“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:3)
All four of the Gospels quote this text from Isaiah and apply it to John the Baptist. (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23) John the Baptist was the Elijah to those of the nation of Israel who had the hearing ear and understanding heart to appreciate the message and to accept Jesus. And yet, John the Baptist did not fulfill all that was predicted of the antitypical Elijah, whose ministry it would be to introduce the Christ of glory. In fact, John’s own words tell us that he did not fulfill the mission of the Elijah class. When asked by the priests and Levites, “Art thou Elias?” he answered, “I am not.” (John 1:21)
While he was not the promised Elijah, John did a work for Israel that was in the power and the spirit of Elijah, by introducing Jesus in the flesh at His First Advent. The greater Elijah, the Church in the flesh, has been doing a greater work throughout the Gospel Age, introducing the Second Advent of the glorified Christ.
John the Baptist literally dwelt in the wilderness and preached there, thus typifying the experiences of the true Church, which during a large portion of this Gospel Age, has been in the wilderness, a hidden condition. Revelation tells us in symbolic language of how the Church fled into the wilderness condition for 1,260 symbolic days, representing 1,260 years, which period ended with the year 1799. Although still separate in spirit from the nominal church (Babylon) and the world (Egypt), the loyal members of the Elijah class have since then gone forth from the wilderness condition, and the voice of their message as the true mouthpiece of God has again been heard in the world.
The message of the Lord’s truly consecrated has been the same message John the Baptist gave to those who would hear him: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2) The announcement is two-fold: First the Kingdom is about to be established; second, repentance and reformation are necessary in order to share in the blessings which it will bring.
The voice does not declare that there is no wilderness, no desolation, that everything is satisfactory. It does not declare that God’s Kingdom has come and that His will is already being done on earth as it is done in heaven. Quite to the contrary, it declares that the Kingdom is yet to come, and that preceding it all who hear the message should join in preparing the highway – making conditions right for the reception of the Kingdom, that the world might receive it with joy and thankfulness and great blessing.
When John the Baptist made this proclamation to the Jewish nation, his message was received only by the few. The great majority had neither ears to hear nor hearts to understand and appreciate the things which he called to their attention. Self-satisfaction filled the hearts which should have been seeking reconciliation to the Father through the Redeemer. Those who did receive John were those who were ready subsequently to receive Jesus. The rejection of John by fleshly Israel meant the rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, and meant also His rejection of them and the consequent great time of trouble which came upon that nation.
Similarly, the message of the antitypical Elijah, the message of the true Church, the Body of Christ in the flesh, has not been heeded by the world, has not been heeded by the nominal mass of Christendom. Jesus said of John, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” (Matt. 11:14) We may apply our Lord’s words to the present and see that if Christendom had heard the message of the antitypical Elijah, they would be ready now for the Second Advent of Jesus. They would be ready to welcome His Kingdom. They would have been praying from the heart what some of them have been praying from the lips: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) But Christendom has rejected the antitypical Elijah and is unprepared for the Kingdom. Indeed it is perhaps more out of harmony with the conditions of the Kingdom than ever before.
There has never been a time such as now when greed seems to have such power over all the civilized world; there never was a time such as now when people in the most trusted positions render such poor accounts of themselves; never a time such as now when so many prove unfaithful to their trusts. And all this greed for wealth and for power, the two being linked together today, means a very opposite spirit from that which must prevail under the Kingdom conditions when the Golden Rule will be enforced by the iron rod of power, when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, when the humble shall be exalted and the proud shall be abased. In a word, the world is less prepared for the Kingdom than at any other time in history.
The Prophet Malachi addressed this prophecy to the nation of Israel: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest [i.e., or else] I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4:5,6)
The message of the Church in the flesh, the antitypical Elijah class, has failed to establish righteousness in the world; it has failed to turn the hearts of the people away from sin and error and back to their “fathers,” a reference to the faithful patriarchs and prophets. The Jewish nation rejected Christ in the flesh and passed into a great time of trouble. Christendom is now rejecting His Spiritual Kingdom due to be established; it will in turn be rejected and a time of trouble shall again come. It will resemble the trouble upon Israel except that it will be world-wide, a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation. (Dan. 12:1) This is the curse referred to by the Prophet.
Enough time has passed for the spreading of this message of reformation and preparation for the Kingdom. The Jewish Age, proclaiming the Kingdom of Christ, was 1,845 years from the establishment of that nation until the offer of the Kingdom by our Lord when He rode to Jerusalem on the ass. Similarly the Gospel Age has been a proclamation of 1,845 years, reaching from Pentecost to the announcement in 1878 of the second presence of Christ. As the Jewish nation was rejected at the end of its 1,845 years of favor, and matters began to shape for its utter destruction, so Christendom was rejected at the end of its 1,845 years of favor. God has decreed that the time of trouble will come and thoroughly humble the hearts of mankind and bring them into a condition where they will be ready for the blessings He is to give, blessings to which they did not respond willingly and voluntarily throughout this Gospel Age.
When the time of trouble has wrecked the present institutions in anarchy, and when the world cries out to the Lord as the Prophet declares it will, earnestly desiring the reign of righteousness, then will be accomplished the things the Church declared would come: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:3)
Mankind has not responded to this appeal to cast up a highway of holiness and righteousness. On the contrary, the earth’s bountiful resources have been exploited for individual gain, and selfishness continues to rule instead of equity and righteousness. But God will not delay much longer; He is about to set up His Kingdom; He is about to establish the highway of holiness, and He tells us so through the Prophet: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness … the redeemed shall walk there.” (Isa. 35:8,9) In a word, that which mankind would not naturally respond to in the present will be forcibly established in the future. In the meantime, because of mankind’s unwillingness to respond, a time of trouble will come upon the whole earth.
EVERY VALLEY TO BE EXALTED
The Elijah voice was intended to do more than merely call upon men to prepare a highway of holiness and righteousness in the present time. It proclaimed that God would carry out His great and wonderful plan whether mankind responded to the voice or not. Thus the positive statement: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” (Isa. 40:4) When the Lord undertakes the leveling of social conditions, there will be no doubt that He will fully accomplish it. He will bring down the great and mighty of society represented by the mountains and hills – the financial, political and social princes of earth. He will lift up the humble masses of mankind, represented by the valleys. All crooked things will be straightened and all the difficult and rough problems will be smoothed out.
Our Lord Jesus declared that in the time immediately preceding the establishment of His Kingdom in power and glory every secret thing would be revealed and every hidden thing would be brought to light. (Matt. 10:26) We can now see many great things, social, political and financial, being brought to light, being brought to the surface almost miraculously. The result is that more and more the confidence of the people in their teachers, representatives and rulers is being shaken. More and more they will be inclined to have confidence in no one, and conclude that it is a matter of every man for himself. The result will be what the Scriptures so clearly foreshow, a period of anarchy, in which each will be striving with his hand against his neighbor for his own personal advantage.
The prophecy proceeds to show what will happen after the leveling of society has been accomplished by the time of trouble: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isa. 40:5)
The result of the time of trouble will be the opening of the eyes of understanding of all the world so that all will see the grandeur of the Divine Plan. All will see that as the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. While the world will dread the impending dark day of trouble, when it has passed and the glorious Sun of Righteousness (the Redeemer and His elect Church) has arisen with healing in His wings, they will rejoice that God’s wisdom, justice, love and power did not fail in the establishment of the Kingdom, although the unwillingness of mankind to respond to the divine invitation through the Elijah class necessitated such an awful time of trouble to bring it about.
The prophecy continues: “Cry…All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isa. 40:6-8)
Surely in this parable the grass represents people. The grass does not represent the saints, but the people who are not in relationship with God at that time. This picture of the withering of the grass and the fading of the flower is but another way of telling us of the time of trouble which will wither all human hopes and blight all human prospects and turn the world upside down temporarily until God’s blessings shall come again upon them through the Kingdom.
Then, “The times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) Then they will receive the blessings of His favor, the forgiveness of their sins, and reconciliation to Him through their Redeemer.
GOD’S WORD IS SURE
God anticipated that our minds would question how we can be sure that these glorious results will be brought about after more than nineteen centuries of the Gospel proclamation calling for repentance and preparation for the Kingdom. He answers through the Prophet in a few words: “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 40:5)
Few are now able to hear God’s Word; few are prepared to believe His testimonies regarding the future; and yet He declares: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa. 55:11)
Surely then the Elijah message, which the world has not heeded, will be accomplished. It will be fulfilled in a way the world does not expect; but it will be fulfilled nevertheless, through the time of trouble upon mankind.
