“Elijah Had To Come First”
Today’s Gospel is a sequel to the episode of the Transfiguration, that mysterious event which revealed who Jesus really was to his three closest disciples, even while they didn’t quite grasp what it meant.
On their way down the hill, Jesus insists that the disciples do not speak about the vision they have just seen, “until the Son of Man rises from the dead.” Matthew notes that the three of them were quite confused about what this “rising from the dead” meant.
This raises a question with the disciples: they had just seen Elijah with Jesus on the mountain top. They also knew of the popular belief that the Prophet Elijah would reappear during messianic times to announce the messiah. If Jesus is the messiah, then where is Elijah? Why has he not re-appeared as expected ?
In reply, Jesus draws the connection between John the Baptist and Elijah: “I tell you, Elijah has already come, but they failed to recognize him, and they worked their will upon him…” Thus does Matthew draw the parallel between the death of John the Baptist and Jesus’s own death. Both would be rejected by their own people, and meet with a violent end.
When Matthew writes his the Gospel he is at pains to show how Jesus, as the ‘expected one of the Jewish nation’, fulfilled all the prophecies made about him. Elijah was an important part of these prophecies, and Jesus points out that he, Elijah, indeed did come as a herald, and in the form of a man who was indeed as great as he was – John the Baptist, “greater than any man born of woman.”
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