The Priesthood of Elijah
Latter-day Saints enjoy a unique understanding of the mission of the Prophet Elijah. Every Jewish Passover, a chair is left empty for Elijah’s return. Do they understand the significance of that promised visit? What does it mean? Why does Elijah’s return matter? Ironically, the last place we can glean any understanding is the account of Elijah’s mortal ministry. The sealing power is not mentioned; the higher ordinances of the temple are never discussed. In fact, Elijah almost seems to be the only righteous soul left in Israel, not the great administrator of blessings pertaining to the higher priesthood.
Something important was left out of the record—yet again. Certainly, there is evidence that important puzzle pieces are missing. There is something more to Elijah than the record declares. Other religious traditions and the Malachi prophecy suggest the importance of a later mission.
Joseph Fielding Smith
Elijah occupies a place in the legends of many peoples. We are informed that among the Greeks he is the patron saint of the mountains, and many of the mountains in Greece are named for him. In the Roman Catholic Church, he is regarded as the founder of the order known as "the barefooted Carmelites."
The Mohammedans likewise have honored him in their traditions, and he is often confounded with the great and mysterious El-Khudr, the eternal wanderer, who having drunk the waters of life, remains in everlasting youth and appears from time to time to correct the wrongs of men. Of course this comes from the fact of Elijah's translation.
Among the Jews he finds a place of honor in their history second to none of the prophets. He is mentioned on many occasions in the New Testament, some of the time in reference to his labors and ministry in Israel when he dwelt among men, and at other times, in reference to his future mission.
Edersheim in his work, The Temple, says: "To this day, in every Jewish home, at a certain part of the Paschal service… the door is opened to admit Elijah the prophet as forerunner of the Messiah, while appropriate passages are at the same time read which foretell the destruction of all heathen nations…”
It was, I am informed, on the third day of April, 1836, that the Jews, in their homes at the Paschal feast, opened their doors for Elijah to enter. On that very day Elijah did enter-not in the home of the Jews to partake of the Passover with them-but he appeared in the house of the Lord, erected to his name and received by the Lord in Kirtland, and there bestowed his keys to bring to pass the very things for which these Jews, assembled in their homes, were seeking. (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 101)
The legend of Elijah comes in part from the Malachi prophecy. While we may not be able to appreciate his prophetic mission from the record of his mortal ministry, from Malachi we know that Elijah must be something special. His prophetic mission was the last message of the Old Testament—a haunting exclamation point that hung over subsequent centuries of apostasy. At their first encounter, this was one of the few passages quoted to Joseph Smith by Moroni:
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 come and smite the earth with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)
But what is the curse? What would happen without Elijah’s priesthood?
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal. 4:1)
The scorching heat of the Second Coming will burn the roots, consume the branches, and leave only the stubble. The roots represent one’s ancestors; the branches represent one’s descendants. Properly understood then, without Elijah’s priesthood, souls will be left separated from family and loved ones in the eternities. There will be no connection with parents or children! What a terrifying prospect! The scorching separation of the Second Coming would be painfully permanent.
Theodore M. Burton
In order to understand this passage of scripture, for root read “progenitors” or “ancestors” and for branch read “posterity” or “children.” Unless, then, through obedience to the laws of God you can qualify yourself to go to the temple and have your family sealed to you, you will live forever separately and singly in an unmarried state. It seems to me that would be a very lonesome type of existence—to live without the warming influence of family life among those you love, who in turn love you.
God said of those who were not willing to pay the full price of exaltation through full obedience to his whole law: “Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
“For these angels did not abide in my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.” (D&C 132:16–17.)
It is for this reason that the Lord promised that he would reveal unto us the priesthood by the hand of Elijah the prophet before the second coming of the Lord, to plant in our hearts the promises that were made to our fathers so that our hearts could be turned to our fathers and to our children. If we cannot achieve this goal of eternal family exaltation, our lives on this earth will be utterly wasted when Christ shall come the second time. (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, July 1972, 79)
Elijah was the last Prophet that held the keys of the Priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the authority and deliver the keys of the Priesthood, in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness… The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven.
…What is this office and work of Elijah? It is one of the greatest and most important subjects that God has revealed. He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers, and the fathers to the children.
