Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 12: "Prayer, Healing, and Restoration"
Our lesson this week mentions Elijah several times, including his "important model of prayer" and "work of calling Israel back to God and true worship" (p. 96, regular lesson). We would like to focus on "Elijah" in this week's Sabbath School Today because his life and "legacy" are demonstrations of what God presented through Ellen G. White, Ellet J. Waggoner, and Alonzo T. Jones as the 1888 message, a message that fully embodies "prayer, healing, and restoration."
Who is this Elijah? He was the man who single-handedly confronted apostate Ahab and wicked Queen Jezebel during gross apostasy in Baal worship (simply defined as the worship of self disguised as the worship of Christ). When the nation's rulers tried to kill him he had to hide in an unknown spot by the Brook Cherith, and later as a guest of a widow in the heathen land of Sidon. Elijah is not dead: he was translated without seeing death, a type of those living today who will welcome Jesus at His second coming.
First we must read the great promise in Malachi 4:5, 6: "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."
Elijah must be someone special, for he was chosen to accompany the resurrected Moses to visit with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) and encourage Him as He faced the horror of His cross. Elijah is a live human being who never tasted death. Where he is in the universe no one knows. If God has already kept His promise and sent Elijah, and we haven't known it, has there been some modern "Ahab" and "Jezebel" who opposed his coming and tried to slay him again, or at least silence him? Is Elijah II being forced to hide in some modern "Brook Cherith," or as a guest of some foreign "widow of Zarephath" who is outside "Israel"? When Ahab and Jezebel tried to kill him and Elijah found refuge in Sidon, Jesus cited that fact to the acute embarrassment and anger of the true church of that day. What made them angry were these words of Jesus: "'I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon [a pagan land]. ...' All those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath" (Luke 4:25, 26, 28).
Could it be that God has had to entrust the modern "Elijah" with believers outside our ranks? Could our sin be as great as that of God's people anciently? Does modern Israel despise Elijah II as much as ancient Israel despised Elijah I?
Actually, Elijah is good news. He encourages our children, whereas the frightening political situation is bad news. And what the Lord wants to tell the world is good news. He wants a New Covenant motivation to replace our time-honored Old Covenant one.
The common perception some have of "Elijah" is of a fiery-tempered reformer who specializes in chopping heads off prophets of Baal (religious leaders) with whom he disagrees, but that is not a balanced view of his ministry. The Lord may appoint Elijah II to do the equivalent to modern prophets of Baal, but that is not his primary work. His foremost mission is to "turn the hearts" of "fathers" and "children." That is healing and restoration--"reconciliation," the same as "atonement."
According to the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, we are living in the great antitypical Day of Atonement which comes just before "the great and dreadful day of the Lord." In fact, today is that day, the special time of reconciliation, of turning hearts. Therefore it becomes clear that Elijah's work and message will be found in the unique remnant-church truth of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. That raises the question: has our neglect of that truth forced "Elijah's" message to take refuge with what we call "outsiders" like the "widow of Zarephath"? Or hidden as Obadiah hid some prophets of the Lord from Jezebel? We know that the bulk of God's true people are still in "Babylon," but we forget that the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 are primarily directed to the Sunday-keeping churches, where the bulk of God's people are to be found.
You already know the story of the original Elijah. In 1 Kings 17:1 he appears out of nowhere with no designation of "prophet" or evidence that the Lord had sent him. He just suddenly crashes the king's gate and startles him at his desk with the news that no more rain will fall until he agrees for it to come, "except at my word." Face it, this sounds arrogant. He doesn't say, "until the Lord agrees for rain to fall." He says, "at my word." Shocking as it is, Elijah has taken over the administration of the Lord's work in Israel. God has entrusted enormous responsibility to him personally, including control of the elements. Elijah is a forerunner of that group of overcoming people mentioned in Revelation 3:21 to whom Jesus says He will grant to "sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Just as God gave executive authority to Elijah I, so He will give executive authority to those who overcome even as Christ overcame. Elijah II will have some important part from now on.
James does not say that the drought was the primary will of God; rather, it was His answer to the initiative of Elijah's prayer: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain ..." (James 5:17, 18).
After the extent of the famine had sobered even Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah suddenly confronts Obadiah. The king is humiliated to meet the prophet, and the appointment is made to call the people to Mount Carmel, where Elijah taunts the Baal preachers and demands that they demonstrate before the crowd the lie of their imported Baal worship. Then he prays a prayer that gives us a clue to what the modern "Elijah" will do when he comes again: "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" (1 Kings 18:37).
Did you catch it? "Turning hearts" is Elijah's main concern, and that will be his work for the church and for the world when he comes just before the return of Jesus. And we know that turning alienated hearts in atonement (at-one-ment) is something only the message of Christ's cross can accomplish. Therefore it follows that Elijah's message will be lifting up "Christ and Him crucified." Jesus says something parallel to sending Elijah, "'Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.' This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (John 12:31-33).
As an evangelist, Paul caught the idea. This at last is real "evangelism": "And I, brethren, when I came to you, ... determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1, 2). Paul turned his world upside down with that message. From this we conclude that the message of that fourth angel which lightens the earth with glory (Rev. 18:1-4) will not be a fear-motivated brand of spiritual terrorism. Wherever and whoever "Elijah" is, he is not a spiritual terrorist scaring people into conversion; he is pleading as an "ambassador for Christ, ... we implore you, ... be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). What is the message he bears? What Christ accomplished on His cross: "For He [the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (vs. 21).
"Elijah" will proclaim nothing but positive "straight testimony." It will be the best Good News the world or the church has ever heard. His message will be the "third angel's message in verity," which will be a clearer concept of "the everlasting gospel" understood since Pentecost's message. The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century understood justification by faith clearly for their time; but they, including the Wesleys, lived too soon to grasp the idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in this Day of Atonement. Even Ellen Harmon failed to grasp it until after the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. When she came to her 60s she eagerly welcomed a message brought by two young men, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, to the General Conference Session in 1888 that gave a more clear understanding of justification by faith. This was the beginning of the Loud Cry of Revelation 18: it's initial "showers from heaven of the latter rain" (her words; The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1478).
The "lost sheep" will realize that his salvation is totally due to the seeking love of His Good Shepherd, not his ability to "find" Him. This "turns" the worldly heart in contrition. "Faith" finds its true definition: the "believer" demonstrates it as his or her heart becomes a well from which flow "rivers of living water." This is the "evangelism" which will "lighten the earth with glory" and hasten the return of our Savior.
We appeal especially to young people: give your lives, not just a few days now and then to a mission trip, to cooperate with "Elijah" in this grand work of telling the world this "heart-turning" message! You'll meet him some day, and you'll be happy to have worked with him.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland