SECTION 8: THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE KING
THE COMING OF ELIJAH EXPLAINED
MUSTARD SEED FAITH ACCORDING TO JESUS
Scripture To Consider:
“Now when they [Jesus, Peter, James, and John] came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’ And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must first come?'”
“Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they 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 17.9-13
Something To Consider:
The vision of their transfigured Lord and the heavenly visitors had strengthened and inspired the three apostles, but it was not intended for the curious crowds that awaited the return of Jesus from the mountaintop. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” This command of secrecy is similar to that given to those whom Jesus had healed during this period of retirement; but to it is added a strange limitation, “…until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
After His resurrection they were to be witnesses of His divine glory; but for such testimony they were not yet prepared, nor would it have been understood by the multitude. A report of such a heavenly vision might occasion ridicule or result in a fanatical uprising. Only those who truly believe in Christ are prepared for a full revelation of His divine glory.
As they descended the mountain the minds of Peter, James, and John were no doubt full of questions as to what had been meant by the experiences which had been theirs, by the vision of their transfigured Lord and of Moses and Elijah. As the transfiguration had been a foreshadow of the coming of Christ in glory, it called to their remembrance a prediction concerning the coming of a messenger to prepare the way for the King. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must first come?”
The question was occasioned by the appearance of Elijah on the holy mountain. There was a popular expectation that this great prophet would prepare the way before the Messiah. It was based upon the closing words of Malachi: “Behold, I [God] will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming and dreadful day of the LORD. And he [the coming prophet] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
What puzzled the disciples was the fact that Jesus had come and had so far performed His ministry before Elijah had appeared. Jesus explained to them that the prophecy had at least its initial fulfillment in the work of John the Baptist who had come in the spirit and power of Elijah. He began to turn the nation back to God in repentance and had also begun to revive the hope of the coming Messiah.
However, as Jesus declared, John had not been recognized by the religious leaders, and so they had done to him whatsoever they desired. In the treatment of His forerunner by Herod and Herodias, Jesus foresaw what He himself would endure as the predicted King by the hands of the religious establishment and the political rulers. As Elijah had suffered at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel, so Jesus was to be rejected by the Jewish religious ruling party and be crucified by the order of Pilate.
In the death of John, Jesus saw an example of His own approaching sufferings and thus clearly predicted to His disciples a second time His approaching death, by His declaring, “Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Thus, even with the light of the transfiguration still lingering on His countenance Jesus definitely predicted His crucifixion. Thus too, in veiled symbol, Jesus referred to His coming glory, of which He had caught a glimpse of in the splendor of the holy mountain.
More Scripture To Consider:
“And when they [Jesus, Peter, James, and John] had come to the multitude, a man came to Jesus, kneeling down to Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So, I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.'”
“Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and he came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast him out?'”
“So, Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’” Matthew 17.14-21
Something Else To Consider:
When the artist Raphael painted the picture of the transfiguration of Jesus, he sketched on the same canvas this scene of the demoniac boy surrounded by nine of the disciples at the foot of the mountain. The combination of these two events either in the painting or in the flow of our Scripture to consider, reveals the contrast of the experience amid the shadows of human sorrow and distress which Jesus entered on the plain below. It was not the first time Jesus had exchanged heavenly glory for earthly gloom; and how majestically He bore Himself amid the shadows! Surely this is a picture of a King.
Matthew has omitted many of the details included in this story that Mark has included in his gospel account. But the omissions do not diminish, they rather emphasize the impression of the reality that surrounds our Lord and King in the midst of any and all circumstances.
There is the distressed father, kneeling as a suppliant believer before Jesus. There is the poor boy whose disease has been occasioned by an evil spirit. And there are the disciples, helpless in their imperfect faith. Then the word of the royal command is spoken by Jesus and the rebuke of the demon, and the cure is complete. The King is again gloriously victorious over the spirit world and another sufferer is relieved.
However, there is deep human sympathy in the heart of the King. There is no aloofness in His manner. Jesus is touched by the anguish of the father, and by the suffering of the boy, but most of all He is troubled by the unbelief which has needlessly delayed the cure. Never does Jesus appear more sensitive to the lack of faith by which His ministry has been attended. Never does He confess more clearly His willingness to escape from such surroundings, as He declares, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”
The unbelief is perverse because it is due, not to lack of evidence, but because the evidence has either been rejected, neglected, or forgotten. Jesus must have had in mind the multitude, the doubting father, and the hostile Pharisees, as well as the nine disappointed disciples; but the latter may not have perceived any rebuke to themselves until they came to Jesus privately and were told definitely that their failure had been due to their little faith and unbelief in the power available in Christ.
Yet, Jesus adds a word of gracious promise which may encourage modern disciples depressed by conscious failure and even moments of unbelief, as Jesus proclaimed, “If you have faith as a mustard seed [that is, real trust, however small], you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move”. That is, any obstacle may be overcome to the point that nothing will be impossible for you.