This is one of the great lessons which the world will learn – that the heavenly Father knew the end of His plan from the beginning: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Isa. 46:10) God foretold His plan so that mankind might learn of His glorious character of wisdom, justice, love and power, that they might see His ability to know the end from the beginning in every matter. All who desire His fellowship and seek it will be able to have absolute confidence that all His arrangements are for their welfare.
“COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE”
It is the Elijah class that is to speak and to give this comforting message to Israel that her double is complete: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare [appointed time] is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isa. 40:1-2)
The time indicated by this prophecy, when Israel would have received its double, we have already shown to be the year 1878. In that year Israel’s disfavor instituted of God, reached the exact period of length to that which had previously been their period of favor. It was then that the message was due to go forth to the Jews that the disfavor would begin to pass away and divine favor again to return to them, though the return of favor would be accompanied by a great trouble.
Not until the close of that period and the glorification of the Gospel Church will the divine favor fully come back to natural Israel. As we read in the words of the Apostle, “Through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.” (Rom. 11:31) In other words, natural Israel will come into favor and harmony with God in the end of this age, divine mercy being manifested through the glorified Christ, the Church, Head and Body.
This message of comfort to natural Israel, the proclamation which was due to begin in 1878, was part of the message of the antitypical Elijah – the Church, the Body of Christ in the flesh. Israel’s sins are to be pardoned, blotted out. Before long their blessing will begin and the blessing of the Jews and the forgiveness of the sins of those who pierced the Lord is but the precursor of the still more widespread blessings upon all the families of the earth. A little later on the sins of the whole world are to be blotted out, just as at the present time the household of faith have their sins forgiven on condition of their acceptance of Christ and their consecration to endeavor to walk in His footsteps.
ZION TO BE EXALTED
The prophecy continues with a beautiful picture of the establishment of God’s Kingdom and the blessing it will bring to all who respond to its favors: “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem that bringeth good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9)
We know that in such passages the symbolic use of the word mountain signifies kingdom; hence these words signify the exaltation in the Kingdom of those who constitute the Elijah class, who have told the good tidings of coming blessings to a world unappreciative of the message. Only a few have had the ears to hear and the hearts to appreciate the word of God, and those few are the household of faith.
The message relates not only to the glorification of the Church (Zion), but also to the great honor and privilege to come to natural Israel (Jerusalem). Natural Israel will be the representative on earth of the invisible heavenly kingdom and will give the message to all of mankind (the cities of Judah) who will then desire a covenant relationship with God.
It is the mission of the Elijah class to announce the Kingdom after this manner, to proclaim that the Kingdom is at hand, that the great Ruler of the World is about to take possession, that Messiah’s Kingdom is the Kingdom of God, which shall ultimately prevail throughout the whole universe.
The Elijah message continues: “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold his reward is with him and his work before him” (Isa. 40:10) Christ is the arm of God, stretched down for our deliverance from sin and death, stretched forth in the time of trouble to dash in pieces as a potter’s vessel all the hindering conditions and things now highly esteemed by men. His work of recompense will reward both the well-doers and the evil-doers according to their condition of heart. These rewards at the beginning of the Millennial Age will mean great distress and trouble, because some will rightly deserve severe punishment or stripes on account of their selfishness and failure to appreciate and act upon the principles of righteousness. (Psa. 89:30-32)
“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isa. 40:11) The gracious assistances which the Lord will lend to all the families of the earth during the Millennial Age are beautifully pictured here. All who then desire, after having learned of the grace of God, will be permitted to become the sheep of the Lord’s pasture.
This account parallels our Lord’s parable of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46), in which He pictures the whole world during the Millennial Age on trial before Him, and the Church with Him in His throne. Then all mankind will be tested as to whether or not they will develop the sheep characteristics and be followers of righteousness, truth and peace, or whether they prefer to develop the contrary goat characteristics. All who become the Lord’s sheep will eventually be blessed by Him with everlasting life, while all others will be punished with destruction, the Second Death, from which there will be no awakening, no redemption, no recovery: “And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:23)
Knowing then this message of the Elijah class, let us do our share in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Let us point out the necessity of casting up a highway of holiness, of making straight the crooked things and preparing the way for the Lord. Let us also put into practice in our lives the lessons which we testify to others with our lips.
