Chapter 17: 10-13
“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.”
Before we get into this week’s lesson, I must simply make the observation that for a lot of my life I too believed that Jesus died on a Friday. I grew up in Barbados and we celebrated Good Friday; and as a young man I never questioned the math of Good Friday to Easter Sunday. I did understand that Easter began as a pagan celebration with the eggs and bunnies being fertility symbols.
As I got into seminary when I was about 18, then I began to understand the math of Friday to Sunday. Thankfully, I had some awesome men as teachers who helped me to understand that Jesus died on a Wednesday and was in the grave 3 literal days and 3 literal nights as He said would be the sign to us. He then arose on our Saturday night – the Jewish Sunday morning – and met the ladies outside the tomb as they came to anoint His dead body.
Luke 23: 50-56 “Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before.
“That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”
John 20: 1-2 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”
It is important that we get the math right because Jesus was fulfilling the Spring/Summer Feasts that were set out in the OT Law.
And yes, I know that Easter began as a pagan celebration, BUT, so did many other things. I will tell you that at no time until I was an older man did I ever question the idea of Easter being anything other than a celebration of Jesus.
To many in the church world, it may be a pagan ritual that we have stolen. And yes, it might even be very Catholic for us fundamental Baptists. To me Easter is a celebration of Jesus and His gracious and loving gift of His life for my sins. He did die in the spring and He did fulfill the feasts of Passover, so I am not ashamed to speak of Jesus and His love.
Easter gives me an audience that I/we would not normally have; they expect us to speak about Jesus and they will listen or maybe just tolerate for a few days our message. Who knows? Some may even hear and repent. Paul was never afraid of false gods; he often used them as a way to preach about the True God. Maybe we should too.
The New Testament makes the Old Testament come alive, verses 10-13
The Bible is full of prophecy. God tells us things in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT; thus, making the continuity and the single-mindedness of the Bible very powerful. God tells us future events in the OT that the people of the NT could not have orchestrated. For instance, Mary and Joseph had no power to make the Roman Caesar call a census that drove them to Bethlehem. Thus, God superintended the details so that they happened exactly as He ordained.
These few verses that we are considering today are a fulfillment of prophecy from Malachi 4:4-6,
“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. ‘Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.’”
Many of the Scribes and religious scholars understood this prophecy. In fact, you will recall that when Jesus was dying on the cross, some thought He was calling for Elijah when He cried out this famous statement in Matthew 27: 46-48,
“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.…”
Later on, in the same line of verses, someone says “Let us see if Elijah will come.” These folks understood that Elijah had to come during this process. But they had missed Elijah. He had already come, John the Baptist, as that man sent from God to call the nation of Israel to repentance.
From the prophet Malachi until the ministry of John the Baptist was about 400 years. In this 400 years God sent no prophets; He was silent. But before He issued the new covenant, He sent one last prophet in the spirit of Elijah, that great man of God, to call the nation to repentance. But the religious leaders hated him. The common folks flocked to him. See Matthew 3: 1-6,
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’ Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.”
But in the very next verse we find John calling out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He did much of what Jesus did in confronting the leadership of the nation of Israel. We know that a few got saved like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but most just rejected Jesus.
For sure they hated John the Baptist; they hated him because he could see through their facades and he had no respect for them. But this was exactly who Elijah was; he had no regard for the king or the queen for that matter. All he cared about was that the nation of Israel should return to God. We see the beginning of the epic battle in 1 Kings 18: 17-18,
“When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is this you, you troubler of Israel?’ He said, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals.’”
Ahab hated Elijah because he refused to back down; he simply kept calling sin, sin! And he did not have any regard for the crown on Ahab’s head; he had regard for the King of kings only!
What a lesson we can learn here. Do not be afraid of earthly kings; they can only kill the body. Fear God and worship Him.
The disciples understood that Jesus was talking about John the Baptist. One little line of prophecy had been fulfilled in John the Baptist— the rugged Nazarite who did not settle for the comforts of the religious leadership. Rather he came to call Israel to repentance and died standing for the truth. God took time to make sure that even a little one-verse prophecy from Malachi that most did not even know was fulfilled to the very letter. Then He made sure that His people understood it.
God wants us to study prophecy and get it, verse 13
The disciples understood. The Bible, we hear, is too hard to understand, but over and over again we see that Jesus helped the disciples understand the word of God. With a few key strokes I found this tidbit:
According to “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy” by J. Barton Payne, there are 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament for a total of 1,817. These prophecies are contained in 8,352 of the Bible’s verses. Since there are 31,124 verses in the Bible, the 8,352 verses that contain prophecy constitute 26.8 percent of the Bible’s volume.
You can find very good evidence to support that about 25% of the Bible or a little bit more is prophetic. So for every four verses that you read, one of them has a prophecy or part thereof. That is very significant. There are still many prophecies to be fulfilled in our time and the short time that we have left until Jesus’ 2nd coming. Daniel’s prophecies are “sealed until the time of the end.”
We live in a time with the nation of Israel inhabiting the Promised Land and, more specifically, with Jerusalem as its capital. The end is near, and the Lord’s people should be diligently reading the scriptures to see what is next or at least where we are. But churches seem to be afraid of prophecy; a lot of God’s people refuse to study the word of God. But I promise you that if you seek the Lord and ask Him to show you, He will. Just like the disciples He saw face to face, He wants you to understand as well.
God is a logical God; thus, He would never write a book that you were not intended to read and understand. We are called to be workmen (2 Timothy 2:15). In the study of God’s word, the operative word is “work.” God will reveal if you do the work. Then the Bible will come alive and your faith and trust in God will grow. Prophecy was there to magnify the power and majesty of God. It is there to show His absolute superintendence over every aspect of this earth and her history. Prophecy is there for us, to boost our confidence in God.
Everyone in this world wished they knew the future. Well, we can by studying the word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us. In Isaiah 46: 9-10 we find these awesome words,
“Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
Get out a Bible or more than one; most of us have more than one. Begin at Genesis 1:1 and read. You will see the 1,817 prophecies come to life, and you too will understand that God truly does know what will happen tomorrow. He has put it in place and He will make sure that everything that He has said will happen will happen to the exact details that He has said.
Sean Gooding, Pastor Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church