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Living in the Age of Signs

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Will Elijah Return During the Tribulation?

It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it is also a form of deception. Satan's fall from heaven was fueled by his desire to be like God (Isaiah 14:13–14). Since then he has counterfeited God's power in order to deceive mankind. As the Battle of Armageddon draws near, Satan's trickery will include imitation of God's signs and prophecies. The Old Testament prophet Elijah will return, but there will also be an impostor.

We need to understand some details of Elijah's past ministry and future return to distinguish the end–times impostor from the authentic prophet of God.

Elijah's Historical Ministry

After ancient Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom quickly slid into immorality and practiced idolatry. Scripture tells us this moral decline was led by the nation's kings. The seventh king of the north, Ahab, violated every principle God had ever given him—he institutionalized pagan worship and allowed his pagan wife to slaughter God's prophets. During Ahab's reign, God called Elijah out of obscurity to lead the nation out of depravity. Elijah performed miracles, proclaimed God's truth, prompted repentance, and is even prophesied to return.

Elijah used fire from heaven to rekindle Israel's faith by praying in front of all the people and asking God to send fire. When the fire of the Lord fell from heaven, the Israelites fell on their faces and worshiped God. During the Tribulation, Satan will emulate Elijah's miracle of fire and anticipated return to trick people into worshiping the Antichrist.

First Kings 18:36–38 describes Elijah's miracle:

Elijah the prophet came near and said, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again."

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.

Malachi 4:5–6 foretells Elijah's return:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The False Prophet's Counterfeit Ministry

The False Prophet described in Revelation 13:11–18 will deceive people into believing he is Elijah by counterfeiting Elijah's miracle. Verse 13 says, "[The False Prophet] performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men." Anyone familiar with Malachi's prophecy, particularly Jews, will immediately draw a connection to Elijah when they see the False Prophet's supernatural fire. However, he will receive his power from Satan rather than God.

This points to an important truth: Miraculous signs are not necessarily from God. That is why 1 John 4:1 tells us, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Elijah's miracle caused people to worship Almighty God, but the False Prophet's signs will cause people to worship the Antichrist. In Matthew 7:16–20, Jesus instructs us to evaluate the fruit of a prophet's ministry—to consider the results. James describes desirable, godly fruit this way: "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17–18). The Antichrist will be none of these. After promising peace, he will make war with the saints and blaspheme God (Revelation 13:5–7). Elijah led Israel out of idolatry; the False Prophet will lead people into it.

Elijah's Future Ministry

The False Prophet will not be Elijah reincarnated, but Elijah will return according to Malachi's prophecy. Revelation 11 describes two witnesses who will preach to the world after the Rapture. After the Church is taken away, God will raise up 144,000 new believers and appoint the two witnesses to preach the Gospel and God's judgment to everyone who is left to hear it. Through these witnesses, God will continue to provide opportunities for people to place their faith in Him right up until the end of the world.

Most scholars believe one of the two witnesses will be Elijah. Consider these similarities:

  • The witnesses will ascend to heaven while they are alive (2 Kings 2:11; Revelation 11:12).

  • The witnesses will prevent rain from falling (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:6).

  • The witnesses will employ fire in their ministry (2 Kings 1:10; Revelation 11:5).

  • The witnesses will minister for three years and six months, which mirrors the length of Elijah's drought (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:3).

These two witnesses are symbolized as olive trees and lampstands (Revelation 11:4), which mirrors a description found in the book of Zechariah:

There is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left (4:2–3).

The lampstand symbolizes the seven–branched lampstand that stood in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31–40). Its bowl held enough oil to keep the seven lamps burning. The nearby olive trees continuously dripped olive oil into the bowl to keep the lamps lit. Olive oil represents the Holy Spirit, who has always been the power behind God's ministry to mankind. In the dark days of the Tribulation, the two witnesses will shine the light of their testimony through the power of the Holy Spirit.

From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of God's love for humanity. It weaves threads throughout the annals of history that testify to His unchanging nature, His unfailing love, His unfathomable grace, and His unescapable judgment. Elijah's ministry is one of these threads. The same God who rained down fire on Mount Carmel will ignite the ministry of His two end–times witnesses as they offer a final olive branch to the world before its King returns in judgment.

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The Book of Signs

31 Undeniable Prophecies of the Apocalypse

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