Elijah (Second Coming of)

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"Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day " (Mal 3.23). This prediction, coupled with the Prophet's dramatic departure from the earth (2 Kgs 2.11), generated a conviction among the Jews that Elijah would return to prepare the day of Yahweh. The Gospels offer evidence of just such a belief in Palestine at the time of Christ. The Jewish levites and priests came to john the baptist asking if he were Elijah (Jn 1.21); others thought that Jesus Himself might be the Prophet (Mt 16.14; Lk 9.8). And although John denied that he was the Prophet, Christ Himself said of the Baptist: "And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come" (Mt 11.14; cf.17.1013).

These texts of the Old and New Testaments pose an exegetical problem. According to Christ, John was the longawaited Elijah; yet the Baptist was obviously not the Prophet himself, for the Scriptures have left a detailed account of his birth and parentage. One is compelled, therefore, to ask the question: is the prophecy of Malachi completely fulfilled in John, or is one to look for Elijah himself to reappear in eschatological times? Quite different answers have been given by patristic writers and by contemporary exegetes.

Perhaps the clearest statement of the patristic view can be found in Augustine. "As there are two comings of the Judge," he writes, "there will be two heralds. The [Judge] sent before Him the first herald [John] calling him Elijah, because Elijah would be in the Second Coming what John was in the first" (In evang. Ioh. 4.5). In Augustine's interpretation, therefore, John was properly called Elijah because he was a symbol, or type, or the eschatological figure who would precede the Second Coming of Christ (see parousia).

Augustine's view was strongly endorsed by Cardinal Bellarmine and persists in theological manuals. C. Pesch, for instance, identifies the two "witnesses" of Rv 11.3 as Elijah and Enoch [Praelectiones dogmaticae, v.9 (5th ed. Freiburg 1923) 352].

Modern exegetes, however, have moved away from this older opinion, convinced that it lacks any solid basis in the Scriptures. The prophecy of Malachi, they believe, is not to be understood literally, but rather of one who has the power of Elijah. That the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy was first vaguely indicated by the angel's words to Zechariah " and he himself shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah " (Lk 1.17). The angel's veiled hint becomes luminously clear in the words of Christ who declared that John was indeed Elijah. Modern exegesis sees no compelling reason to look for any further fulfillment of the prophecy.

Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951), Tables générales 1:1154. v. hamp et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:806810. e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ed. f. vigouroux, 5 v. (Paris 18951912) 2.2:167076. g. jacquemet, Catholicisme 4:1011. l. cerfaux and j. cambier, L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean, lue aux chrétiens (Paris 1955).

[g. j. dyer]

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Elijah (Second Coming of)

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