by Mark Robinson
With anticipation the young children look toward the door of the home. It is the time of the Passover Seder when a child goes to the door of the house, opens it, and looks outside to see if Elijah will join us for this Seder. The hope for many of the children is very real. I led one Seder at which the young girl came back with a dejected sigh and proclaimed, “He’s not there,” all the time anticipating that he would be at the door.
It is hoped that Elijah will come to the Passover, so preparations are always made for him. A place setting is put on the table. An empty chair is placed in front of the setting. His wine cup is filled in anticipation of his presence. Finally, the door is opened.
This tradition is centuries old. Today, it is more of a quaint ritual emptied of all meaning rather than the expectant event it portrays. As many Passover Haggadahs, the book read during the Passover service, point out, it is not the coming of Elijah, in and of itself, that is the focal point of this annual Passover routine. Rather, it is that Elijah will come before Messiah, and he is the herald of this One who will bring peace and redemption to the world.
WHAT IF ELIJAH CAME?
Unfortunately, many Jewish people today have lost the hope of the Messiah. For those still clinging to this belief, there is confusion and misunderstanding on the identification and purpose of Messiah.
Elijah’s purpose in coming at the Passover is to introduce us to the Messiah, to prepare, as it were, the way of his coming. Through the years many false Messiahs have appeared on the scene. Some religious leaders have trumpeted their “Messiah” as the hope of Israel, only to be disappointed in their Messiah’s failure.
The history of Israel is littered with “Messiahs” who left their followers leaderless and disillusioned. One of these was Shimon Bar Kochba who led an unsuccessful revolt against Rome from 132 – 135 A.D. and died at the battle of Betar. He was acclaimed as the Messiah by Rabbi Akiba, the leading rabbi of the day.
Another, David Alroy, proclaimed to the Jews of Babylon that he was the Messiah in 1147 A.D., but was later killed by his father-in-law.
Shabbetai Zvi, born in Smyrna, Turkey, acquired thousands of followers throughout Europe by 1665. He was eventually imprisoned by the Turkish sultan, converted to Islam, and died in exile in 1676.
The Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, was the acclaimed leader of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of ultra-orthodox Judaism. He was born in 1902 and died on June 12, 1994, at the age of 92. Living for many years in Brooklyn, NY, Schneerson never set foot in Israel. Yet, billboards in Israel, paid for by his followers, were plastered with the message proclaiming he was King Messiah. Many of his followers, some to this day, believed he was the promised Messiah.
After centuries of being misled, Israel truly needs an authoritative voice to speak to this issue. Even more, we are all in need of an impeccable source whereby we can substantiate the claims of the one asserting he is the Messiah.
How would Elijah accomplish this goal if he appeared at the Seder? How would he point us to the Messiah? I believe the answer to this is clear. He would point us to the writings of the Hebrew prophets and their prophecies of the Messiah.
The Jewish Bible has many Messianic prophecies that allow us to examine any Messianic claimant and determine if he fulfills the criteria laid down by the prophets of Israel.
For example, Elijah could mention that Micah said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” Micah 5:2.
Or, he could reference the Hebrew prophet Daniel who foretold with precise accuracy in Daniel 9:24-27 the time of the Messiah’s coming. “And after 62 weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary…,” Daniel 9:26.
Daniel 9:25-26 stated that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt, and the Messiah would come during this same time period – the period of the SECOND Temple. It is interesting that his prophecy also told us that the second Temple would be destroyed after the coming of the Messiah, by the “people of the prince.” This was accomplished in 70 A.D. when General Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, led his people (the Roman armies) in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Messiah had to come before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., according to Daniel.
Additionally, Elijah could mention Isaiah’s prophecy that Messiah would be born of a virgin. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” Isaiah 7:14.
