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Why “Elijah Must Come First” & How To Identify A True Prophet

Are there prophets now or coming in the future? Yes, Elijah is predicted to lead us in the end time. But how can you tell a true prophet like Elijah from a false prophet like the "False Prophet" who "calls fire down from heaven" (Rev 13:13)? Learn how to cut through Christian misinformation on prophets and zero in on the one end time prophet you will hear about and must listen to: the "Third Elijah" (Mal 4:5-6) the one who finally brings the revival Christians dream about...

Another Elijah?

In my study of end time Bible prophecy I have noticed several key prophecies that are not on most Christian's radar, but should be. Most Christians may know only about the Rapture/ [1]Second Coming and Great Tribulation [2]. In general they miss that there is much more on the end time prophecy roadmap coming that we will be here to deal with.

I was once one of them. That's why I was surprised when I finally caught in my Bible reading that Jesus plainly said that another Elijah "will surely come and restore all things" (Mt 17:11). Even though I had attended churches that taught prophecy, I never heard this detail taught before. I did not know I should expect an "end time Elijah" prophet, or if you will, a "third Elijah" (if you count John the Baptist as the second) (Lk 1:17=Mt 17:11) after the original Elijah of the Old Testament (1Ki 17:1).

Like most Christians, I thought John the Baptist had already fulfilled Malachi's prophecy of the "Elijah the prophet" because the angel Gabriel seemed to say so:

Luke 1:17 (HCSB) — [Gabriel speaking] And he [John the Baptist] will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.

Malachi 4:5-6 (HCSB) — 5 Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

And, seemingly, so did Jesus:

Matthew 17:12-13 (HCSB) — "But I tell you: Elijah has already come, and they didn’t recognize him." ... 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them about John the Baptist.

Simple, right? John the Baptist was "clearly" Malachi 4's Elijah. That's what many people say and I accepted that.

However, what always bothered me is how Malachi linked Elijah to the Day of the LORD. That's the day Jesus comes back to fight the Battle of Armageddon at the conclusion of the seven bowls of God's wrath [3] (Rev 19:11-21):

Malachi 4:5 (HCSB) — Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes.

How could someone coming 2000 years before the Day of the LORD possibly fulfill that part of Malachi's Elijah prophecy? While I had no good answer, I still considered Malachi 4 fulfilled and did not expect another Elijah.

That changed when I finally noticed other problematic statements like the "Day of the LORD" one. In these Jesus and John the Baptist himself curiously contradicted the idea that John the Baptist was the final or only Elijah who was to come.

Was John the Baptist Elijah or Not?

We just read above how Gabriel and Jesus declared John the Baptist as Elijah. Now let's look at what John said about himself and Elijah:

John 1:19-23 (HCSB) — 19 This is John’s testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He did not refuse to answer, but he declared: “I am not the Messiah.” 21 “What then?” they asked him. “Are you Elijah?” “I am not,” he said. “Are you the Prophet?” “No,” he answered. 22 “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord—just as Isaiah the prophet said [Isa 40:3].”

How surprising! Along with properly denying to be the Messiah or "The Prophet," John the Baptist also denies being Elijah. Instead he says he is someone else who Isaiah spoke of.

Notice that Jesus also gave seemingly contradictory statements on Elijah, too:

Matthew 17:10 (HCSB) — 10 So the disciples questioned Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 “Elijah is coming and will restore everything,” He replied 12 But I tell you: Elijah has already come, and they didn’t recognize him. [John the Baptist]

Although Jesus identified John the Baptist as Elijah, at the same time he also said, "Elijah is coming and will restore everything." This is unmistakably a future tense statement which negates John being the full/total fulfillment of Elijah. Or does it?

To sum up we have two votes that John was Elijah (from Gabriel and Jesus) and two votes that he was not Elijah or was not the only or final Elijah (from John and Jesus).

Article continues below...

"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus

Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself! [4]

Solution: Dual Prophecy of Two More Elijahs

How do we resolve these apparent contradictions? By recognizing that all the seemingly contradictory statements above about Elijah can be true if there are two fulfillments of Malachi's prophecy and therefore two Elijahs are being spoken of by Gabriel, Jesus, John and the Scribes questioning John.

In other words, Malachi's prophecy must be a dual prophecy.

This may sound wrong until you remember that the coming of the Messiah itself was also a dual prophecy. Christians know well that Jesus has a first and second coming to fulfill both aspects of the prophecy:

  1. First coming as Messiah "the suffering servant"
  2. Second coming as Messiah "the King"

This fact was easily missed by the Jews, even though they studied the Bible diligently. They mostly expected a Messiah the King to free them from Roman oppression. Thus, when Jesus came first as a suffering servant (who did not overthrow the Roman rule), they rejected him. They feared he would only instigate problems with the Romans, causing them to lose their position under Roman authority.

