As I type this it’s the first day of Passover. This year Passover started yesterday evening, Monday, March 25th and lasts until the evening of Monday, April 1st. This year marks our family’s sixth year in observing the Passover festival, which is also known and used synonymously with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This year’s celebration is by far the most unique and exciting Passover that we’ve ever celebrated to date. I’m not just talking about unique and exciting in the fact that it’s a new year and we might have different guests at our Seder table. Or that we have a better understanding and relevance of the holiday or a fresh perspective on the Scripture and Haggadah reading to be enamoured with this year. Nope, all of those things could be true and exciting for many different individuals and families this season. Though the reason this year is different for our family does include a new year to celebrate and to be thankful for, plus a very special, unique and exciting guest at our seder. More on this in a little bit.
For this Passover season I felt compelled to study and write a little bit more about the Prophet Elijah and his connection to the Holiday and this season we find ourselves in.
Who is Elijah?
Elijah’s origins are a mystery. There is no mention of his parents, siblings or any other immediate familial particulars including his upbringing. The Bible mentions only of him being part of a clan from Gilead. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead” 1 Kings 17:1
Elijah’s original name is Eliyahu in Hebrew and it means “My God is YHVH“. Elijah’s name in Greek is Elias.
Elijah is one of a shortlist (Abraham, Moses and David) who have a major impact on the Hebrew and New Covenant Scriptures. Elijah continues to play a prominent role each and every year within Jewish Holiday (Passover – more below) and Life cycles (Circumcision). At the Brit Milah (Circumcision ceremony), like Passover, Elijah is given his own chair. Elijah is also known as the “Angel of the Covenant” for this reason.
Elijah Brings The Fire!
Elijah is amongst the most famous of all the Prophets of Israel and has one of the coolest (literally one of the hottest) showdowns in Scripture. Elijah calls out King Ahab whose wife has introduced the false worship of the pagan god Baal to the nation. Elijah puts a curse on the land of Israel which causes a devastating drought for a few years during which time Elijah seemingly disappears from the scene. Eventually, Elijah steps back onto the stage and throws down a challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal took place on Mt. Carmel and it involved slaughtering a bull to see whose God would consume the sacrifice. After the prophets of Baal couldn’t entice their so-called god to consume the sacrifice, Elijah started doing some of the best trash talking to the prophets of Baal ever recorded in Scripture “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 1 Kings 18:27. After this episode, Elijah brought it (or you could say God brought it for Elijah)! Elijah set up 12 stones and built an altar for YHVH. Then he dug a trench around the altar and had water poured on top of the wood and the sacrifice three times until the whole altar was soaking wet and the water even filled up the trench. Then Elijah prayed to the God of Israel and “the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” 1 Kings 18:38
After this, Elijah tells the people of Israel to kill the prophets of Baal and they do. The people agree to serve only the God of Israel and Elijah goes to the top of the mountain and prays for rain again and behold a massive thunderstorm comes and the drought is lifted. Job well done and all is well right? Well, not exactly…..Elijah flees in fear of Jezebel, the People of Israel don’t remain faithful to their commitment to YHVH and Elijah has a few other encounters with calling fire down from heaven and even riding in a fiery vehicle (perhaps the first Hot Rod?) into the Heavens. I haven’t the time to elaborate on these adventures but of course you can read all about them in 1st and 2nd Kings.
Elijah Before Messiah?
It has been a long-held tradition amongst the Jewish sages that the Prophet Elijah would announce the coming of the Messiah and thus usher in the Messianic Age. In fact, this tradition is symbolized and put into practice each year at Passover. During the Seder a seat is reserved, a cup of wine poured, and a door is opened for the Prophet who is expected to arrive during the Passover season to bring the good news of Messiah’s coming. For this reason, one of Elijah’s titles is the “Prophet of Passover“. The two primary Hebrew Scriptures that this idea comes from are both found in Malachi.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:1
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” Malachi 4:5
By the time we reach the 1st Century, we have evidence of this Elijah before Messiah theme recorded in the Gospel’s and alluded to by the Qumran Community as evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Gospel of Luke records that Zechariah the Priest was serving in the Temple when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him next to the Altar of Incense and gave Zechariah the news of him having a son that should be named John. “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will 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 for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:16-17
Zechariah was stunned and in disbelief. He must have recognized the Scriptures that the Angel Gabriel had quoted him from Malachi about the Prophet Elijah. He must have also been perplexed that this most honorable distinction and highest task of “preparing the way of the Lord” would be assigned to a son that he would call his own. True to the Angel Gabriel’s word, when John was an adult he had become great and well-known amongst those in Israel. When the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem sent Priests and Levites to try to figure out who this John was who was making such waves down by the river Jordan, they ask him “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:19-23
Amazingly, during the 1st century amongst the Jewish people there was a great anticipation for the return of Elijah and a great expectancy for the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish sages knew the Scriptures well and they had calculated that Messiah could appear on the scene at any point and they were searching and investigating hard for that news – news that would be brought by Elijah of course.
