Why must Elijah return before the end times (Malachi 4:5-6)?
Question: “Why must Elijah return before the end times (Malachi 4:5-6)?”
Answer: Malachi 4:5-6 offers an intriguing prophecy: “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.” To this day, Jewish Seders include an empty chair at the table in anticipation that Elijah will return to herald the Messiah in fulfillment of Malachi’s word.
According to Malachi 4:6, the reason for Elijah’s return will be to “turn the hearts” of fathers and their children to each other. In other words, the goal would be reconciliation. In the New Testament, Jesus reveals that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:13-14). This fulfillment is also mentioned in Mark 1:2-4 and Luke 1:17; 7:27.
Specifically related to Malachi 4:5-6 is Matthew 17:10-13: “His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. . . .’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”
The scribes were the Jewish religious teachers, mostly Pharisees and Sadducees, who provided commentary on the Jewish Scriptures. Peter, James, and John were familiar with their teachings and asked Jesus about Elijah after seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Jesus clearly stated that Elijah had already come, but, tragically, he was not recognized and had been killed. Jesus then predicted He would likewise die at the hands of His enemies (17:13).
A brief look at the ministry of John the Baptist reveals many notable ways that he was “Elijah.” First, God predicted John’s work as being like that of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Second, he dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8 and Matthew 3:4). Third, like Elijah, John the Baptist preached in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1). Fourth, both men preached a message of repentance. Fifth, both men withstood kings and had high-profile enemies (1 Kings 18:17 and Matthew 14:3).
Some argue that John the Baptist was not the Elijah to come because John himself said that he was not Elijah. “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not’” (John 1:21). There are two explanations for this apparent contradiction. First, because Elijah had never died (2 Kings 2:11), many first-century rabbis taught that Elijah was still alive and would reappear before the Messiah’s arrival. When John denied being Elijah, he could have been countering the idea that he was the actual Elijah who had been taken to heaven.
Second, John’s words could indicate a difference between John’s view of himself and Jesus’ view of him. John may not have seen himself as the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. However, Jesus did. There is no contradiction, then, simply a humble prophet giving an honest opinion of himself. John rejected the honor (cf. John 3:30), yet Jesus credited John as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy regarding the return of Elijah.
As the metaphorical Elijah, John called people to repentance and a life of obedience, preparing the people of his generation for the coming of Jesus Christ, the One who had come “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to establish the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
What is the prophecy of St. Malachy?
Question: “What is the prophecy of St. Malachy?”
Answer: St. Malachy, whose Gaelic name was Máel Máedóc, was born in Ireland in AD 1094. He became a Catholic priest and later the Archbishop of Armagh. Several miracles have been attributed to him, according to evidence investigated by the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first Irishman to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
Malachy was an influential reformer within Irish Catholicism, bringing its liturgical practices into closer agreement with those of Rome. For his efforts, he was appointed legate for Ireland, but during his second trip to Rome, in 1148, he became ill and died on November 2.
Malachy is known today for a set of prophecies, purportedly written by him in 1139, concerning the future line of Popes. His list started with his contemporary, Pope Celestine III and continued through the next 112 Popes. The last Pope would be called Petrus Romanus (“Peter the Roman”), whose reign would end with Judgment Day. Malachy’s vision of the future included a brief, cryptic description of each Pope.
According to Catholic tradition, Malachy’s prophecy remained hidden until AD 1590, when it was first published. It has been a source of conjecture and controversy ever since. The prophecy has recently come into focus again because of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. According to Malachy’s reckoning, Pope Francis I will be the last.
Here are the final five Popes, according to Malachy:
Flos Florum (“Flower of Flowers”) – Pope Paul VI
De medietate Lunae (“Of the Half Moon”) – Pope Juan Pablo I
De Labore Solis (“From the Toil of the Sun”) – Pope John Paul II
Gloria Olivae (“The Glory of the Olive”) – Pope Benedict XVI
Petrus Romanus (“Peter the Roman”) – Pope Francis I
Some people have found “evidence” that Malachy’s prophecy is true. For example, Paul VI’s coat of arms contained fleur-de-lys, thereby associating him with flowers. Other connections between the prophecy and the Popes are more strained and hardly plausible.