It is true that the message has not altered the world’s course, and that matters will continue to go from bad to worse until the fire of the time of trouble withers the world as the heat of a furnace. Nevertheless, we can give comfort to any willing to hear that the Word of God will stand forever. We can assure them that He will establish His Kingdom of righteousness in the whole earth, that His glory will be revealed and that all flesh will see it together. We can show them that then the blessing of the great Shepherd will be extended to all who will desire to be His sheep.
(The above is based on a discourse given by Pastor Russell in 1905. Reproduced in Harvest Gleanings, Volume 2.)
We see that the Church in the flesh (the Christ in the flesh, Head and body) is the Elijah or forerunner of the Church in glory. It is not the nominal church, but the really consecrated Church, which on the other side of the tomb will be the great Anointed Deliverer. Their mission is to reprove error and sin, and to point to the coming Kingdom of glory. Our Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and all the faithful in Christ Jesus since, are of this great antitypical Elijah. These will shortly compose the King of Glory. The work in which the Church has engaged during the Gospel Age is merely preliminary to its future work, so far as the reforming of the world is concerned. In its kingly office the Church will accomplish for the world what it has failed to do as the Elijah teacher.
Below we present some of the features of the life of the Prophet Elijah, the type, comparing them with the history of the Church, antitypical Elijah. These are striking coincidences, and are not accidental. The fact that Elijah was to come before the great day, and that now we have found in the Church the antitypical Elijah to whom Malachi the Prophet referred and whom John the Baptist further typified, should be esteemed another evidence that the time is at hand – that the great Day of the Lord has come.
A COMPARISON OF ELIJAH AND THE CHURCH
Elijah was persecuted for fidelity to truth and righteousness.
His principal persecutor was Jezebel, the wicked queen of Israel, who is mentioned by name as the type of the enemy of the saints. Rev. 2:20
Jezebel’s persecuting power was exercised through her husband, Ahab, the king.
Elijah fled from Jezebel and Ahab, into the wilderness, to a place prepared of God, where he was miraculously nourished. 1 Kings 17:5-9
After the three and a half years, 1260 days, when Elijah returned from the wilderness, the errors of Jezebel’s priests were manifested, the true God was honored, and copious rains followed. 1 Kings 18:41-45
The king and the people at first rejoiced, and Elijah and his God were honored; but the spirit of Jezebel was unchanged. She still sought Elijah’s life, and he was again compelled to flee into the wilderness. 1 Kings 18:40,45,46; 19:1-4
Elijah’s career ended by his being taken from the earth.
The Church was persecuted for fidelity to truth and righteousness.
The principal persecutor was the apostate Church of Rome, which claims to be a “queen” and ruler over spiritual Israel. Rev. 18:7
Papacy’s persecuting power was exercised through the Roman Empire, to which she was joined.
The true Church fled into the symbolic wilderness – or condition of isolation – to her place, prepared of God, where she was sustained. Rev. 12:6,16
The Church was three and a half symbolic years (a day for a year – 1260 literal years) in the wilderness condition, during which there was a spiritual famine because of the lack of truth – the living water. Rev. 12:6; 11:3; Amos 8:11.
At the end of the 1260 years the power of the truth and its witnesses was manifested (A.D. 1799); and since then the truth has flowed at the rate of millions of Bibles every year, refreshing the world and bringing forth fruit.
The Bible has brought such blessings that the empires of earth recognize the Lord’s hand; yet the principles of Papacy – Jezebel – in so-called Protestant sects compel the saints again to flee into the wilderness condition.
The saints will be changed from earthly to heavenly conditions.
(This is taken from Studies in the Scriptures, Volume II, page 256.)
 See Studies in the Scriptures Volume II, Chapters VIII and IX for a complete discussion.
 See Studies in the Scriptures, Volume II, Chapter VII for a complete discussion of the parallels of the Jewish and Gospel Ages.