Does Elijah Have to Come Before the Great Day of the Lord? – by Dr. Renald Showers – www.ankerberg.org/Articles/biblical-prophecy/BP0206W1.htm
In Malachi 4:5 God said, "And behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." Some say, "Now, notice: God is stating here very clearly that Elijah the prophet must come before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord."
Some say the Elijah here obviously has to be one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11. When we go the Revelation 11 we are told about two rather unique men who are going to be here in the world for one half of the seven-year, 70th week of Daniel 9. We’re clearly told here that they will minister for 1,260 days, that is, for three and a half years.
Now, when you read the description of the two witnesses, you will find that one of them will have the kind of miraculous powers that Elijah had, and in light of that, some have concluded that one of those two witnesses will be Elijah brought from Heaven back to the earth for one half the Tribulation Period. And if it’s one half the Tribulation Period, it has to be at least the first half, maybe even the second half, but if it’s one half it has to be at least the first half.
And they would say, "Well, since Malachi says that Elijah the prophet must come before the great and terrible Day of the Lord and if, let’s say, Elijah is one of the two witnesses during the first half of the 70th week, then you’re not going to have the Day of the Lord beginning at the very beginning of the 70th week. It has to begin sometime into the 70th week after Elijah has been here ministering."
What do we do with this? It’s very important to note that when you study everything the Scriptures teach about the future Day of the Lord that the Bible teaches both a broad sense of the Day of the Lord and a narrow sense of the Day of the Lord.
In the broad sense of the Day of the Lord, the Scriptures indicate that the Day of the Lord will cover an extensive period of time. It will begin with the seven-year Tribulation Period or the 70th week of Daniel 9, this time of tremendous trouble here on the face of the earth. That’s why some descriptions of the Day of the Lord describe it as a time of darkness. But then it will be followed by a period of light, a time of God’s great blessing upon the earth, which is referring to the 1,000-year Millennium after the seven-year Tribulation Period.
In Amos 5 we have the Day of the Lord described as a time of darkness; it’ll be a time of darkness for those who are unbelievers and rebelling against God. But in Zechariah 14 where the Day of the Lord is talked about within the first couple of verses of that chapter, we’re told here that the Day of the Lord will involve the armies of all the nations of the world surrounding Jerusalem. They begin to destroy the city and to ravish people in that city. We read in Zechariah 14:1, "Behold, the day of the Lord comes and your spoils shall be divided in the midst of you; for I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle and the city shall be taken and the houses rifled and the women ravished, and half of the city shall go forth into captivity and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city." This will happen right at the end of the seven-year Tribulation Period.
Then we read in verse 3, "Then shall the Lord go forth." Here’s the Second Coming of the Messiah. In Israel’s darkest hour, when all the nations are gathered there and they have Israel’s capital city Jerusalem surrounded and they’re destroying it, the Messiah, the Lord, is going to come forth out of Heaven at this Day of the Lord. We’re told He’s going to fight against those nations (verse 3), as when He fought in the day of battle. "His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives"— that’s where His feet will touch down in His glorious Second Coming. And then when you read on in Chapter 14, it describes how the Lord will destroy these godless armies that were gathered there.
We’re told then in verse 9, "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth in that day." What day? The Day of the Lord that was introduced in Zechariah 14:1—"In that day shall there be one Lord and his name one." And then he goes on to describe the great blessings that will come through the Millennial Kingdom as the Lord rules the world on behalf of God, indicating that the Day of the Lord will also include the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ as King over the entire earth.
So the Day of the Lord will begin with a period of darkness, the seven-year Tribulation Period or 70th week of Daniel 9. It will also include the 1,000-year Millennial reign of Messiah upon the face of the earth.
So there’s a broad "Day of the Lord" covering at least a 1,007 year span of time. On the other hand, the Bible presents a narrow concept of the Day of the Lord referring to one specific literal day, namely, the day that Jesus Christ will come out of Heaven immediately after the seven-year Tribulation Period in His glorious Second Coming to take the rule of the earth back on behalf of God.
Now, how do we know there’s going to be a narrow Day of the Lord, namely, the Second Coming of Christ? When we go over to Joel 3, again we have a description of the armies of the nations coming there to the land of Israel. Joel 3:1, "For, behold, in those days and in that time when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel whom they have scattered among the nations and parted my land."
God continues on with that theme in verse 9:
Proclaiming this among the Gentiles, "Prepare war. Wake up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near. Let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ Assemble yourselves and come all ye heathen and gather yourselves together round about. There cause your mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the heathen be wakened and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put you in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, get you down for the press is full. The vats overflow for the wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision."
He’s describing here the time when the armies of all the nations of the world will be gathered here in the land of Israel, God playing a role in bringing them there so that He can judge them there. Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges." And he says that when the armies are gathered there in the valley of Jehoshaphat, the Day of the Lord is near. In other words, there’s a Day of the Lord which is about to come when the armies of all the nations are gathered there for judgment in the land of Israel.
And then He goes on to say that there will be cosmic disturbances in conjunction with that Day of the Lord when the armies are there. Verse 15: "The sun and the moon shall be darkened; the stars shall withdraw their shining; the Lord also shall roar out of Zion"—God is going to go to war. The Lord is going to go to war against these godless forces—"utter his voice from Jerusalem. The heavens and the earth shall shake but the Lord will be the hope of his people and the strength of the children is Israel." That’s when He is going to deliver Israel in its darkest hour.
So there is going to be a Day of the Lord that is going to come with cosmic disturbances when the armies of all the nations of the world are gathered there. It is about to come when they are gathered there and then it will come while they are there.