The prophecy of Malachy concerning the final Pope is as follows: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.” According to Malachy, the final Pope will take the title “Pope Peter the Roman” or a derivative thereof. According to Catholic teaching, the apostle Peter was the first Pope, and, according to Malachy, another Peter will be the final one.
The mention of “persecution” and the destruction of Rome in Malachy’s prophecy have led some to believe that the final Pope will be the Antichrist or the False Prophet of Revelation 19:20. There are others who find a prediction of a “black Pope” in Malachy’s writings.
Because Malachy was immersed in the teachings and dogmas of the Catholic Church, his prophetic utterances and dreams are questionable at best. His prophecy is extra-biblical; for that matter, the whole concept of a “Pope” is extra-biblical. Rather than interpret the end times according to the dreams of a Catholic mystic, we should trust what God’s Word says in the books of Daniel, Revelation, and Zechariah.
The Bible warns about listening to false prophets who speak as though their oracles were given to them by God. Jeremiah 23:32 says, “‘Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least.’”
Does The Harbinger really predict America’s future?
Question: “Does The Harbinger really predict America’s future?”
Answer: The book The Harbinger: the Ancient Mystery that holds the secret of America’s Future by Messianic Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Cahn has been a best-seller and has sparked controversy and much discussion. There is no question as to Cahn’s passion about alerting his fellow countrymen to the spiritual, economic, and moral dangers that the United States faces. But is Cahn’s interpretation of the book of Isaiah correct, and are those Old Testament prophecies applicable to modern-day America?
The back cover of the book clearly labels the book as “FICTION / Suspense,” and the line following the copyright page says, “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story…” The rest of that sentence is ambiguous: “… but what is contained within the story is real.” If the author is saying that the book’s content is a real message from God to the USA, then it is important to examine his view of the meaning of biblical prophecy.
The story’s opening dialogue reads, “An ancient mystery that holds the secret to America’s future.” This attention-getting assertion is made by the story’s narrator and lead character, journalist Nouriel Kaplan. Kaplan is attempting to persuade Ana Goren, a media executive, to publish information that Kaplan believes will affect the economic, political, military, moral, and spiritual future of the United States. Even though Cahn presents this information in a fictional vehicle, he asserts that it is “real.” Is it?
In the story, a nameless prophet meets Kaplan on a number of occasions, giving him information about how recent events, including the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of 9/11, the housing boom, the war in Iraq, the 2008 collapse of Wall Street, etc., were predicted specifically by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The prophet leads Kaplan to understand that Isaiah not only warned his own nation (Israel) about the danger of abandoning God but, in a mysterious way, also predicted America’s contemporary events.
In drawing parallels between Israel and America, Cahn asserts several things: first, that America was founded on a covenant with God as much as Israel was. Second, that America is being released from God’s protection to suffer the consequences of having marginalized Him. Third, that Isaiah predicted all of this.
Cahn’s prophet in the book tells Kaplan that each of the key American events since September 11, 2001, is a harbinger of America’s coming fall; each disaster is another warning from God for America to return to Him. Cahn’s point, couched as it is in a fictional narrative, is that, unless the U.S. changes course, it will suffer the same fate as the ancient nations. That is, God will allow America’s enemies, external and internal, to bring it down. Cahn sees evidence for his claim in the words of Isaiah 9.
Cahn identifies Isaiah 9:8–10 as revealing the main harbinger of coming disaster: “The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it—Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—who say with pride and arrogance of heart, ‘The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.’” In the original context, God is expressing His anger at Israel over their refusal to repent from their idolatry. Even after receiving God’s discipline in the form of several disasters, the nation of Israel hurled their defiance at God Himself. To paraphrase Israel’s words, they said, “God, You may have allowed our enemies to damage our city, but we will rebuild it even stronger.” This was conscious and deliberate rebellion against God. The Israel of Isaiah’s day would not bow to God, not even under His rod.
