5. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
5. Ecce ego mitto vobis Eliam prophetam antequam veniat dies Iehovae magnus et terribilis.
The Prophet continues the same subject; for having testified to the Jews, that though God would for a time suspend the course of prophetic teaching, they yet had in the law what was sufficient for salvation, he now promises the renovation of the Church; as though he had said, |The Lord will again unexpectedly utter his voice after a long silence.| Isaiah speaks on the same subject, prophesying of the return of the people, when he says,
|Comfort ye, comfort my people, will our God say.| (Isaiah 40:11)
There is an emphatic import in the use of the future tense. So also in this passage, the Prophet declares that prophetic teaching would be again renewed, that when God showed mercy to his people, he would open his mouth, and show that he had been silent, not because he intended to forsake his people, but as we have said, for another end. At the same time he shows that the time would come, when his purpose was to confirm and seal all the prophecies by his only-begotten Son.
This passage has fascinated the Jews so as to think that men rise again; and their resurrection is, -- that the souls of men pass into various bodies three or four times. There is indeed such a delirious notion as this held by that nation! We hence see how great is the sottishness of men, when they become alienated from Christ, who is the light of the world and the Sun of Righteousness, as we have lately seen. There is no need to disprove an error so palpable.
But Christ himself took away all doubt on this point, when he said, that John the Baptist was the Elijah, who had been promised; (Matthew 11:10:) and the thing itself proves this, had not Christ spoken on the subject. And why John the Baptist is called Elijah, I shall explain in a few words. What some say of zeal, I shall say nothing of; and many have sought other likenesses, whom I shall neither follow nor blame. But this likeness seems to me the most suitable of all, -- that God intended to raise up John the Baptist for the purpose of restoring his worship, as formerly he had raised up Elijah: for at the time of Elijah, we know, that not only the truth was corrupted and the worship of God vitiated, but that also all religion was almost extinct, so that nothing pure and sound remained. At the coming of Christ, though the Jews did not worship idols, but retained some outward form of religion, yet the whole of their religion was spurious, so that that time may truly be compared, on account of its multiplied pollutions, to the age of Elijah. John then was a true successor of Elijah, nor were any of the Prophets so much like John as Elijah: hence justly might his name be transferred to him.
But someone may object and say, that he is here called a prophet, while he yet denied that he was a prophet: to this the answer is obvious, -- that John renounced the title of a prophet, that he might not hinder the progress of Christ's teaching: hence he means not in those words that he ran presumptuously without a call, but that he was content to be counted the herald of Christ, so that his teaching might not prevent Christ from being heard alone. Yet Christ declares that he was a prophet, and more than a prophet, and that because his ministry was more excellent than that of a prophet.
He says, Before shall come the day, great and terrible. The Prophet seems not here to speak very suitably of Christ's coming; but he now addresses the whole people; and as there were many slothful and tardy, who even despised the favor of God, and others insolent and profane, he speaks not so kindly, but mixes these threatenings. We hence perceive why the Prophet describes the coming of Christ as terrible; he does this, not because Christ was to come to terrify men, but on the contrary, according to what Isaiah says,
|The smoking flax he will not extinguish, the shaken reed he will not break; not heard will his voice be in the streets, nor will he raise a clamor.| (Isaiah 42:3.)
Though then Christ calmly presents himself, as we have before observed, and as soon as he appears to us, he brings an abundant reason for joy; yet the perverseness of that people was such as to constrain the Prophet to use a severe language, according to the manner in which God deals daily with us; when he sees that we have a tasteless palate, he gives us some bitter medicine, so that we may have some relish for his favor. Whenever then we meet with any thing in Scripture tending to fill us with terror, let us remember that such thing is announced, because we are either deaf or slothful, or even rebellious, when God kindly invites us to himself. It follows --