In other words, as we continue in Christ, as we abide in Jesus the true Vine, and as we allow the words of Christ to dwell richly in our hearts, we will grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And our faith will also grow and become and remain fruitful. And yet, it is important for us to keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in Mid-Eastern imagery and His words are not to be pressed too literally; for how many literal physical mountains did Jesus move for our example?
How many literal physical mountains did the early disciples move? And what are we to think and to believe when Jesus adds, “And nothing will be impossible for you.” There are limitations to the powers granted to the followers of Christ, yet within the sphere of His commands and His commission, in accomplishing the tasks He assigns, in bearing the burdens He imposes, nothing is impossible due to our heeding His commands.
The twenty-first verse of Matthew chapter 17 is omitted by some newer bible revisions. And yet, until I am personally convicted by the Holy Spirit, I will not attempt to remove it from any study of Matthew’s gospel. In Mark 9.29, Jesus declared, “This kind [of opposition] can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” And in some of the newer so-called translations the word fasting has been removed from Mark 9.29. How shameful and how deceitful!
But the truth appears plainly explained by Jesus within our Scripture text. According to Jesus, some spiritual warfare is only won through prayer and fasting. Therefore, let our faith be expressed in believing prayerful petitions and practiced fasting, and our Master will have no occasion to grieve over the inefficiency of our service.
Something More To Consider:
There are times in our journey to and with Jesus that we feel or wish things to be explained more clearly to us by Jesus. This was the case in the early disciple’s hearts and minds concerning the coming of Elijah and the Old Testament predicted promise. And so, these three mountain top disciples asked Jesus, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And Jesus answered, “Elijah truly 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.”
In other words, John the Baptist was not recognized by the so-called religious establishment as being the biblical forerunner of Christ who was to come and who did come in the power and in the spirit of Elijah. In Jesus’ explanation of the coming of Elijah in the person of John the Baptist, He awakened images of the cruel mistreatment of both Elijah the prophet of old and John the Baptist, the more than a prophet according to Jesus. And in doing so, Jesus further explained, “Likewise the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.”
These early disciples did understand Jesus’ explanation of the coming of Elijah as a picture of John the Baptist. It is not clear as to whether these same disciples understood Jesus’ prediction of His own suffering that was to come, but in time the cold hard truth would become a reality for them all.
A Few Final Words:
At the bottom of the mountain top experience, Peter, James, and John, along with Jesus, met face to face with the harsh at times reality and surprise of life. The suffering and spiritual as well as physical torment of a distraught father and a demon possessed son was more than a match for the left at the bottom of the mountain disciples. Though in the absence of Jesus they tried, but they could not remedy the demonic oppression presented to them. Therefore, Jesus was forced to announce, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”
Can we sense the imagined silence? These are two questions that still reverberate through the halls of time with astonishing conviction and rebuke. Every generation since, could easily as well as truthfully be addressed as faithless and perverse. And yet, no rebuke of Jesus ever becomes His final word. Therefore, Jesus commands; “Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour!
As soon as was possible the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why could we not cast him out?” The experience and the disciple’s question opened wide the door of opportunity for Jesus to explain true mustard seed faith, according to Jesus. In short, all the faith in the world may need to be exercised in some instances along with prayer and fasting, according to Jesus. And yet, prayer and fasting are not something we are able to conjure up at a moment’s notice.
Therefore, let us of little mustard seed-like faith practice in advance both prayer and fasting. We may never know when a suffering mother or father, or son or daughter, may need spiritual deliverance. May the Lord’s grace be sufficient in that hour!
Jesus stated in our original Scripture to consider, “Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things.” Could it be that Jesus is referring to an event at the end of this age that will take place in Jerusalem? In Revelation chapter 11, we are given an account yet to come, of two witnesses given power by God to prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. John proclaimed in Revelation 11.4, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.”
John also predicted of these two witnesses, “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.” But three-and-a-half days later, the breath of life from God enters into them and they ascend into heaven.
I believe this to be a clear but obscure in advance warning and prediction of what happens to true believers in the midst of the last three-and-a-half years of our existence on planet earth. And yet, will we learn the lesson of a lifetime concerning our own mustard seed faith? Will we be found looking unto Jesus as we attempt to endure unto the end and thereby be saved? Now is the time to become prepared spiritually and physically to endure the tribulation. For according to Jesus, it is immediately after the tribulation of the coming days, when we will see Him return in all His glory with His holy angels, and not before!
Our Father in heaven, thank You for Your biblical explanation of the coming of Elijah. Thank You for Your revealing to us the truth concerning biblical mustard seed faith according to Jesus. Help our unbelief, Father. Allow us to study diligently the Word of God that we may not be ashamed in the day of the coming of Jesus Christ. And prepare us for the difficulty to come. In Him Always, Amen!