Cahn’s prophet in The Harbinger quotes government leaders using similarly defiant words following the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Since U.S. leaders used the words, “We will rebuild” and expressed a “spirit of defiance,” Cahn applies God’s angry words in Isaiah 9 to America. The problem with this interpretation is that when America’s leaders vowed to rebuild the World Trade Center, they were not defying God but the terrorists who demolished it. Israel was defying both their human enemies and God. Cahn’s linking of the two nations with the same prophecy is unfair. The principle behind Isaiah’s prophecy—that judgment may befall any nation that forsakes God—could be applied to America. It may be a fascinating coincidence that Isaiah mentions fallen bricks. The book may be exciting to read. But it is faulty Bible interpretation to take a prophecy clearly meant for Israel and make the details pertain to modern-day America.
Cahn does not claim in his book to be a prophet. Neither does he claim to have received the message of his story directly from God. He writes as a teacher, putting into the mouth of Kaplan what he understands to be both the original and the contemporary meanings of Isaiah’s prophecy. Cahn does not claim that Isaiah uses the name America or the United States in his prophecies. He does not even claim that Isaiah had a dual fulfillment of his prophecies in mind. Cahn’s apparent purpose in his book is to spin a convincing yarn and persuade readers of a real danger America faces in light of Cahn’s understanding of how Israel’s situation in 600–500 BC applies to America’s current situation.
In the book, Cahn creates a fictional means of revealing prophecy from God—clay seals, such as were used to hold impressed signatures on official documents. In The Harbinger, the prophet gives Kaplan a set of nine such seals. Each seal supposedly represents a national event in Israel’s history—a harbinger that warned of final collapse and dispersion into the surrounding pagan nations—as well as a current event in America, heralding ultimate doom if America does not repent.
Cahn connects each seal with a serious American event in the decade following September 11, 2001, and with an object or an event in Israel’s history. Since Cahn is writing fiction, he is free to manufacture not only clay seals but coincidences. His creative way of identifying the coincidences is both fascinating and convincing, as far as the story goes. He sees in the coincidences a pattern of God’s warnings to both His chosen nation, Israel, and the U.S. Each seal and its related dire event are harbingers of ultimate doom. America is being warned to turn back to God.
Persuasive preaching about a real need, yes; accurate interpretation of a Bible text, no. The problem is that Israel is the only nation with whom God has made a covenant, through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). America is not Israel.
If you read The Harbinger, remember that only time can reveal the validity of what claims to be prophecy from God (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). And, even though the book may use some faulty interpretations, do not close your heart to Cahn’s essential message. He is right that America needs to repent. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The United States of America very likely will meet the same fate as ancient Israel if its people do not repent. Americans need to give their hearts to God and exercise faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. To that end we should pray.
Are we living in the end times?
Question: “Are we living in the end times?”
Answer: The Bible prophesies of many events that will occur in the end times. These events can be categorized as natural signs, spiritual signs, sociological signs, technological signs, and political signs. We can look to what the Bible says about these things, and, if the signs are present in abundance, we can be certain that we are, in fact, living in the end times.
Luke 21:11 lists some of the natural signs that will occur before Jesus’ second coming: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” While we shouldn’t interpret every natural disaster as a sign of the end times, an increase in natural disasters seems to be a warm-up to what is coming next—“birth pangs,” as Jesus called them (Matthew 24:8).
The Bible lists both positive and negative spiritual signs. In 2 Timothy 4:3–4 we discover that many people will follow false teachers. We see now an increase in cultic groups, heresy, deception, and occultism, with many choosing to follow New Age or pagan religions. On the positive side, Joel 2:28–29 prophesies that there will be a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16), and we are still seeing the effects of that outpouring in revivals and Spirit-led Christian movements, and in the worldwide preaching of the gospel message.
Along with the signs in the natural and spiritual realms, there are signs in society. The immorality rampant in society today is a symptom of mankind’s rebellion against God. Abortion, homosexuality, drug abuse, and child molestation are proof that “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse” (2 Timothy 3:13). We are now living in a hedonistic and materialistic society. People are lovers of themselves—“looking out for number one”—and doing what is right in their own eyes. All these things, and many more, can be seen around us every day (see 2 Timothy 3:1–4).