Now was this merely confined to the living, to settle difficulties with families on earth? By no means. It was a far greater work. Elijah! what would you do if you were here? Would you confine your work to the living alone? No: I would refer you to the Scriptures, where the subject is manifest: that is, without us, they could not be made perfect, nor we without them; the fathers without the children, nor the children without the fathers.
I wish you to understand this subject, for it is important; and if you receive it, this is the spirit of Elijah, that we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven, and seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection; and here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those who dwell in heaven. This is the power of Elijah and the keys of the kingdom of Jehovah.
Let us suppose a case. Suppose the great God who dwells in heaven should reveal himself to Father Cutler here, by the opening heavens, and tell him, I offer up a decree that whatsoever you seal on earth with your decree, I will seal it in heaven; you have the power then; can it be taken off? No. Then what you seal on earth, by the keys of Elijah, is sealed in heaven; and this is the power of Elijah, and this is the difference between the spirit and power of Elias and Elijah; for while the spirit of Elias is a forerunner, the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 172, 337, 338)
Joseph Fielding Smith
What was the nature of his mission to the earth in these latter days? It was to restore power and authority which once was given to men on the earth and which is essential to the complete salvation and exaltation of man in the kingdom of God. In other words, Elijah came to restore to the earth, by conferring on mortal prophets duly commissioned of the Lord, the fulness of the power of priesthood. This priesthood holds the keys of binding and sealing on earth and in heaven of all the ordinances and principles pertaining to the salvation of man, that they may thus become valid in the celestial kingdom of God.
During the days of his ministry Elijah held this authority, and the Lord gave him power over all things on earth and that through his ministry whatever was done should be ratified, or sealed, in the heavens and recognized of full force by the Eternal Father. This power effects and vitalizes every ordinance performed by duly commissioned officers holding divine power on the earth.
It is by virtue of this authority that ordinances are performed in the temples for both the living and the dead. It is the power which unites for eternity husbands and wives, when they enter into marriage according to the eternal plan. It is the authority by which parents obtain the claim of parenthood, concerning their children, through all eternity and not only for time, which makes eternal the family in the kingdom of God. (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 117)
1 Kings 18:4 Obadiah took an hundred prophets and hid them
Large groups of righteous souls lived among the Israelites. Like the Essenes of later generations, they met in secret and were undoubtedly the most spiritually minded of their generation. As champions of Israel’s gods and opponents to Phoenician idols, these prophets posed a direct threat to Jezebel. Accordingly, she ordered them killed. How many were slaughtered? We don’t know. If Obadiah, whom Josephus declares was steward over Ahab’s cattle (Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, 13:4), was able to save 100, then how many of Ahab’s other servants, slaughtered a similar number? Unfortunately, the record doesn’t say, but poetic justice would suggest that Jezebel had killed 850 prophets because that is how many of Jezebel’s prophets are killed by Elijah (see 1 Kgs. 18:19, 40).
Orson Pratt wrote:
Great companies of prophets existed among Israel at different times… In the days of Elijah and Elisha, there was an abundance of prophets: these prophets seemed to have a knowledge of almost every thing before it came to pass; when Elijah was about to be translated, he could not keep it a secret, though he sought diligently to do so; Elisha was too much of a prophet to be ignorant of what was about to happen, therefore he followed Elijah wherever he went; and also fifty other "prophets went and stood to view afar off." (2 Kings 2:7.) These prophets lived in various cities and generally had masters or chief prophets over them. One company dwelt at Ramah, over whom Samuel was appointed to preside, as just mentioned; another company dwelt at Bethel: another at Jericho. (See 2 Kings 2:3-5.) When Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, there were a hundred that Obadiah managed to save alive by hiding them in caves. (See 1 Kings 18:13.) Hence prophets, at times, were very numerous in Israel. And, no doubt, if we had all of their prophecies, we should have many volumes much larger than the Bible; but their prophecies were not all written, and from this fact, we have reason to believe that their gift was intended more for the benefit of themselves and others in their day, than for future ages. (Orson Pratt's Works [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945], 162 - 163)
Who were these prophets whom Obadiah saved? They must have represented Elijah’s “School of the Prophets.” Was it among these righteous brethren that Elijah administered the keys of his priesthood? Were these “prophets” holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood and recipients of its highest blessings?
