We finished last week by asking if anything could be more relevant than listening to Jesus…“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him” (Matthew 17.5b ESV).
Is anything more relevant today? We said that as we work at trying to understand what God said to Peter, “Listen to him” – we are reminded of the saying, “Don’t just say something [which is what Peter was doing]; listen to Jesus.”
Charles H. Spurgeon said, “It is better to hear the Son of God than to see saints or to build tabernacles.” So, it is not a vision we need so much as to learn from Him.
Do you hear Jesus? Do you obey him? Are you listening?
“Tell no one the vision,” Jesus said, “until the Son of Man is raised from the dead. And the disciples asked Him, then why did the scribes say that first Elijah must come? He answered, Elijah does come, and he will restore all things … Where Is Elijah?
On the way down the mountain the next morning, [Mount of Transfiguration – Matthew 17] Jesus told the disciples to keep quiet about what they had seen until after the resurrection. The reason is obvious. He did not want them to relate stories that would fan a misguided messianic expectation. He needed to go to the cross before the nature of His work could be rightly and fully known.
But the disciples were still puzzling over what they had witnessed, and they countered with a question. They had seen Elijah with Jesus, and this caused them to wonder about Elijah’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner, which was prophesied in Malachi 4.5-6, the very last verses of the Old Testament. These verses say, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4.5-6 was used by the teachers of the law to say that Elijah had to come before the Messiah, as his forerunner. But how could that be if the Messiah, whom the disciples now believed Jesus to be, was already here and was about to consummate His work?
The disciples’ question can be taken in two ways: First, As a chronological problem. If you are the Messiah, what about Elijah? How can you be the Messiah if the teachers are right when they say that Elijah has to come first? How is this to be explained? Most people who read these accounts take the disciples’ question this way because of the word first, which suggests the problem with the sequence.
It can also be taken as a theological problem. This understanding of the question comes from the anticipated nature of the forerunner’s ministry. Malachi 4.6 taught that Elijah would bring about the restoration of all things (v.11). But if Elijah was to do that, bringing the people to a right relationship with God as a precondition of the Messiah’s coming, how was it that the Messiah would need to die? Who would reject Him in such a happy age? D. A. Carson holds to this idea, saying, “Their confusion was not merely chronological—who must come first—rather, it referred back to their fundamental inability to make sense of the combination of glory and suffering. At this stage, their witness of the transfiguration glory of Jesus had if anything confirmed them in their misapprehension.”
Whatever their question meant, both these puzzles were answered when Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands” (Mt.17.11–12).
This means that the scribes were right to insist that Elijah must come before the Messiah, but they were wrong in failing to see that He had in fact come. They were wrong in their interpretation of the restoration too. They understood this as a promise of a perfect messianic age. But that was not a given fact, even in Malachi, since the last verse says that if the people do not repent at the forerunner’s teaching, then God will return “and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4.6). Since Jesus is making clear that the work of Elijah had been done by John the Baptist and that the people had not repented at his teaching, the only thing they could reasonably expect from God now was this judgment.
Moreover, since the leaders had mistreated and killed John the Baptist, why should Jesus expect any different treatment? By calling their attention to this pattern Jesus was reinforcing His teaching that it was necessary for Him to be crucified. This was the second most important thing He had to teach them after He had taught who He was. Peter, James, and John had been given a glimpse of glory on the mountain, just as we have been given a glimpse of future glory in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation, but that is for another time. This is now, and what is needed now is that the followers of Christ deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow Him. Before glory there must always be a cross.
Luke says that on the mountain Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus “about his departure [that is, his death], which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” So, when the voice said, “Listen to him,” one thing involved was their need to listen to what He had to say about His death and its meaning.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org