Passover Blessings in Yeshua!
Elijah the Prophet and the Passover
Elijah the prophet is a prominent figure in every Passover seder all over the world. He is known as Eliyahu HaNavi (AYE-lee-AH-who HA-na-VEE). A traditional song about Elijah is sung near the end of the Passover seder. “Eliyahu hanavi. Eliyahu hatish’bi. Eliyahu (3x) hagil’adi. Bim’herah beyameinu. Yavo eleinu. Im Mashiach ben David (2x).” Elijah the prophet. Elijah the Tishbite. Elijah the Giladite. May he soon (in our days) come to us, with the Messiah son of David (2x). You can hear the song on YouTube.
What does Elijah have to do with Passover? The primary connection is “redemption.” Passover is the celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egyptian bondage. But a greater redemption is coming with the coming of Messiah who the Bible says will be preceded by Elijah the Prophet. We believe that this has already happened. Yeshua HaMashiach came once to redeem us from the bondage of sin, but He is coming again to establish His kingdom on earth. Elijah had a role to play in His first coming and still has a role to play in the future.
The name Elijah אליהו) Eliyahu) means “The LORD is my God.” As we read about his life in 1 and 2 Kings, we see Elijah affirming the God of Israel as the one true God who is sovereign over all. In this, Elijah is similar to Moses, the other major figure in the Passover story. In Messiah in the Passover, by Chosen People Ministries, edited by Darrell L. Boch and Mitch Glaser, four parallels are given between Elijah and Moses: 1) Moses and Elijah were both prophets of God, 2) Both opposed the royalty of their time (Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel) and delivered the word of God, 3) Both confronted idolatrous worship (the golden calf at Mount Sinai and the worship of Baal at Mount Carmel) and 4) Moses received revelation from God on Mount Sinai after 40 days and 40 nights.
Elijah received revelation from God on Mount Horeb (Sinai) after 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah is connected with Messianic redemption in both the Tanach (Old Covenant) and the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant). A special place setting and a cup of wine for Eliyahu are part of a traditional Jewish Passover table. Toward the end of the seder, the children present are instructed to go to the door to see if Elijah has come—and with him the promise of Messiah’s soon coming. (I often wonder why the children are the ones “…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Eliyahu in Jewish Tradition
Elijah the prophet is venerated in traditional Judaism for his zealousness for the God of Israel. He stood up to evil King Ahab for having allowed his pagan wife Jezebel to introduce Baal worship in Israel. Elijah said to Ahab, “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Ki. 18:19). “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow Him” (1 Ki. 18:21). A test ensued with the prophets of Baal calling on their gods and Elijah calling on his God. Only one God answered by fire: the God of Elijah. Eliyahu’s purpose in this competition was to show the Israelites that the God of Israel is the LORD God, the One True God.
Elijah never died a natural death. Like Enoch (Gen. 5:24), he was translated directly to heaven. Elijah had just parted the rivers of the Jordan and he and Elisha, his disciple, had crossed over, “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Ki. 2:11). Because of this supernatural ascension to heaven, traditional religious Jews believe that Elijah has the ability to come and visit Jews on earth. This is particularly true at the rite of circumcision of infant males on the eighth day of life. The baby is placed on a special chair—the chair of Elijah the Prophet (who is considered the “Malach HaBrit, Angel of the Covenant” based on Malachi 3:1)—and therefore comes to bless the child who is being entered into the Covenant of Abraham.
Elijah is also part of the traditional Havdalah ceremony at the end of Shabbat. The rabbis say that by mentioning Elijah’s name, they are praying that he comes and proclaims the final redemption. The Talmud states that Elijah will not come on either a Friday or Saturday in order not to disturb the Sabbath. Therefore, once Shabbat is over, Elijah is free to come, so religious Jews pray for him to come and announce the redemption after Havdalah. (Some rabbis disagree with this and believe that Messiah can come even on Erev Shabbat.)
