When a number of rabbis, present in the crowd that day, heard Jesus claim that he had come down from heaven, they "began to grumble about him" and they asked "is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?' How can he now say, "I came down from heaven"?
The rabbis knew that Jesus had been born as a child just like everyone else. They knew that he had a mother and a father. So it's not surprising that they would have wondered, "How could Jesus possibly have come 'down from heaven'"?
The same was true of Jesus' own hand picked disciples. When they heard Jesus' claim that he had come "down from heaven" they too were shocked beyond belief. They knew that Jesus' claim couldn't possibly be true. They said:
"This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?... From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." -John 6: 41,60,66 (NIV)
Most people today know that Jesus had twelve Apostles... but, many don't know that Jesus also had either 70 or 72 disciples (depending on which early manuscript you read). Evidently it was these other disciples who "turned back and no longer followed him." It was these others who abandoned him forever.
Both the antagonistic Jewish religious leaders and Jesus' own beloved disciples found it impossible to believe his statement that he had come down from heaven. From what they knew of Jesus' life, growing up in Nazareth with his mother Mary, they knew that this couldn't possibly be true... because they thought that he was speaking literally. They thought that Jesus was telling them that he had come down from heaven in his fleshly, physical body.
The disciples didn't have the insight to see what Jesus was really saying. As Jesus stood there watching his disciples walk away, knowing that they were not going to ever come back, he proceeded to explain this "mystery" of His coming down from heaven.
"The Spirit (PNEUMA) gives life, the flesh (SARX) counts for nothing: The words I have spoken to you are spirit (PNEUMA) and they are life." -John 6:63 (NIV)
Jesus was trying to explain that when he said such startling things as "I came down from heaven", he was not speaking of his physical, fleshly body coming down from heaven. Instead, Jesus was trying to explain that his "words" should not be understood in their outer literal sense.
The same was true of John the Baptist. Jesus said that John too had come down from heaven.
Here's the story. Two thousand years ago the Jews were expecting to see one of their most beloved prophets return from heaven. They were looking for the return of the Old Testament Prophet Elijah. Here's why. According to the Old Testament account, about eight hundred and fifty years before Christ was born, Elijah the Prophet had ascended "into heaven" in a "chariot of fire." (see: II Kings 2) Then, about four hundred years later, the Prophet Malachi promised that Elijah will return from heaven before the Christ appears.
Malachi's prophecy reads
"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and... 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... And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do [this], saith the LORD of hosts.... Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD" -Malachi 4:1-5
The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day were well aware of this Malachi prophecy. That's why they asked how Jesus could possibly be the Messiah since it was obvious that Elijah had not yet returned from heaven. Jesus replied:
"They are right. Elijah must come and set everything in order.... In fact, he [Elijah] already has come, but he wasn't recognized, and was badly mistreated by many... Then the disciples realized he was speaking of John the Baptist." -Matthew 17:10-13 (LIVING BIBLE-CATHOLIC EDITION, also see: Mark 9:11-13)
Jesus clearly taught that John the Baptist truly was the fulfillment of Malachi's 'return of Elijah from heaven' prophecy. Notice that Malachi doesn't say anything about Elijah's return being in some mysterious, unrecognizable way. Neither does he say that some other man is going to be born hundreds of years later and that this man will somehow be the return of Elijah. Malachi clearly says that it's going be Elijah himself who is going to return. That's not too difficult to visualize. Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire. And he's going to come back. Visibly. Physically. In the flesh. Or so they thought.
According to Jesus, however, these people were mistaken. Jesus said that John was the fulfillment of this prophecy. How could this have been possible? No one had seen Elijah literally, physically descend from heaven in the flesh as most expected. Instead, Jesus explained that Elijah's return was the appearance of yet another totally separate and distinct Prophet of God. (Yes, Jesus did refer to John as a Prophet.)
The return of Elijah prophecy had been fulfilled. But, it was fulfilled unexpectedly, in a way that people could not see and in a way that could not be objectively verified. Elijah had returned from heaven in the "spirit". John went "on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah." -Luke 1:17 (KJV)
The same is also true with the other part of Malachi's prophecy. Malachi clearly states that when Elijah returns from heaven and when the Christ finally does appear... their enemies will be totally burned up.
Malachi wrote that their enemies
"shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up... it shall leave them neither root nor branch... ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet..."
Ask yourself, in what way did Jesus or John ever burn up anyone like "chaff" "with unquenchable fire" to the extent that they were "ashes under the soles of [their] feet..."? Like the 'return of Elijah prophecy' these associated 'burning up their enemies' prophecies were also not fulfilled in any kind of literal, physical way. Just like the unexpected fulfillment of the 'return of Elijah prophecy', these 'burning up' prophecies were also fulfilled in a non-literal, spiritual manner.
Later, John the Baptist speaking of Jesus, said:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire: Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." - Matthew 3:11
Malachi said that the Christ's enemies "shall be stubble (chaff): and the day that cometh shall burn them up... ." And here John the Baptist said that Jesus "will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Once again, none of these prophecies were fulfilled in any kind of literal, visible, verifiable way.
Have people today learned anything from these important lessons from the past? Two thousand years ago people were expecting to see a spectacular, supernatural event which no one could mistake or misinterpret. However, what they actually got was the appearance of an entirely new Prophet... one who appeared with the same "spirit and power" of God which had, in centuries past, also descended upon Elijah. Is there a lesson to be learned from these examples that most modern Christians still haven't grasped yet?
Today we find that most Christians believe the exact same things that the Jews believed two thousand years ago. Back then, the Jewish people were expecting to see the visible return of Elijah from heaven who would burn up his enemies like chaff. Today we find that most Christians are also expecting to see the visible return of Jesus from heaven who is also going to burn up his enemies like chaff. Jesus informed us that the Jews of his era were dead wrong. What's the difference between then and now?
God's principles governing how the Prophets return from heaven have been clearly explained- twice. Both Jesus and Elijah came down from heaven... although not in the way that most people expected. Jesus' coming down from heaven the first time he appeared was not a fleshly occurrence. Neither was John's.
Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, explicitly claims to be the fulfillment of the 'return of Christ from heaven' prophecies. Could Baha'u'llah's claims actually be true? Ask yourself, did Baha'u'llah come down from heaven? Yes! In exactly the same way that John the Baptist and Jesus came down from heaven two thousand years ago. Baha'u'llah came unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, to a people who were fast asleep... just as promised. The long promised Messiah of the "last days" truly has come... for more proofs establishing the truth of this claim, please continue reading further in this "Prophecy Fulfilled" home page.
-written by Joel Smith
-written by Joel Smith