The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14 for virgin is almah. Almah is used seven times in the Jewish Bible (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8; and Isaiah 7:14) and always refers to a young woman who is a virgin. Even Rashi, the highly-revered French Talmudic scholar of the thirteenth century, believed this verse indicated a virgin birth. He said, “Behold the ‘Almah’ shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. This means that our Creator shall be with us. And this is the sign: the one who will conceive is a girl who never in her life had intercourse with any man. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power.”1
Convincingly, Elijah could appeal to the “pinnacle” of Messianic prophecies, Isaiah 53. Among many details of the life of Messiah, Isaiah said the Messiah would die, be buried, and rise from the grave for the sins of the people, vs. 8-10.
These and many other prophecies are how Elijah would point us to the Messiah of Israel.
ELIJAH AND THE WRATH OF GOD
Many Passover Haggadahs have a prayer in the section of the Haggadah where Elijah is introduced whose origin and purpose is uncertain. It seems to be out of place with the entire evening. Passover is a festival of rejoicing, singing, and praises to God for His goodness and mercy. This prayer comes from Bible verses and calls for the present destruction of the heathen. Here is the prayer.
“Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling-place (Psalm 79:6-7). Pour out thy indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them (Psalm 69:24). Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD (Lamentations 3:66).”
Chaim Raphael in his book “A Feast of History: The drama of the Passover through the ages” comments on the prayer of wrath at this point in the Seder.
“There is a moment in the Seder that no one is quite sure about. The banquet is over, but before resuming the ceremonies, with the songs in the offing, there is a break. The front door of the house is opened ‘for Elijah’, and with the door standing open, a ‘prayer’ is recited, entirely out of keeping with everything else at the Seder. The rest of the Seder is joy and thankfulness, but these three sentences – all from the Bible – are like a burst of anger: ‘Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known Thee…’
Although this prayer might be incongruous with the rest of the Haggadah, it is very consistent with the teaching of the Word of God. If Elijah would show up at the door of today’s Seder, he would not be proclaiming a suffering Messiah as Isaiah 53 told us about. He would not be proclaiming Messiah as the Servant of God. Nor would he be proclaiming Messiah as the Lamb of God.
The Bible teaches two comings of the Messiah! The first coming is when He appears as the Savior of the world. The One who dies for the sins of Jew and Gentile alike. The second coming is when He returns as the King of kings and Lord of lords. At His second coming He established the long awaited Davidic kingdom on earth.
When Elijah appears again, it will be “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” Malachi 4:5. Messiah will come not as the suffering Messiah, but the Lord of glory. He will come not as the Savior, but as the Sovereign of the universe. He will come not as the Lamb of God, but as the Lion of Judah, the King of kings.
When Messiah comes again He will do exactly as these verses state. He will pour out his wrath upon a world who has rejected Him. He will destroy the anti-Semitic world who have all come together to wipe the Jewish people and Israel off the map (Zechariah 12:1-3, 8-10; Revelation 12:13). The final, climatic Tribulation period will take place and the heathen nations of the world will be destroyed by God, just as this prayer requests.
Elijah’s challenge about the Messiah would be the same challenge made by Bible believing Christians today. The Word of God is the key that unlocks the identity of the Messiah. Believe the writings of the Hebrew prophets, not the teaching of Rabbis or other men. Elijah would proclaim, based on the Word of God, that Messiah has come! And, He is coming again in judgment! His name is Jesus!
Jesus challenged the Jewish people of His day in the following way. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me,” John 5:39.The only Scriptures at this time was the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The Messianic prophecies found from Genesis to Malachi (the Jewish Bible) clearly identify Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the Savior of the world
Passover is about redemption. For the nation of Israel, yes. But, also for you as an individual. But only if you heed the proclamation of Elijah. Jesus is the Lamb of God “which takes away the sin of the world.” Believe on Him and you will find redemption through God’s Passover Lamb!
1. Rashi, Mikraoth Gedoloth, Isaiah 7:14
2. Chaim Raphael, “A Feast of History: The drama of the Passover through the ages”, pg. 136, Gallery Books, 1972