THE FATE OF THE FORERUNNER
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus enjoined them that they must not relate to anyone what they had seen, except when the Son of Man should have risen from the dead. They clung to this word, asking among themselves, what this phrase about rising from the dead could mean. They asked Jesus, “Do the experts in the Law not say that Elijah must come first?” “It is true,” he said to them, “Elijah comes first and sets all things in order. And yet how does it stand written about the Son of Man that he must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But, I say to you, Elijah, too, has come, and they treated him as they wished, even as it stands written about him.”
Naturally the three disciples were thinking hard as they came down the mountain-side.
First, Jesus began with an injunction. They must tell no one of what they had seen. Jesus knew quite well that their minds were still haunted by the conception of a Messiah of might and power. If they were to tell of what had happened on the mountain top, of how the glory of God had appeared, of how Moses and Elijah had appeared, how that could be made to chime in with popular expectations! How it could be made to seem a prelude to the burst of God’s avenging power on the nations of the world! The disciples still had to learn what Messiahship meant. There was only one thing that could teach them that–the Cross and the Resurrection to follow. When the Cross had taught them what Messiahship meant and when the Resurrection had convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah, then, and then only, they might tell of the glory of the mountain top for then, and then only, would they see it as it ought to be seen–as the prelude, not to the unleashing of God’s force, but to the crucifying of God’s love.
Still their minds worked on. They could not understand what Jesus’ words about resurrection meant. Their whole attitude shows that in fact they never understood them. Their whole outlook when the Cross came was that of men to whom the end had come. We must not blame the disciples. It was simply that they had been so schooled in a completely different idea of Messiahship that they could not take in what Jesus had said.
Then they asked something that was puzzling them. The Jew believed that before the Messiah came Elijah would come to be his herald and forerunner. (Mal.4:5-6.) They had a rabbinic tradition that Elijah would come three days before the Messiah. On the first day he would stand on the mountains of Israel, lamenting the desolation of the land. And then in a voice that would be heard from one end of the world to the other, he would cry, “Peace cometh to the world. Peace cometh to the world.” On the second day he would cry, “Good cometh to the world. Good cometh to the world.” And on the third day he would cry “Jeshuah (see Yeshuw`ah – HSN3444) (salvation) cometh to the world. Jeshuah cometh to the world.” He would restore all things. He would mend the family breaches of the grim last days. He would settle all doubtful points of ritual and ceremonial. He would cleanse the nation by bringing back those wrongfully excluded and driving out those wrongfully included. Elijah had an amazing place in the thought of Israel. He was conceived of as being continuously active in heaven and on earth in their interest, and being the herald of the final consummation.
Inevitably the disciples were wondering “If Jesus is the Messiah what has happened to Elijah?” Jesus’ answer was in terms that any Jew would understand. “Elijah,” he said, “has come and men treated him as they willed. They took him and they arbitrarily applied their will to him and forgot God’s will.” He was referring to the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. Then, by implication, he drove them back to that thought they would not face and that he was determined they must face. By implication he demanded, “If they have done that to the forerunner, what will they do to the Messiah?”
Jesus was overturning all the preconceived notions and ideas of his disciples. They looked for the emergence of Elijah, the coming of the Messiah, the irruption of God into time and the shattering victory of heaven, which they identified with the triumph of Israel. He was trying to compel them to see that in fact the herald had been cruelly killed and the Messiah must end on a Cross. They still did not understand, and their failure to understand was due to the cause which always makes men fail to understand–they clung to their way and refused to see God’s way. They wished things as they desired them and not as God had ordered them. the error of their thoughts had blinded them to the revelation of God’s truth.
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