One of the rare insights I put in Know the Future resurrects a prophecy most people consider already completely fulfilled 2000 years ago. I’m talking about the prophecy of Malachi 4 that a prophet in the spirit of Elijah would come “before the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Mal 4:5). John the Baptist definitely fulfilled this prophecy, but was that the end of it?
The Elijah of the First Coming
When you look at all the verses on this subject, you find contradictions that call that assumption into question. Jesus and Gabriel the archangel say John the Baptist was this promised Elijah to come (Mt 11:14; Lk 1:17). But significantly, when asked by the Jewish authorities from Jerusalem who he was, John the Baptist himself directly denied being Elijah (John 1:21). Instead, he called himself “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23).
The best resolution to this contradiction is that he was indeed one of two coming Elijah’s, one for each of the two comings of the Messiah. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to come once and for all to restore the kingdom to Israel (and free them from the Romans). The Elijah they were expecting was therefore this final Elijah, Second Coming Elijah, herald to the King Messiah.
Instead they received a herald to the suffering servant Messiah that they were not expecting. Because of this, I think John answered them with a no, knowing their theology and intent very well. To tell him yes he was Elijah would not work as clearly as explaining his role through the prophecy of Isaiah as he opted to (Is 40:3).
The First Two Elijah’s Strange Attire and Diet
When you hear and recognize this truth about another Elijah for our time, it can be very exciting. We’ve seen self-proclaimed prophets and their predictions come and go with unimpressive results. To have a genuine powerful signs and wonders prophet come to us would be monumental. For this reason, people on the private forums for readers of my book have many posts discussing what they think Elijah will be like.
One question not covered so far came to me by email from another reader. Here’s what he wrote that piqued my interest:
Tim: Do you think Elijah will come back looking like a modern day person or like when he was here in Biblical times?
He was, of course, referring to the similarly notable attire (and diet) of both Elijah and John the Baptist:
2 Kings 1:8 (HCSB) —They replied, “A hairy man with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It’s Elijah the Tishbite.”
Matthew 3:4 (HCSB) — John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
When we understand that another Elijah is coming, it is natural to wonder if this strange attire will play out in some way again.
Understanding John the Baptist’s Attire and Dietary Choices
As we learned in my last article about the Parable of the Ten Virgins, what we dismiss as simply “strange” may have more significance or meaning in that society. It is import to find out what the details of a Bible passage meant to the people of that time before you can move forward with applying that passage to today.
Thus, to understand what a future Elijah might wear or eat, we need to understand how the last two Elijahs food and clothing choices came across in their culture. I found an excellent commentary to shed light on this:
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew 1-7.
John must have been a startling figure to those who saw him. He claimed to be God’s messenger, but he did not live, dress, or talk like other religious leaders. Those leaders were proper, well-dressed, well-fed, sophisticated, and worldly. John obviously cared for none of those things and even made a point of forsaking them. His garment of camel’s hair and his leather belt about his waist were as plain and drab as the wilderness in which he lived and preached. His clothes were practical and long-wearing, but far from being comfortable or fashionable. He was much like the first Elijah in that regard (2 Kings 1:8). His diet of locusts and wild honey was as spartan as his clothing. It was nourishing but little else.
John’s very dress, food, and life-style were in themselves a rebuke to the self-satisfied and self-indulgent religious leaders of Israel—the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. It was also a rebuke to most of the people, who, though they may not have been able to indulge in the privileges of their leaders, nonetheless admired and longed for the same advantages.
John’s purpose was not to turn the people into hermits or ascetics. He called on no one, not even his disciples, to live and dress as he did. But his manner of living was a dramatic reminder of the many loves and pleasures that keep people from exchanging their own way for God’s.
That passage helps a lot. The character and point of Elijah’s and John’s attire and diet was to be plain, durable, merely sufficient and possibly also to rebuke the indulgent garb and diet of their respective nemeses (the King of Israel for Elijah and the leaders of Judaism for John).
Elijah’s Attire and Diet Today
Given the above, I think it is safe to say we should not expect the the final Elijah to wear the same original ancient Biblical garb that the first two Elijahs did. Today, that would not accomplish the same functionality and rebuke that it did then. Instead, it would look ridiculous to wear those things. Just imagine the typical person with an “Elijah complex” in Jerusalem today putting on those specific garments and you get the picture. In a word, you think “freak” or “nut” when you see them. You cannot take them seriously.
Instead, picture this as a reasonable way Elijah today could accomplish the same goals with his attire and diet. What if Elijah came and:
…did not have a seminary degree or yeshiva education
…or even a college degree
…did not have a mega-church behind him
…did not don the expensive suits of the pastors or the “black hat” of the orthodox rabbis
…dresses in modern clothes, but plainly and modestly, even poorly.
…drives a beat up old car instead of an expensive car bought off the ill-gotten “tithes” of the laity
I think if Elijah came like this, he would accomplish the same thing John did with his attire and diet. It would definitely set him apart from his peers (and we are all to be a holy or “set apart” people). He would show that he is not materialistic or concerned with impressing or being accepted by people who look for status symbols. His audience instead are those who are hungering and thirsty for righteousness and truth.
For them, he need not get the right clothes and lifestyle to be accepted. He only needs to fulfill his roll again of a voice calling people to the true repentance taught in the Bible. His message will not clash with his lifestyle as it would if a modern mega-church pastor were delivering it. It would be congruent. The meek will receive it with joy, grateful to finally find someone who is with authority teaching the unpopular truths of the Bible that religion not only ignores, but contradicts.
Besides being thrilled at his message, I will be especially curious to see what he ends up wearing and eating and how close I got in this post.
Update: What About the Two Witnesses in Sackcloth (Rev 11:3)?
Someone pointed out that this verse seems to contradict what I said in this article:
Revelation 11:3 (HCSB) I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.
This is a good verse to address because in my book I point out that there seems to be a case for identifying the Malachi 4 Elijah as one of the Two Witnesses. Therefore, following the same approach as before, first let’s see what sackcloth is and then decide whether it is the same garment as Elijah and John wore:
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 1-11.
Sackcloth was rough, heavy, coarse cloth worn in ancient times as a symbol of mourning, distress, grief, and humility. Jacob put on sackcloth when he thought Joseph had been killed (Gen. 37:34). David ordered the people to wear sackcloth after the murder of Abner (2 Sam. 3:31) and wore it himself during the plague God sent in response to his sin of numbering the people (1 Chron. 21:16). King Jehoram wore sackcloth during the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:30), as did King Hezekiah when Jerusalem was attacked (2 Kings 19:1). Job (Job 16:15), Isaiah (Isa. 20:2), and Daniel (Dan. 9:3) also wore sackcloth.
The two witnesses will put on sackcloth as an object lesson to express their great sorrow for the wretched and unbelieving world, racked by God’s judgments, overrun by demon hordes, and populated by wicked, sinful people who refuse to repent. They will also mourn because of the desecration of the temple, the oppression of Jerusalem, and the ascendancy of Antichrist.
Sackcloth is specifically worn to mourn and show humility. Much like why fasting is done also in similar situations. In contrast, remember that the clothing that John and Elijah wore were chosen for their simplicity and durability as well as possibly to set John and Elijah apart from the indulgent religious leaders and rulers they were up against. These then are different garments.
If Elijah is one of the Two Witnesses, the indication is that he will only commence wearing sackcloth at the time of his ministry. If he is not, then I would expect his modern lifestyle to reflect better the qualities of John and Elijah’s clothing and diet. Perhaps his clothing will be like this as well in the time leading up to him taking the possible role of one of the Two Witnesses, too.
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