Question: Jesus stated in Matthew 17:11 that "Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things." What will this "Elijah" restore?

Answer: Matthew 17:11 is part of Jesus' response to a question posed by his disciples. The disciples, especially Peter, James, and John, were beginning to understand that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming had been promised in the Hebrew Scriptures (Matt. 16:16-17; 17:1-8). But they struggled with Jesus' teaching that he would be badly treated by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and subsequently put to death (16:21-23).


In particular, the disciples remembered Malachi's prophecy that before the Day of the Lord, "the prophet Elijah" would come and "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:5-6, NIV). This prophecy, which they believed would be carried out before the appearance of the Messiah, seemed to contradict what Jesus was telling them about his forthcoming death. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson ([1] on Matt. 17:10) gives the following reconstruction of what they may have been thinking:


"Elijah was expected to restore all things-to bring about a state of justice and true worship. If that were so, how could it be that Messiah would be killed in such a restored environment-killed, Jesus had told them only a week before, by elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law (16:21)?"


Faced with this apparent contradiction, the disciples asked Jesus, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" (Matt. 17:10)


Jesus explained that a partial fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy had been carried out by John the Baptist, whose call to repentance had been heeded by many (Matt. 3:5-6). However, John's efforts had not brought about a restoration as complete as the one the disciples were envisioning. Like a number of previous prophets, John had died a martyr's death. And as Jesus had told them, he too would be martyred before a miraculous resurrection.


Jesus also implied in Matt. 17:11 that the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy had not been exhausted by John the Baptist. As a result, many Christians look forward to a final fulfillment of this prophecy before the Messiah's Second Coming.1 While it is impossible to know the precise details of the final Elijah's mission, we can make some guesses based on biblical hints.


One such hint is the name "Elijah" itself. The original Elijah, who prophesied to the House of Israel during the ninth century B.C., condemned the evils committed by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and urged the people to forsake idolatry (I Kings 17-19, 21). So a prophet following in Elijah's footsteps would be a champion of the "justice and true worship" mentioned by Carson in his remarks quoted earlier.


 A second hint appears in Mal. 4:4, the verse immediately preceding the prediction of a coming Elijah. This verse gives the admonition, "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel." The implication is that the end-time Elijah will promote a renewed dedication to the Torah, God's instruction in righteousness for his people.


There is a third hint in the ministry of John the Baptist, the Elijah who "has already come" (Matt. 17:12). Like his predecessor Elijah, John warned of judgment to come and urged people to repent and faithfully obey God (Luke 3:3-17).


All three of these hints suggest that a renewal in obedience to the God of Israel will be a major part of the restorative work of a final Elijah. Such a renewal should also be instrumental in bringing about another restoration that is foretold by the apostle Paul.


In the eleventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans, Paul compares the people of Israel to an olive tree. Gentiles who receive salvation through faith in Jesus are like wild branches grafted into the olive tree, while those Israelites who do not accept Jesus are branches broken off from the tree. Paul predicts that the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God will ultimately provoke Israelites to jealousy (Rom. 11:11), leading to the regrafting of broken branches back into the olive tree.


Over the centuries since Paul wrote his epistle, the regrafting process has been hindered by Christian attitudes of arrogance or condemnation toward the Jews (Rom. 11:18). Such attitudes have produced antijudaic theologies of antinomianism and supersessionism, often accompanied by antisemitic persecution.2


But the work of Elijah can promote the regrafting that Paul envisioned by reconnecting Christians to the "Jewish roots" of their faith. Such a reconnection happens when people come to a respect for God's word and a commitment to God's ways. When people-e.g., parents and children, or Christians and Jews-are brought closer to God, then their relationships with each other are also healed, helping pave the way for the completion of God's plan of redemption in Jesus the Messiah. The restorative work of Elijah is therefore of the utmost importance.


Around the world there are signs that this restoration is already underway. Many Christian churches have rejected supersessionism, and a growing number of Christians are learning a respect for God's Torah. We encourage our readers to participate wholeheartedly in the Elijah restoration.



  1. Donald A. Carson, Matthew, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984.


1See the article "Who is the End-Time Elijah?" in Issue 9 of Grace & Knowledge for further discussion of the meaning and fulfillment of this prophecy.


2For further discussion of the problems with supersessionism, see the article " ‘Has God Cast Away His People?’ Why the Church Has Rejected ‘Replacement Theology’ " in Issues 5 and 6 of Grace and Knowledge.

Issue 22



File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
09 Nov 2005, 12:09.