There is also a tradition that if all Jews keep just one Shabbat, Messiah will come. So, at the conclusion of the Sabbath, Israel turns to God and says: “We kept Shabbat, now please send Elijah to herald the redemption.” (“Why Sing About Elijah After Shabbat?” by Yehuda Shurpin, Chabad.org.)
Eliyahu is also venerated in traditional Judaism because of his obedience to God’s Word. Matthew Henry made a thought-provoking comment on Elijah in Commentary on the Whole Bible: “Other prophets prophesied and wrote, he prophesied and acted, but he wrote nothing; but his action cast more luster on his name than their writings did on theirs.” Elijah was not politically correct. He did what God told him to do in spite of opposition, public opinion, or personal reluctance. For example, God ordered Elijah to hide in the Kerith Ravine. He obeyed and was fed by food that ravens brought him. Then he was instructed to go to Zarephath in Sidon where a Gentile woman would provide him with food. A day came when God instructed Elijah to present himself to King Ahab at a very dangerous time. “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth” (1 Ki. 18:1). Appearing before Ahab and his evil queen Jezebel during the severe famine was putting his life at great risk. But Elijah obeyed.
Elijah the Forerunner
The belief that Eliyahu will appear at the End of Days to announce the coming of the Messiah is largely based on verses from the prophet Malachi. The book of Malachi is the last book of the Neviim (Prophets) Section of the Hebrew Bible, and the last book of the Old Testament in the Christian ordering. It concludes with a prediction of 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, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6).
Another verse in Malachi is believed to speak of Elijah, in this case named “My messenger.” “Behold I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. ‘Behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts‘” (Mal. 3:1). The literal fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 would come after 400 years had passed, at which time the Messenger or “Angel” of the covenant-—the Messiah— would appear. Yeshua is that Messenger of a New Covenant, also prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31.
Elijah, as the coming messenger, prepares the way for Israel’s Messiah, pronounces judgment against sin, and proclaims the hope of judgment averted through repentance (Mal.3:1-5; 3:16-4:3). (Please note that in some Bibles, Malachi chapter 4 does not appear. Instead, the text of chapter 4 is included in chapter 3.) It is this way in the traditional Tanach.
Malachi 4:6, speaking of the hearts of fathers and their children, looks forward to a future day in which God’s messenger will powerfully call God’s people Israel to return to Him and away from idolatry and apostasy, similar to Elijah’s ministry in the days of Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah prayed, “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 Kin 18:37). What does it mean that Eliyahu will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers? Repentance. Reconciliation. The “fathers” might refer to the patriarchs of the nation, the pious forefathers. The “children” are their descendants of Malachi’s time who have strayed from the ways of God. The general idea is that Elijah would be used of God to call His people back to right relationships.
John the Immerser as Forerunner
John the Immerser, Yochanan HaMatbil (Yo-kha-NAHN Ha-Maht-BEAL) was 1) Jewish, 2) not a Baptist. I remember when my dear Jewish friend Sylvia was shocked to find out that not only John, but Yeshua, were both Jewish. John was, in fact, a very important Jew in the New Covenant Scriptures. An angel (Gabriel) announced his birth to his father Zacharias, who was a priest (cohen) serving before God in the order of his division, when the prophecy occurred. “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17). God was the One who gave the son of Zacharias his name. Yochanan means “God is gracious.”
Yochanan called the multitudes to repent of their sin, but he also emphasized that a gracious God forgives sin. The Gospel of Mark begins with a fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” “As it is written in the Prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins‘” (Mark 1:2-4; see also Jn. 1:21-23).
John, clothed in a manner similar to the Prophet Elijah (camel’s hair garment and a leather belt), called Israel to repent (make t’shuvah) and return to God. When John saw the pride and hypocrisy of many who came to him to be immersed, calling them “brood of vipers,” he embodied the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 3:7-8).
