Malachi 4:5. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet The first prophet that I shall send to you, after him who now speaks to you, will be Elijah the messenger, that shall go before the Messiah to prepare his way. In him the spirit of prophecy shall be revived; and he shall be another Elijah for zeal, for courage, austerity of life, and labour for reformation. “It was the universal opinion in Christ’s time, received by the learned and unlearned, the governors and the common people, that Elijah should usher in the Messiah, and anoint him; all expected that Elijah should first come and restore all things; and long before that time the son of Sirach grounded his expectation of him on the passage now before us: see Sir 48:10 . The Jews have not since varied from this notion: in all their later writings the coming of Elijah and of the Messiah are usually mentioned together; and this is the reason why they pray so heartily for the coming of Elijah, even without mention of the Messiah, because the coming of the one, according to Malachi, infers the coming of the other.” But it is neither said nor implied in the text that Elijah the Tishbite should come in person, but only that one should come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and when such a one did come, Malachi’s words were fulfilled; who meant no more that Elijah should rise again, than Hosea and Jeremiah did that David should be restored to life, in order to reign over Israel and Judah, when they prophesied that the tribes should hereafter serve David their king. Whoever this Elijah was, he must, according to the next clause of this verse, precede the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, that is, the time of the final destruction of the Jewish city, temple, and commonwealth, which events actually took place near one thousand seven hundred years ago, and no other Elijah than John the Baptist, followed by the Messiah, came to warn them of it, as is confessed by them.
It is allowed by the Jews as a fact, that prophecy was sealed up with Malachi, and that when he died the Holy Spirit was taken away from Israel. They expected, however, that it would be restored in the days of the Messiah, and they ought, therefore, to have concluded that John the Baptist, in whom this gift did revive, must be the Elijah of Malachi: for all the people held John as a prophet, Matthew 14:5; Matthew 21:26. Even the members of the Sanhedrim, astonished at his preaching and actions, (see John 1:19-25,) thought he must be Elijah, or that prophet, namely, the Messiah, mentioned by Moses: and the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the rest of the country, went to be baptized of him, confessing their sins, Matthew 3:5-7. Add to this, that his preaching exactly answered the description given of it by Malachi. As Elijah was to give notice of the coming of the day that should burn as an oven, Malachi 4:1, that great and dreadful day, wherein the Lord, Messiah, should smite the land of Judea with a curse: Malachi 4:6; so did John the Baptist exhort to repentance, from this motive, that the kingdom of God was at hand, that wrath was coming, from which they ought to flee, and that the person coming after him, who was mightier than he, with his fan in his hand, would thoroughly purge his floor, and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire: see Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:7; Matthew 3:10-11; and Bishop Chandler’s Defence. The reader will be pleased to see the sacred historians’ account of John confirmed by a wise, learned, and well-disposed Jew, who was not a Christian, namely the well-known historian Josephus: “It was the opinion of the Jews,” says he, “that Herod’s army was cut off by the Arabs through God’s just judgment, for the sake of John, who was surnamed the Baptist. For he killed that excellent man, who excited the people to the exercise of all virtues, especially piety and justice, and to receive his baptism, which, he assured them, would be pleasing to God, if to purity of body they added purity of life, and first cleansed their souls, not from one or two, but every sin. But when the people resorted in numbers to him, eager to hear his doctrine, and ready to do any thing by his counsel, fearing what might be effected through so great authority of the man, he first imprisoned and then slew him.” Antiq., lib. xviii, cap. 7.
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