1 Kings 18:8 go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here
We must remember that Elijah had previously told Ahab, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). That was three years ago, the last time Ahab and Elijah met. It was the beginning of the great drought. Now, Elijah was ready to declare the end of the drought to the king. He doesn’t really care that Ahab and Jezebel have been trying to kill him for the last 3 years. He has no fear of Ahab. Elijah’s point is to prove to Israel that the Jehovah is God and to prove to Ahab that He provides the rain. Elijah gets the last word and he makes a point of travelling in front of Ahab in the midst of a torrential downpour as if to remind the king who had brought the rain (v. 45-46).
1 Kings 18:21 how long halt ye between two opinions?
Sterling W. Sill
Some sins are committed because we do wrong; other sins are committed because we do nothing. Some people just [page 6] don’t make up their minds one way or the other. In consequence, they develop a kind of permanently “suspended judgment.” Ancient Israel had this problem. Elijah said to them, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kgs. 18:21.) In other words, Elijah said, make up your minds. But the record says, “And the people answered him not a word.”
That is the pattern of most indecision. We just don’t move, one way or the other. Our minds are left dangling between choices. We are like the patient who was asked by the psychiatrist whether or not he ever had any trouble in making up his mind, and the patient said, “Well, yes and no.” There are far too many yes-and-no people, including Church members. We all have good intentions, but too many of us fail to put them in force. (New Era, Aug. 1979, 6)
Ezra Taft Benson
“What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42.) That question, posed by our Lord, has challenged the world for centuries. Fortunately for us, God has provided modern scripture, another testament, even the Book of Mormon, for the convincing of the world that Jesus is the Christ. Anyone who will read the Book of Mormon and put it to the divine test that Moroni proposes (see Moro. 10:3–5) can be convinced that Jesus is the Christ. Once that conviction is gained, then comes the question, “Will we choose to follow Him?” The devils believe that Jesus is the Christ, but they choose to follow Lucifer. (See Mark 5:7; James 2:19.)
Throughout the ages prophets have exhorted the people to make up their minds. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” pled Joshua. (Josh. 24:15.) Elijah thundered, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him.” (1 Kgs. 18:21.) When you choose to follow Christ, you choose the Way, the Truth, the Life—the right way, the saving truth, the abundant life. (See John 14:6.) “I would commend you to seek this Jesus,” states Moroni. (Ether 12:41.)
When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed. “No man,” said President David O. McKay, “can sincerely resolve to apply to his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his own nature. The phrase ‘born again’ has a deeper significance than many people attach to it. This changed feeling may be indescribable, but it is real.” (“Born of God,” Ensign, July 1989, 2)
Neal A. Maxwell
Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions. (See 1 Kgs. 18:21.)
President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional or political life” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ! (Ensign, Feb. 1979, 69)
1 Kings 18:38 the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water
Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord showed his power every time his authority was questioned? Wouldn’t it be great if the blasphemous atheist was struck by lightning on the spot? Wouldn’t it be great if the enemies of the church received their just rewards before our very eyes?
That is what makes this story so remarkable! Few are in the instances when the Lord manifests his power so dramatically and emphatically. We almost wish He would do it more. But of course, we must walk by faith. Yet we know, and believe deep in our hearts that our latter-day prophets have the same great power. We understand that it is their spiritual maturity, their charity for the children of men (Lu. 9:51-56), and the command of the Lord which provides them with the proper restraint. They hold the same fire-breathing, weather-controlling power:
Power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world:
And men (like Elijah) having this faith, coming unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (JST Gen. 14:30-32)
That Prophet who had such great power while he remained on the earth—that had power to call down fire upon his enemies—that had power to call fire from heaven and consume the sacrifices—that Prophet who was wafted to heaven in a chariot of fire—that same august personage has been sent from the eternal worlds with this important message to the children, that we might extend a helping hand to our fathers that are dead, that they might be benefited, as well as we, by the great plan of human redemption. (Journal of Discourses, 7:81)
1 Kings 18:39 The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God
“Elijah’s name, rendered in English, means ‘The Lord, he is God.’” (David H. Madsen, “No Other Gods before Me,” Ensign, Jan. 1990, 51)
1 Kings 18:44 there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand
Neal A. Maxwell
There will be… times when we simply have to trust the prophet, for he will see things we do not see. Just as Elijah knew torrential rains were coming when there was not a cloud in the sky: (quotes 1 Kgs. 18:41–45.)
Prophets can see major implications in developments when these are no bigger than a man’s hand! (Ensign, Apr. 1981, 59)