Yeshua (Jesus) spoke of three different Elijahs.
Matthew 17:11, 13 – Elijah will truly come and restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him… His disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptizer.
The first Elijah was the great prophet who confronted Ahab and Jezebel in the 8th century before Yeshua.
The second Elijah was John the Baptizer, whose ministry of repentance introduced to the world the coming of Yeshua as Messiah. He was NOT Elijah, nor an incarnation of Elijah. He came "in the spirit and the power of Elijah" – Luke 1:17. John had a similar calling and anointing as Elijah, but he was a totally different person.
The "third" Elijah has not yet come. He will come before the Second Coming with a ministry not only of repentance but of restoration.
Malachi 4:5-6 – I will send you the prophet Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers.
Like John, this end time prophet will come in the spirit and power of Elijah, but will not be Elijah himself. This three fold ministry is true not only of Elijah, John and the end-time prophet, it is also a pattern for many other prophecies.
There is a first fulfillment in the time of the ancient Israelite prophets and patriarchs. There is a second fulfillment in the time of Yeshua and His disciples. Then there is a final fulfillment in the end times.
We could call this three fold fulfillment of prophecy: 1. Old Testament, 2. New Testament, 3. End Times. Or we could call it: 1. Hebrew Prophets, 2. Gospels, 3. Apocalypse.
The three fold fulfillment could also be connected to the Temple:
Many of the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures have a 3-fold fulfillment. They are spoken within an historical context. They find another fulfillment in the time of Yeshua's first coming. Then they will find a final fulfillment at the time of the Second Coming. Knowing this pattern established by Yeshua will keep us from getting confused, and help us to understand how New Covenant prophecy is connected to the Hebrew prophets.
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