Back in the late 1990’s I was attending Canadian Bible College in a program that included music. I was involved in a choral group that was touring churches in Canada.
Naturally we also attended church services and participated in the praise and worship of different styles of churches. After one such service one of the choir members asked me if I knew what Robin Mark’s song “Days of Elijah” meant when it referred to the present as the “days of Elijah” and the “days of Moses,” etc. At the time it seemed to me to be a bunch of phrases thrown together, and I said as much.
I was later embarrassed when I overheard him speaking to our music director, Dr. Eugene Rivard, telling him my uninformed opinion. The professor explained in brief the depth of theology involved in the song and about how Jesus fulfils the prophesies named in the song. I remembered this as I was preparing to sing the song in our worship service early in the summer. At that point I thought I would try to share some of this godly man’s insights into God’s promises and Jesus’ fulfilment. I will flesh it out with a bit of Israel’s historical context.
The story begins with the people God called out of Egypt: Israel.
The people of Israel are a people with a unique relationship with their God. Initially called to be a light reflecting God’s glory to the world, they turned away from him and were punished by being defeated by Babylon and scattered throughout the nations of the world.
Even in exile God was keeping his promise to make life dangerous and their position tenuous wherever they settled. Even after their return to the land in the time of the Persian Empire they remained under Gentile rule, with a brief period of independence under the Maccabees. That ended with Roman occupation and continued under Muslim rule until its present period of fragile independence.
Even that independence is highly dependent on Gentile assistance from nations such as the United States of America.
What is not present is the kind of theocratic government that characterized Israel’s early state under Moses and King David.
Fortunately for Israel, God promises to eventually deliver them from foreign domination and bring them back into a close relationship with them. Ezekiel notes that it is because of God’s promise and certainly not because of their obedience to God’s will for them.
The title of the song that prompted this post is based on Malachi 4:5-6 (literally the last two verses in the Old Testament) where the prophet Malachi tells the people of Judea that God would send “Elijah” before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” He would come to turn the hearts of the children to their parents and vice versa or else God would strike the land with a curse.
Jesus identifies this “Elijah” as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-14 and 17:11-13).
John the Baptist is the one who identifies Jesus as the one sent by God to redeem Israel. In Mark 1:8 he claims, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (For those who don’t already know, baptism in this context is a ritual cleansing by immersion in water. Baptism in the Holy Spirit will become clearer later in the post.)
Moses identifies a prophet who would be like him, who would restore righteousness in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. How would a prophet be like Moses? Perhaps he might if he were to lead Israel out of captivity.
However, even as Israel was being led out of Egypt by Moses it quickly becomes clear that their hearts are still captive to Egypt. And the root of the problem is something that plagues all human beings: an unwillingness to follow God’s direction in our lives. The old-fashioned word for that is “sin.” It prevented that first adult generation from even entering the promised land, and eventually led to the nation’s exile from the land.
It would seem that the first step in repatriation would be to deal with sin. How could that be accomplished?
That is where the “days of Ezekiel” come in.
God makes many prophecies in the book of Ezekiel about Israel’s redemption. among them is a promise in Ezek. 36:26-28. First, God needs to give Israel a new heart. In fact, he promises to place in them his own spirit! (This is what is meant by “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”) This will clean them up from the inside. They will then be motivated to follow God in everything he tells them.
Just to make sure, Ezekiel even repeats the promise in Ezek. 39:28-29.
He even dramatically speaks of lifting them out of the grave, breathing life into them and breathing his spirit into them (Ezek. 37:12-14).
Ezekiel continues in the very same chapter to promise that “David” will be king over all of Israel (which had been divided since the time of Solomon’s son Rehoboam). Assuming that the resurrection of the first part of the chapter is literal, King David would come back to life to be king.
One would, of course, need to be confident that such a resurrection is even a possibility. One clue is the resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus after being dead four days. The ultimate clue is the resurrection of Jesus, which gave the Apostle Paul confidence that resurrection in Jesus Christ is not only possible, but a certainty.
Of course, some commentators do not see this passage as depicting a literal resurrection, but rather as a figurative rebuilding of the nationhood of Israel. In that case, “David” would be a reference to a “Son of David” who would rebuild Israel and liberate it from foreign domination.
If the latter turns out to be the case then Jesus can be seen as one who rebuilds Israel as a spiritual people out of a combination of Israelite and Gentile converts.
Personally, I do not see why both cannot be true on different levels.
In John 14:15-31 (Esp. the end of v. 17) Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire his disciples in the difficult days ahead, of his death, resurrection and his physical absence from earth until a later return.
Notice that Jesus promises them that if he is resurrected, the same will happen to his disciples. The promise of the Spirit and that of resurrection are to be separated in time: the Spirit first, and the resurrection when Jesus returns after ascending to heaven.
After Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension to heaven Jesus taught and ate with his disciples. One day as he is eating with them he spoke the following:
“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21)
Acts 2 Is the story of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the disciples. A powerful proclamation of Jesus as Lord follows not only the original disciples, but also among those convicted by the message and believing, who also receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit (also known as the Spirit of God) changes how we perceive and interact with the world. The Apostle Paul, after a few years of experience, writes to different churches and explains some of the differences.
“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”(Romans 14:17)
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7)
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:24-29)
The Holy Spirit changes the way we live with one another as well.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesha ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”b
15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateverc you want.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Gal. 5:13-26)
Just as importantly, the Holy Spirit in us changes our nature and our stature with God. We become, as written in 1 Pet. 2:4-10, living stones in the Temple of God – priests and kings of his Kingdom.
One Christian writer (sorry, I have lost track of the reference) sums up the implications of the in the following:
1. God lives in me! “Christ in me, the hope of glory! Father and Son dwell in me by the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. (Gal. 2:20)
2. God’s power to live a Christian life is in me! (Eph. 3:20)
3. God’s Spirit is meant to overflow into the lives of those around me! (John 7:38-39)
4. God’s Spirit is in every believer, so we are to live in unity. (Eph. 4:3)
5. God’s Spirit is holy, therefore live a holy life to be in accord. (1 Pet. 1:13-16)
6. God’s Spirit produces fruit that brings peace and joy. (Gal. 5:22-26)
7. God’s Spirit distributes gifts that benefit all, and even reach out to non-believers. (1 Cor. 14)
8. No matter how bad things look, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)
9. This means that God himself is experiencing and sharing all of your pain. He is present with you! (Romans 8:26-27)
Look, we know that a dark age is coming, probably in our lifetime. There will be a time when we must stand up for Jesus Christ in the face of death, whether it be by natural causes, illness or in opposition to an evil regime that seeks to destroy all knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ has supplied his own Spirit to give us power, love and self-control in the face of everything this life can throw at us. If we let Him, we can grow in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
While the prophecies will not be complete until Jesus returns we see enough to know that these are indeed the “days of Elijah, Ezekiel, Moses and David.”