The fulfillment of some end-times prophecies seemed impossible until the advent of modern technology. Some of the judgments in Revelation are more easily imagined in a nuclear age. In Revelation 13, the Antichrist is said to control commerce by forcing people to take the mark of the beast, and, given today’s advances in computer chip technology, the tools he will use may very well be here already. And through the internet, radio, and television, the gospel can now be proclaimed to the entire world (Mark 13:10).
And there are political signs. The restoration of Israel to her land in 1948 is the single most impressive fulfilled prophecy proving that we live in the end times. At the turn of the 20th century, no one would have dreamed that Israel would be back in her land, let alone occupying Jerusalem. Jerusalem is definitely at the center of geopolitics and stands alone against many enemies; Zechariah 12:3 confirms this: “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” Matthew 24:6–7 predicted that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” “Wars and rumors of wars” are definitely characteristic of this present age.
These are just a few of the signs that we are living in the end of the age. There are many more. God gave us these prophecies because He does not want anyone to perish, and He always gives ample warning before pouring out His wrath (2 Peter 3:9).
Are we living in the end times? No one knows when Jesus will return, but the rapture could occur at any moment. God will deal with sin either by grace or by wrath. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior will remain under the Lord’s wrath.
The good news is that it’s not too late to choose eternal life. All that is required is acceptance, by faith, of God’s free gift of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn grace; Jesus has paid the price for you (Romans 3:24). Are you ready for the Lord’s return? Or will you experience His wrath?
Does the Bible say the United Nations will have a role in the end times?
Question: “Does the Bible say the United Nations will have a role in the end times?”
Answer: Many believe the formation of the United Nations was a key development relating to biblical prophecy of the end times. The United Nations is not mentioned by name in the Bible, and neither is its predecessor, the League of Nations; of course, that does not mean it is not symbolically suggested in prophecy. The possibility of a one-world government has come and gone constantly over the past 2,000 years since John wrote the book of Revelation. As the United Nations has gained more power, it has provided fodder for various conspiracy theories. At the same time, the rise of the UN is a valid field of study for students of prophecy and for anyone anticipating the New World Order.
A one-world or global government is predicted in Daniel and Revelation. It will come after the rise of a confederation of ten nations or regions (Revelation 13:1; Daniel 7:16–24; Daniel 2:41–42). One member of the confederation will displace three of the other members, subdue the others, and rule over all, led by the satanically empowered Antichrist. It is this confederation of ten nations that is most often connected with the United Nations. If this connection is correct, it may be that the UN or a similar group is mentioned, indirectly, in the Bible, but there is no way to be completely sure before the Antichrist makes his appearance.
Another prophecy that some people connect with the United Nations is found in Revelation 17—18. There, “Babylon the great” or the “Whore of Babylon” is condemned. The first mention of Babel is in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. The building of the tower was mankind’s first attempt at “world government” in defiance of God. Babylon the Great in the end times is a similar conglomeration of nations attempting to unite against God. This could be the United Nations or the European Union or some other, yet-to-be-identified bloc of countries associated with the Antichrist. The fact that this evil world system is called a “mystery” (Revelation 17:5) indicates that we do not know all the details yet.
It should be noted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were quick to denounce the formation of the League of Nations. In 1919 the second president of the Watchtower Society condemned both the League and any person who supported it. They did the same when the United Nations was created, passing a resolution condemning it in 1963. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the UN is the “image of the beast” of Revelation 13:1–18 and the “abomination of desolation” mentioned in Matthew 24:15, although there is no clear hermeneutical evidence for either interpretation.
There are many international events which could be interpreted as the fulfillment of various apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible. However, we should be careful not to jump to conclusions. Throughout history there have been major international threats, possibilities of global totalitarian governments, and proud, out-of-control leaders. It may appear that our current situation is more likely to fulfill prophecy than past situations, and we can more clearly “see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). But until we see Christ, we must trust God and continue our efforts to spread the good news of HisKingdom with the resources we have been given.