The true and better Elijah

Elijah still has a place within Jewish worship and ritual.  Elijah receives mention when grace is said after meals: “May God in his mercy send us the prophet Elijah.  He receives mention at circumcision ceremonies and at Passover.  Ralph Martin tells us that “at the beginning of the celebration of the Passover a special cup of wine, called “Elijah’s cup” is placed on the table.  When grace is said after the meal, a child opens the door in expectation of Elijah’s appearance and biblical passages are recited which express the hope of Jewish people for deliverance from the oppression.”[1]

All of this points us to someone greater than Elijah.  When Luke opens his biography of Jesus, John the Baptist is said to fulfill the role of Elijah, inasmuch as John would serve “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17).  John would do this by pointing people to Jesus.  You see, in the first century world, religion had shot off in so many different directions that families would share the same roof but not necessarily the same faith.  The gospel became the answer to this sectarian problem, because the gospel united people under the banner of truth.

All this to say that Elijah’s story is theologically rich, to say the very least.  Because all of the Old Testament foreshadows the coming of Christ, how do we see Jesus reflected in the life of Elijah?  Naturally, we can answer this question in a variety of ways, but from our reading this week we can say three things in particular:

  • Jesus is the true and better Elijah

Elijah says: “My death will be the ultimate expression of my failure;” Jesus says: “My death will be the ultimate expression of God’s victory.”  Jesus is obedient—even to death by crucifixion—and in laying down his life he achieves victory over all the forces of sin and darkness and even over the “powers and principalities” that operate in today’s world by “triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

  • Jesus is the true and better rock of Elijah

This isn’t a minor detail.  Remember the mighty wind that Elijah heard?  It was so strong that rocks tumbled away but Elijah remained shielded.  Jesus is the rock that bears the storms of God’s wrath that we might experience not God’s judgment but God’s mercy.  Because Jesus is our shield our lives are “hidden in Christ” (Colossians 3:3) and we can look to God not as judge but loving Father.

  • Jesus is the true and better Voice of God

John’s biography opens by telling readers that Jesus is the “Word” of God.  Jewish readers would instantly recognize this as representing the voice of God in creation and in Scripture; Greek readers would hear this as the voice of reason in secular philosophy.  But all truth comes from God, and now, in Jesus, that truth comes not as a set of ideas but in flesh and bone and sinew.  Jesus is the “Word made flesh,” and because of this we relate to God’s word not merely as a set of teachings to follow but a person to whom we may draw near.


[1] Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi,  p. 342


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