A Lesson in Discernment: The same wisdom that recognized the Christ in Jesus, likewise, discerned in John the Baptist Elijah already come.
Here is the background text, Matthew 11:2-19. Please see further comments below.
2. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples
3. and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
4. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
5. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
6. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
7. As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8. But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
9. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10. For this is he of whom it is written:
‘ Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’
11. Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
13. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.
15. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
16. But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,
17. and saying:
‘We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.’
18. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’
19. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
Is Elijah still coming? Consider the following:
Having heard once again, in a recent sermon, that Elijah is still coming I thought about this very passage in Matthew. There is here a connection that is often overlooked, an application that deals both with Elijah and with the very nature of God’s fulfillments.
A little overview first. Christ, in the passage above, commends John the Baptist and his ministry. He also shows the limitations of the dispensation under which he labored: the Old Covenant. It was in the very nature of John’s occupation that he would “work himself out of a job”, so to speak. His purpose was to announce the coming of the Messiah. This was foretold in Malachi, the very last of the Old Testament prophets.
It is interesting that Christ’s scenario here contrasts two events; the one with mourning, the other with joyful music and dancing. Some commentators have seen in this references to, respectively, a funeral and a wedding. A few commentators (Godbey’s is one I happened to see recently) even go so far as to say that the funeral is that of the Old Covenant, personified as a woman; and the wedding as that of the New Covenant. That does seem appropriate, though perhaps it is reading too much into the text.
Much more could be written about this passage, but I want to focus on what I believe is all too often overlooked today. Two points:
1. The “wisdom is justified by her children” metaphor has to do with both Christ and John the Baptist.
2. There is no need for any other Elijah to come in the future. This passage, in fact, does away with the possibility of that.
1. The same wisdom that recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, also recognizes John as Elijah. To recognize the fore-runner, the messenger – John – is to also recognize the Person of his message – Christ.
John proclaimed loudly, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Once Christ came and completed His mission there was no need anymore for that particular messenger, because that message has already been given. The message now is the Gospel. The messengers now in need are Christians. That’s us!
Anyone who has any doubt about Elijah’s ministry being completed in John needs only to read Malachi’s prophecy concerning him, Malachi 4. Or one can consider the Transfiguration, that dramatic demonstration of the passing of the Old and the visible establishment of the New Covenant, shown by Christ’s transcendency of the ministries of both Moses and Elijah: the Law and the Prophets. They faded away – just as did the Law they were associated with – only to be replaced by Christ. Hear the Father’s finalizing words: “This is My Son. Hear Him.”
2. No need for a future Elijah.
Wisdom is justified by her children. We are the children of the God of all wisdom. As such, we have the ability now to recognize the things of God. We need only to fix our attention on the guidance in His Word and the illumination of His Spirit. The reason why there is not more unanimity among Christians in these things, I am convinced, is because we are so prone to lean on tradition and human authority. And tradition – at least the tradition of the last two hundred years – has led us to expect another Elijah (superfluous, according to Scripture) to perform a ministry (contrary to Scripture).
Not recognizing Elijah and Christ are part of the same spiritual problem.
Another reason why this topic is important is that the church nowadays, to a degree unrecognized, has taken up with the very spirit of the first-century Jews. Those Jews let their Messiah pass through their midst unrecognized because their eyes were fixed on the physical, to the exclusion of the spiritual.
They waited for a physical Messiah: A powerful and beneficent Saviour.
They waited for a physical largesse. The feeding of the 5000 greatly prompted their desires for Him as king – on their terms.
They waited for a physical deliverance from Rome’s galling dominion.
They waited for a physical salvation, involving an Earthly Kingdom, grandiose worship with visible and magnificent assurances and favor.
This is what they wanted. But what did they get?
A Messiah that not only did not deliver them from Rome, actually taught the necessity of going the extra mile with them. One who not only did not deliver Israel from them, but was seemingly unable to save Himself by coming down from the Cross.
A Messiah who taught the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
A builder of an invisible Temple.
An inauguration of an invisible Kingdom, one that “comes not with observation”.
Should it be any wonder that they – like many today – did not have the wisdom to recognize Elijah?