Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 26 2013 - Matthew 17:9-27 – The days of Elijah

Peter, James and John had been with Jesus on the mountain top and had seen him transformed – "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). They saw him speaking with Moses and Elijah and heard God's voice, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (17:5). Now, as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone else of what they had seen, "until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead" (17:9).

Not surprisingly, the disciples are confused. They cannot understand what they have seen and they cannot work out how it all relates to the resurrection of the dead. They know that the resurrection of the dead will occur at the end of the age, when God finally comes to visit his people. On that day the dead will be raised and everyone will stand before the judgment seat of God. That day will mark the beginning of the age to come. But Elijah must come first. That's what the teachers of the law say, and in this they were only expounding what God himself has said in Malachi 4:5-6, "See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction." So the disciples ask Jesus, "Surely, Elijah must come first?"

Jesus does not contradict any of these assumptions; rather, he tells them that Elijah has already come. Elijah has come "and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands" (17:12). The disciples then understand that Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist.

If John is the one who fulfils this prophecy concerning Elijah, then "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" is soon to follow. Judgment day, and the day of resurrection are about to appear. And in some way that the disciples just cannot understand, all of this is centred upon Jesus: he must suffer and die; he will be raised from the dead. He is God's Son, the Christ, who will bring in the age to come.

The disciples could not understand the things that Jesus was telling them – though they were to understand them later, when he had been raised from the dead. Sometimes we also seem slow to understand. These are not the days of Elijah. This is the day of the Lord, the one of whom Moses and the prophets had spoken. Christ has come; Christ has died; Christ is risen. In Christ, judgment day has come; resurrection day has arrived; the age to come has broken into the now of human history. All the world is called to listen to him, own him as Lord, trust in him and serve him.

Father God, you spoke to us in many ways and varied circumstances down the centuries. I thank you that you have now spoken to us through your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you that you have made me a child of the King. Help me to listen to him and to have faith in him. Enable my faith, though it be like a grain of mustard seed, to grow strong and true. Lord Jesus, help me to serve you through the power of your risen presence within me that I may minister your life, healing and freedom to those around me.

Peter Misselbrook