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 about John the Baptist. — Matthew 17: 10–13
Advent confronts us with the question of how we accept Christ.
After the transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples asked Him questions associated with the promises of the prophet Malachi. Centuries before, he had announced that Elijah would be sent before the promised Messiah was to appear (Malachi 4:5–6). It was for this reason that the returning Elijah was expected before the appearing of the Messiah. But because Elijah had not yet come, Jesus could not have been the promised Messiah in the eyes of the scribes. How did Jesus resolve this contradiction?
The way-preparer of the Messiah
In our Bible text, Jesus responds to the question of the disciples by saying that the promise would indeed be fulfilled and that the returning Elijah would “restore all things”, which meant that he would induce the people of Israel to return to God. Then Jesus makes it clear that the sending of Elijah had already occurred in the activity of John the Baptist. In other words, John the Baptist is this expected Elijah (Matthew 11:14). He has assumed Elijah’s commission and calls upon the people to repent and return to God. John the Baptist is the way-preparer of the Messiah of whom Malachi speaks.
“… a people prepared for the Lord”
When the birth of John the Baptist was announced, the angel promised, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1: 17).
Today the focus is on preparing the bride of Christ. At the promised return of Christ, His people—that is to say, His bride—are to be prepared. The Apostle ministry has been occupied anew in order to gather and prepare the bride of Christ.
Those who are prepared for the return of Jesus Christ are those who:
- Accept the Apostles sent by the Lord today, believe in the word of God proclaimed by them, and accept the sacraments.
- Allow themselves to be strengthened by the spirit and power of Elijah, which means that, like Elijah, they continue to trust and obey God, and believe in the promises of God without ceasing (1 Kings 18: 43–44).
- Recognise their weaknesses and sinfulness in the light of the Holy Spirit and come to the wisdom of the just through the saving activity of God.
Being a way-preparer for others
Over this Advent season, let us occupy ourselves intensively with the gospel, with the Christ who has come into the world and who will come again, and let us act accordingly. This also includes professing the return of Christ and telling other people that we are being prepared for this event by the Apostles.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on Sunday, 06 December 2015 at Midrand Congregation.