The Prophet Malachi (4:5) foretold the coming of Elijah, prior to the “great and awesome day of the Lord.” The High Priest and many other faithful Jews would leave a place at their table, in case he suddenly appeared. Some Jews persist in this practice today.
The Archangel Gabriel announced to Zachariah that his son John would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” (Luke 1:17) The Baptist would therefore be, not a return of the original Elijah because he couldn’t be born a second time on earth, but one who would have Elijah’s character, power, and ministry.
After John’s death Jesus spoke about him in this manner, “Elijah indeed comes first, and will restore all things.(Mat.17:11)
Peter, preaching to the Jews at Pentecost, said about Jesus that “heaven must receive Him until the times ofrestitution of all things, which God spoke through the mouth of His holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21) Hence Peter believed John the Baptist had a foreshortened ministry, and that Elijah was still to come. You could call it the “second coming of Elijah,” to precede the “great and awesome day of the Lord.”
The Greek word for restitution, used by Peter, and in its verbal form restore used by our Lord, is apokatastasis and this word was used by the early church to describe “the doctrine that ultimately all free moral creatures, angels, men and Satan, will share in the grace of salvation.” (Quotation from Hastings “Dictionary of the Christian Church.”)
Are we therefore awaiting the “second coming of Elijah” to initiate the times of restitution of all things, and to prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Here is an interesting little story we found in “Bible Study Monthly” (1978, page 57) entitled “A Story of Elijah.”
It is written in Arab history that upon an occasion in the year A.D. 638 a party of 300 Arab warriors fighting in Syria had encamped for the night and found themselves joined in their prayers by an old man with staff and attired like a dervish [a holy man.] On being asked his identity he declared that he was the prophet Elijah, left in the world to wait the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at His Second Advent. [Moslems esteem Jesus as a prophet and believe in his second coming at the end of the age.]
Upon being asked by Fadhilah, the Arab Commander, when the Lord Jesus would come, the old man replied, “at the end of the age and at the last judgement.” Fadhilah further enquired what would be the signs of the approach of that time, and Elijah said,
When men and women shall forget their respective places;
when abundance of provisions shall not lower their price;
when the blood of the innocent shall be shed;
when the poor shall ask alms and receive nothing;
when love shall be extinguished;
when the Holy Scriptures shall be turned into songs;
and when temples dedicated to the true God shall be full of idols,
know that the day of judgement is very near.
Having said this he disappeared from their sight.