Christians also misunderstand prophecy just as the Jews did. They miss that Elijah also has two comings. For each coming of Messiah, there will be an "Elijah" to prepare the way by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom [5] to people. Both of these Elijahs, Elijah #2 and Elijah #3, are referenced in the verses discussed above as follows:

  • Gabriel says John is Elijah (#2), not the final Elijah (#3) (Luke 1:17).
  • John says he is not Elijah (#3) when the Jews ask him if he is Elijah (#3) because they were looking for the final Elijah just as they were looking for the final Messiah, the King (John 1:21).
  • Jesus said John was Elijah (#2) (Mt 17:12).
  • Jesus also said Elijah (#3) "is coming to restore all things" (Mt 17:11).

This resolves the dilemma of the Elijah statement contradictions. But it introduces a new dilemma: how do we identify this final Elijah #3?? 

This is a crucial question for end time believers!

The Nature of the Next Elijah

As part of identifying Elijah, I should probably settle a question on his nature. There are three ideas about who or what the final Elijah will be:

  1. Theory #1: "The church fulfills the office of Elijah."
    Proof? One argument I heard is that because the "Days of Elijah" song is the most popular song in churches (according to Charisma magazine), it means the Holy Spirit inspired this so we would know the church is fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi's Elijah. But this breaks precedent with the first two Elijah's being men and not groups.
  2. Theory #2: "The original Elijah will come back."
    Proof? Some say that Elijah never died and will come back as one of the Two Witnesses. Others say Elijah did die as "no man has ascended to heaven" except Jesus [6]. Either way there is no precedent of a prophet being brought back to resume their ministry after many lifetimes.
  3. Theory #3: "Elijah will be a new person."
    Proof? This is the precedent of Scripture predicting coming figures like the Elijah. Elijah #1 was a new person born of a woman. So was Elijah #2 as John the Baptist born of Elizabeth. Therefore, based on these precedents we could reasonably expect the same of Elijah #3.

Christian Anxiety Over "Prophets"

After years of sharing the above discovery about the coming end time Elijah in my book, I noticed a pattern of anxiety in some readers. It took me a little time to understand the reason as follows:

Most Christians are aware that there are already people who claim to be Elijah or other prophets. Some Christians have been burned by falling for these charlatans. Others are aware that the Book of Revelation says the False Prophet [7] is coming to delude people into believing lies like the Antichrist is God. This has taught many to ignore all "prophets" in order to protect themselves from deception. It's a reasonable response.

So when I come along and say there is indeed a true prophet coming who they must watch for and accept, you can imagine the consternation they feel. How can they possibly identify and accept a true prophet when all they have seen are false prophets who deceive and hurt people?

The solution to this problem is to gain discernment from Scripture on prophets. I have had to learn to do that myself as I have had the same negative experiences and observations as others about "prophets." For example, I personally knew someone who died from trusting in false prophecy. They stopped taking their insulin because of a prophecy saying they would be resurrected with a diabetes-free body if they did so. They died needlessly, paying the ultimate price for not being able to "discern the spirits" (1John 4:1). As well, every year a few people always write me to say that they are a prophet, Elijah or even an angel with a message or command for me. Sadly, I've learned to safely ignore them all. They either have mental illness or demonic possession and are beyond my help or convincing.

But how do I know who I can safely ignore and when there is a real prophet coming I need to listen to? Aren't I afraid I'm going to screw up and miss the real McCoy?

Identifying True Prophets

No, I never fear I might misjudge someone who claims to be a prophet. You don't have to either when you understand what Scripture says about prophets of God. It's pretty easy when you know how.

1. True prophets are established through signs, wonders, fortelling.

When God made Moses his prophet and sent him to lead Israel, Moses did not take the Christian prophet approach of saying "I'm a prophet of God, believe me and do what I say!" with zero evidence. Moses was able to perform three signs God equipped him with (turning waters to blood, turning his staff to a snake and turning his hand leprous).

Likewise, when God made Samuel a judge and prophet of Israel, he also did not take the Christian approach of "self-proclamation of prophet-hood." Samuel made predictions that came true, such as in the story of when he met the future king Saul while looking for a lost sheep. That's why it says:

1 Samuel 3:19-20 (HCSB) — 19 Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and He fulfilled everything Samuel prophesied. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the LORD.

At this point you may be thinking of John the Baptist who it was said never performed a sign. But he did not have to. It says all the people accepted John as a prophet already for some other reason. It could be his notable near-miraculous birth to a priestly family past the age of child-bearing (Luke 1:7, 18). It does not say. But like Samuel, he was established by God as a prophet so everyone knew. His "reputation preceded him," as it were.