Yochanan, like Eliyahu, testified to the supremacy and sovereignty of the God of Israel. In John’s case, he bore witness of the God-man, Yeshua the Messiah, who had come. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe” (Jn. 1:6-7). John called the children of Israel to faith in the Messiah King.
Yeshua the Messiah had some interesting things to say about John. He called him “more” than a prophet (Matt. 11:9), identified John with the messenger prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, and went even further in his praise, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). Yeshua also said, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come‘” (Matt. 11:13-14). Yeshua was not saying that John was physically Elijah but was carrying Elijah’s spiritual mantle.
The Cup of Elijah
Returning to the Passover, let us focus for a moment on Elijah’s cup, kos shel Eliyahu, the fifth cup of wine on the seder table. This cup is not emptied but stands as a symbol of the hope of redemption. If Eliyahu comes, so will Mashiach. We know that Eliyahu has come and so has Mashiach! We can still go to open the door, but the One we should invite in is the Messiah who says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). I have a thought: Let’s consider sharing the cup of Elijah at our Messianic seders and ask the Lord to help us go forth in the spirit and power of Eliyahu saying, “Prepare the Way of the Lord!”
Elijah’s cup is usually filled after the festive meal before reading some of the Hallel verses (Ps. 113-118) which include Messianic passages such as, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22). This, of course, refers to Yeshua the Messiah. Messiah has come, along with His forerunner, and we, as Messianic believers, have experienced the first four cups of the seder: “I will bring you out” (vehotzeti); “I will rescue you” (vehitzalti); “I will redeem you” (vega’alti) and “I will take you to myself as a people” (velakachti) (Ex. 6:6-7). We have been delivered from spiritual bondage, from slavery to sin. We have partaken of the cup of salvation (Yeshua).
The Days of Elijah
A popular song in the Body of Messiah begins: “These are the days of Elijah, declaring the word of the Lord. And these are the days of Your servant Moses, righteousness being restored. And though these are days of great trial, of famine and darkness and sword, still, we are the voice in the desert crying, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ Behold He comes…”
On February 1, 2021, I began my research for this newsletter. My studying was interrupted, which annoyed me, because my car’s battery had died (due to lack of driving during Covid!) and AAA had come to install a new battery. The two servicemen quickly diagnosed the problem, and one of them said to me, “So how are you doing today, ma’am?” I said, “Well, I’m six hours into studying John and Elijah—from the Bible” (almost with a sigh). He replied, “Really? My name is John and my son is Elijah.” I said, “O.K. I get it. God sent you. Let me tell you about your names.” Before they were finished installing the battery, I had shared the Lord, encouraged them to read the Bible, and told them that Yeshua was coming, and they needed to repent. I watched as John found Jewish Jewels on YouTube and promised he would watch. His helper, Jacob, agreed. Go forth, beloved, in the spirit and power of Elijah! We are the voice in the desert, crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”
Eliyahu in the Future
Boch and Glaser pointed out in Messiah in the Passover that Yochanan fulfilled the first part of Elijah’s ministry, but there is more to come. “Based upon this view of prophetic unfolding at times in stages, it is reasonable to expect that we will see more of Elijah as we draw closer to the second coming of the Lord. Elijah’s role at the second coming will be a more literal fulfillment of what was predicted by Malachi. The Gospels hint that there is ‘more to come’ from Elijah as he literally reappears in person with Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8).”
In Revelation 11, the Bible speaks of two witnesses who appear during the End Times, the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7), and prophesy for about three and a half years. They preach repentance and perform miracles similar to those of Elijah. Although there has never been a consensus among scholars concerning the identity of the two witnesses, it is widely believed that Elijah is one of them. God has His secrets. It is no secret, however, that we are called to be witnesses to Yeshua in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Remember—You are greater than John the Immerser! Yeshua said so.
May the Lord bless you at Passover to be a powerful witness to the Risen Lamb—
Love in Him,
P.S. Our beloved Rabbi Neil, promoted to glory on March 25, 2019, will be celebrating his second
Passover in heaven with Yeshua.