There was another man at this time named Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus of Nazareth) who had become very popular with the people by his teachings and the signs that he performed. In fact, he was now even more popular than John had been and the same questions that had been being gossiped through-out the land as to John’s identity were now being directed towards Yeshua, even amongst those that were closest to him and Yeshua asked his disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Luke 9:18-19
Then at sometime later a few of the disciples saw what is undoubtably one of the most amazing things ever at the top of a mountain in the Land of Israel. Just like as before in the days gone by when the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appeared at various times to the patriarchs and the children of Israel, this man Yeshua’s true identity was revealed “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” And who appeared with him during this transfiguration of glory? “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Matthew 17:2-3
You got it! None other than Moses who represented the Torah (Law) and Elijah who represented the Prophets! It’s at this point that the disciples get back to the question of Elijah coming first to announce the coming of Messiah? “And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:10-13
There are some profound takeaways from just these few verses of Scripture to consider about the Elijah before Messiah theme:
- The ancient Jewish Sages had been right in their interpretation of Malachi
- It was a common thought even amongst the Disciples of Yeshua to think The Elijah would literally return to Earth
- Yeshua himself confirmed the Elijah before Messiah Theme
- God had raised up someone in the Spirit like unto Elijah to announce Messiah’s 1st coming
- It is logical to suppose that “Elijah” will announce Messiah’s 2nd coming as well
- Modern Judaism and some eschatological interpretations are still valid and relevent to expect Elijah’s return
- Like Messiah, Elijah has come – Like Messiah, Elijah will come again
Back to that unique and exciting part I mentioned at the beginning……
Back in July of 2012, we were given a date – March 26th, 2013. We were pregnant and going to have our 3rd child. We have a bit of an affinity with holiday birthday’s in my family that as far as I know started with my dad who was born on Mother’s Day, 1958. I was born on Cinco de Mayo, my brother was born on Thanksgiving, my daughter was born on New Year’s Eve and my 1st son was born on Rosh Hashannah. So immediately after we received the due date, we looked on the calendar and lo and behold what day is March 26th, 2013 – you know by now, it’s Passover! Wow we thought, that would be amazing.
A couple of months went by and we found out that the sex of our new baby was going to be a boy, so it didn’t take much imagination for us to come up with a name – Elijah John – of course knowing the symbolism with the date and Biblical accounts and similarities of the two men. So we waited months and months and months (you get the picture) and on Saturday morning, March 23rd, we thought “it looks like he’s really going to make it to Passover”. Afterall, it would be just 2 days and we had no indication he was coming anytime before then. It looked like we were well on our way to having another holiday baby in the family, but then something started to happen.
That evening after Shabbat was over we were on our way to the grocery store to pickup some supplies for Passover week when my wife began having frequent contractions. We thought, probably “braxton-hicks” right, you know the practice contractions. We made it through the grocery store and went to dinner afterwards and the contractions hadn’t went away yet. At this point my wife was starting to get nervous and couldn’t eat. I started to think this is probably the real deal and we just passed one holiday (Shabbat) and knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t make it to the next (Passover). All we had between now and then if we had this baby was Sunday and all of Monday until Passover started that evening – nothing special there I thought. By midnight on Sunday morning it was becoming ever so apparent that we were going to have this baby soon – real soon – I mean like in a few hours soon.
We had a family friend staying with us and we turned on the tv after we had watched the movie Argo and TBN was playing The Passion of Christ and it hit me “Today is Palm Sunday”! Palm Sunday – the traditional date of Yeshua’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey and the start of Holy Week. I had called my mom by this point to inform her of the baby’s imminent arrival and she looked at the calendar and exclaimed its Palm Sunday! To all of our amazement, this day had been completely off of our radar the whole entire time until the date was actually here. So there we were, on the traditional date that Yeshua’s triumphal entry is celebrated, our Elijah made his own triumphal entry into the world at 4:01am on Palm Sunday. This post is primarily for him which is a bit ironic since he won’t be able to read it for a few years and when he does it may be many more years before he actually appreciates it. One day I hope!
He’s been sleeping beside me for almost 2 hours while I put this reading together which is amazing in and of itself – Here’s to looking at you Elijah John Bennett Bond! May the grace and shalom of our Messiah Yeshua bless you and yours through-out this season and always – Amen!
Happy Passover 2013 – The Bond Family