Today, there is no Christian prophet like that which the whole nation knows is a prophet already. So if a Christian prophet comes out of the blue with no reputation like Moses did, he had better be able to do signs like Moses or he is not following biblical precedent. He's all wet and we can tell him to "buzz off" with confidence.

If you "don't know him from Adam" and he won't do a sign, yet he demands you accept him as a prophet, ignore him. If your request for a sign before you listen makes him angry or causes him to issue threats, he just did you a favor and removed any remaining doubt that he is a man of God! God's prophets obey him in his command to love his children (Mt 7:12) not threaten them from their ego.

2. True prophets speak in harmony with existing revelation of God.

Of course, on very rare occasions, a false prophet will be able to pass the first test. The coming False Prophet [7] is an example of this. He will be able to bring fire down from heaven to deceive people (Rev 13). But he will fail the next test:

The Bible teaches that not every "word" should be accepted as true just because a Christian or "prophet" says it. They need to be evaluated as Paul taught:

1 Corinthians 14:29 (KJV) — Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge.

Isaiah taught how to judge the words of prophets:

Isaiah 8:20 (KJV) — To the law and to the testimony [revelation from God given to Israel]: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

The New American Commentary (Volume 15a: Isaiah 1-39) explains this verse as follows:

God's past revelation is the only valid guide to judge any new wisdom about the future. Anything that contradicts what God has said or leads one in a direction inconsistent with the clear teachings in the nation's traditions is untrustworthy and misleading. The light of God's truth is not in it.

There are several other characteristics of true prophets (such as speaking in God's personal name) from Scripture that you can test them by. I cover them in my book Know the Future [8].

Elijah's Mission - Revival & Warning

Why is Elijah coming and what will he do?

Malachi's prophecy quoted above (Mal 4:5-6=Luke 1:17) tells us that he is coming to turn father's and children's hearts to each other. That's a bit ambiguous until you read Gabriel's helpful interpretation of it when speaking with John's father. He said "to turn...the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people" (Luke 1:17). Aha!

If John the Baptist/Elijah #2 did that in teaching people the Gospel of the Kingdom [5] and repentance before the first coming, then we can expect the end time Elijah #3 to do the same before the second coming.

How "Revival" Finally Comes

This is a needed mission because it's not being done today by Christianity just as it was not being done the first time by Judaism. Both of these Bible-based religions and, in fact, all religions teach the traditions of the holy or exalted leaders who founded or developed that religion rather than the simple Word of God (Mk 7:13). Religion, or traditions of men, is a comforting dead end and only doing the Word of God leads to life (Lk 8:21).

Christianity is no different. Christianity does not teach the Gospel of the Kingdom [5] or what repentance is or how to do it like Jesus did. Ask a Christian what the Kingdom of God is or what repentance is and they will most likely not be sure or not be able to give you an answer from the Bible. This is because Christian books and sermons do not focus on teaching these two things that John the Baptist and Jesus did. They teach Christianity or teachings about Jesus but not the teachings of Jesus himself. If a Christian wants to learn these things they have to dig into their own Bible themselves, something most are not adept at or comfortable doing. (I don't blame them since the Bible is a daunting 23,145 verses to slog through.)

Jesus himself said that, "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Mt 24:14). If Christianity is not teaching this, then when someone like Elijah and the 144,000 [9] finally do (as John, the 72 and the apostles last accomplished 2000 years earlier) it will certainly be noteworthy.

A recurring theme among Christians is the hope of "revival." Christians imagine revival in the form of lots of healings or other supernatural signs that lead many "to come to Jesus" and become Christians, like they are. But true revival in the Bible has always come as a result of repentance, or returning to do God's will, or the Word of God (Lk 8:21). That's why it will finally come under Elijah.

The Warning to Flee

I believe Elijah has another important role that builds upon him leading a revival. With the disasters and crisis coming to earth caused by WW3, Wormwood [10] and the Antichrist [11], God has an escape plan for his people [12]. Someone has to lead God's people to the safe places described as God's people are in ignorance and confusion on what is coming and how God plans to save them (it's not a pretrib rapture [13]). If God does not send a strong leader who can work signs and wonders or at least make predictions that come true, believers will never know or agree on what is coming or what to do about it and who should they listen to. If Elijah #3 comes in power and authority like Elijah #1 and Moses did, that problem will be solved.

I therefore conclude Elijah will be the one "calling" us to "safety" [12] (Joel 2:32) based on the natural linking between the verse about him in Malachi 4:5-6 and Joel 2:31. They are the only two verses in the Bible using the same phrase "before the Day of the LORD comes:"

Malachi 4:5 (HCSB) — Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes.

