First Things First

Coming down from the mountain where He had been transfigured, Jesus told the disciples, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (17:9). They seemed to understand that He referred to Himself and His resurrection, and that “Son of Man” was used by Daniel to refer to the coming of the end of the age through a God-like figure (Daniel 7:13-14). They remembered also the prophecy that Elijah would be sent by God “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Malachi 4:5), so they asked, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus’ reply reminds us of a fundamental principle, even a law, in God’s management of this world: Some things must come before other things. As marriage between a man and a woman must precede any sort of sexual intimacy and bearing children, so there can be no honor without humility (James 4:10); greatness without service (Matthew 20:26); forgiveness without repentance (Luke 24:47); or glory without suffering (1 Peter 1:6-7, 11; 4:13). “Elijah” – here identified as John the Baptist – must come before Christ. The message of God’s Law, given by Moses and applied by the prophets, calls us to turn from our sins, restoring relationships between parents and children (Malachi 4:6) and opening up the way for us to enter the kingdom of God through the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 3:3, 6). But that forgiveness comes at a prior price: The sacrificial death of the Son of God – who is also Son of Man – to “save His people from their sins” (1:21). Yes, Jesus will rise to rule and reign forever, but He must first endure the punishment we deserve from a holy God. The Just must suffer for the unjust that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Herod killed John the Baptist because his wife Herodias hated him for measuring their adulterous marriage by God’s righteous standard (Matthew 14:1-11). The Jewish leaders would do likewise to Jesus, and for the same reason, because He denounced their evil works (John 7:7). Followers of Christ must be willing to walk the same thorny path, climb the same murderous mountain, and share the same agonies of rejection and death (except the wrath of God, which Jesus bore in our stead), if they are to participate in the same resurrection glory (Matthew 5:10-12; 10:24-25; 16:24-27; Romans 8:17; 1 Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21).