, “Why do the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again. 12 Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased because they didn’t recognize him. In the same way they’re going to make the Son of Man suffer.”

13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptizer.

Read Matthew 17:1-13 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Have you ever wondered if Jesus said something before thinking it through?

Or perhaps wondered if Jesus ever stumbled over one of His main points and had to go back and restate it because it wasn’t worded correctly?

And if either of these ideas were true, could this misstep have been recorded in one or more gospels and then copied thousands of times throughout the ages?

Bible critics love to search out such mistakes and errors in order to discredit Christianity and/or Jesus, and in this passage may be one such slipup – or in it could be a hidden repeating prediction for the future.

In several translations, including the one we are using for this entry, Jesus says in verse 11, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again.” But then He quickly follows up in verse 12 by saying, “Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come.

So which is it?

Is Elijah still coming, or has He already come?

This is the sort of question that Bible critics like to pose towards how the Bible is written. Looking at the context and how the disciples understood this dialog, they conclude that this Elijah prediction represented the role and ministry of John the Baptist, who’s ministry got people thinking about and looking forward to Jesus’ arrival.

However, we also have a problem though, because at least with how these two verses are translated into English, it seems as though Jesus misspeaks and then restates what He meant to say. This may be the case, but it could also be Jesus hinting us to a larger, repeating truth: Before God does anything big in the world, He sends messengers to prompt us to pay attention:

  • Noah was sent to build the ark, but also to preach about the coming flood.

  • Moses was sent to deliver Israel from Egypt, but also to point the Egyptians towards the one true God.

  • Elijah was sent to the people of Israel at a time when they were far from God and in his ministry, he challenged the king, proclaimed a drought/famine, and challenged the false religion at the time in a very public way (i.e. fire from heaven).

  • Many of Old Testament prophets who have books named after them prophesied about the coming exile of the Jews for their unfaithfulness to God.

  • John the Baptist comes announcing that God is about to send the promised Messiah into the world.

There are lots of other examples we could look at, but it seems that God likes to send messages and/or messengers into the world when He is about to do something big. With this theme in mind, it is not unrealistic to look for other messenger examples throughout history following Jesus and the apostles.

Along these lines, when Jesus says in verse 11 that “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again,” we can see foreshadowing of future times when God send messengers to point people back to Him.

You and I can be “Elijah-like” when we point people to God and to Jesus. John the Baptist got many of the people in that generation ready to meet Jesus. In today’s world, you and I can help others meet Jesus and get ready for eternity.

Before God does anything big in the world, He sends messengers to prompt us to pay attention, and you and I can help our place in history by pointing people to Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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