Joel 2:31-32 (HCSB) — 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the LORD comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of Yehovah will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the LORD promised among the survivors the LORD calls.

Elijah will be usable by God to call people to safety [14] as well lead a revival of turning people back to the wisdom of the just (Lk 1:17).

How To Identify/Not Miss Elijah

When Christians learn about the end time Elijah prophecy, their number one concern quickly becomes how to identify him so not to miss his warning and be "left behind." As you'll understand, spotting or even identifying him won't be much of a challenge compared to acting on what he says.

I honestly think it will be near impossible to miss Elijah's coming given the Internet, email, social media and viral video available to be utilized by God. It is promised that the Gospel of the Kingdom [5] (that I think he delivers first before the 144,000 [15]) will go worldwide (Mt 24:14). You'll hear about a strange man with a hopeful message of returning to God that lines up with the Bible when you look (Acts 17:11), yet who Christianity calls a "heretic." Therein lies the rub. You'll be swayed at first, yet everyone and everything you hear will make you want to doubt or reject him and his teaching which will contradict much of what Christianity teaches [16] because he, like Jesus before him is working from God's Word (Lk 8:21) and not from tradition (Mk 7:13).

I am confident Elijah can get worldwide attention because over the years I've seen many intriguing—but false—date-setting prophecy theories spread on the Internet like wildfire. All of them are easily refuted with the Bible and always fail, yet they go viral nonetheless because when they are sensational and provocative. No so-called "prophet" behind such prophecy inventions ever succeeds impressively in their prediction even once, let alone twice. Even if they vaguely say "something big will happen" [17] and it "comes true," it is always so general that nobody is impressed or remembers.

What To Look For Elijah To Do To Get Attention (Not Miracles)

But, imagine someone comes along who makes one impressive, specific, mind-boggling prediction after another, that always come true? Word would spread and it would be sensational and spread even more. Yet, unlike a video of a miracle or spontaneous healing, it would leave it up to the hearer to decide if the prediction was a fluke or really a sign from God. They would have to investigate his teaching to see if it aligns with God's previous revelation (Isaiah 8:20), which is no simple task and only for the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

If I wanted to reach all believers with the Gospel of the Kingdom [5], call to repentance and instructions for escaping the beginning of birth pains [12], I would harness the Web in exactly that way with prediction after a successful prediction. Neither Satan nor the religious folks turned off by Elijah's "heretical" (but Biblical) message would be able to stop it from attracting attention. People are wired that way, to pay attention to the sensational or unusual. Rather than by some impressive recorded miracle, that's how I expect Elijah will get attention and give those seeking to identify him the evidence they need, although ambiguous!

In this way, everyone could get a chance to hear and decide whether they have the faith and strength within themselves to obey the challenging radical instructions Elijah will give. [14] That's why Jesus said 2000 years ago about this time to "pray that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place" (Lk 21:36). It won't be as hard to identify Elijah as something different and maybe sent from God as it will to ignore all the naysayers and do the hard thing he says to do! [18]

Can You Filter Out the Naysayers?

You can see this "naysayer" effect play out in the case of Jesus. Jesus said beautiful, stunning things that made people love him and get convicted to listen and follow him. That is, until the doubters or religious authorities :

John 7:37 — 37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! 40 When some from the crowd heard these words, they said, "This really is the Prophet!" 41 Others said, "This is the Messiah!" But some said, "Surely the Messiah doesn't come from Galilee, does He? 42 Doesn't the Scripture say that the Messiah comes from David's offspring and from the town of Bethlehem, where David once lived?" 43 So a division occurred among the crowd because of Him.

The same criticisms and misinformed theories will undermine Elijah's work of God so that people who at first were convinced by him will become unsure.

That's why I encourage you to stop worrying about missing Elijah or how to identify him. The free articles (and my book) on this site have already prepared you to identify him easily. Worry instead about not being able to stand up against the negativity about him or persecution to do the hard thing [14] he says to do after you identify him. To know he is speaking for God but be unable to forsake all and disregard the attacks contradicting Elijah's message will be so much harder. As always, I remind you therefore to do what Jesus said to pray for the strength to escape all these things (Lk 21:36) which is even above faith when the end comes!

P.S. If you find someone on the Internet and wonder if he is Elijah, don't tell me about him to find out what I think =). There's no need. When the real Elijah comes, we won't have to tell each other about him or seek expert opinions. We will already be hearing about him and he will speak according to the Bible so that we faithful can confirm that he is a prophet of God from our own Bibles. In other words, if you find an 'Eljiah' that everyone is not already talking about at least as a prophet of God—as they did the last Elijah/John the Baptist (Mark 11:32)—then he is not Elijah! Accept no substitutes below Biblical standards even if they meet Christian standards.

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