This presentation is presented in both video format as well as written format. I will be examining the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in the New, using the prophet Elijah as the figure to deliver this teaching of the Church. I have broken this into two videos and the text follows, which includes all of my referenced sources.
The Prefigurement of Christ in the Prophetical Figure of Elijah
Matthew J Bellisario 2017
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For amen, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
1. Biblical Typology Explained
The Old Testament is an often misunderstood and neglected canon of Sacred Scripture especially in modern Catholic scholarship. Catholic publications on Old Testament studies are outnumbered immensely by Protestant publications. As Catholics we must ask an important question. Does the Old Testament have anything to say to us today, or is it simply an outdated canon of Scripture that deals primarily with the Israelites? The simple fact is, to truly understand the Old Testament, we must first have a proper understanding of the New Testament. There are many events in the Old Testament where we can see prefigurements of Christ, showing us the true significance of the events. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Church, “…has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.”
Typological or spiritual exegesis of the text is how we come to understand these prefigurements.
To comprehend Biblical typology, the four senses of Sacred Scripture are important to understand. The senses of Scripture are broken into two main categories, the literal and the spiritual, and there are three types of spiritual senses, the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical. First, we must determine the literal sense of the text which can be either historical or metaphorical. In this brief study we will be examining portions of First and Second Kings, which are defined as historical books containing real events even though they are not written in modern historical prose. The prophet of Elijah is the subject of this typological investigation. Considering the historical events concerning this prophetic figure we will be looking primarily to two spiritual senses, the allegorical and the moral. The allegorical will point to the mysteries of Christ and the Church and the moral will point to the Christian moral life.
2. The Old Law Fulfilled and Transformed in Christ
Before we begin to look at our prophet, a brief examination of the Old Covenant being transformed and fulfilled in the New is in order. The Church teaches that the Old Covenant has never been “revoked”, but what does this mean? It does not indicate as Cardinal Walter Kasper seems to think that the Old Covenant can still be followed by today’s Jews in some form and be salvific. In order to grasp the status of the Old Covenant in relevance to the Jews we must have a wider perspective so that we can see that the form of the Old Covenant has been changed or transformed in Christ. Christ being the transformation and fulfillment of the Old makes the New Covenant established through the Church the only way now possible of continuing in the unrevoked Old Covenant. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, “that Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law to “perfect it and bring it to an end in His own self, so as to show that it was ordained to Him.”
The history of Israel is a preparation for the Jew and the Gentile to receive the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. All the precepts of the Old Covenant including the ceremonial are observed forever in their “fulfilled reality.” When we say then the Old was not revoked, we are not saying that nothing has changed for the Jews. We are saying that in order for them to continue in their relationship with God they must enter into Christ who has fulfilled and transformed the Old. Our prophet, Elijah then can be better understood in light of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His New Covenant through His Church. Lastly, it is important to note that when the figures of the Old Testament cooperate with God, they are implicitly cooperating with Christ. Again, we look to Aquinas who holds that in all places and times there are two kinds of men, good and evil, those who accept God’s call and those who reject it. Those like the prophets should be seen in the reality of the coming of Messiah. Using Biblical typology, we are now prepared to see how the prophet Elijah prefigures Christ and is likewise fulfilled in Christ.
3. The Prophetic Figure of Elijah
The figure of Elijah (Elias) falls between 1 Kings 17 (III Kings) and 2 Kings 2 (IV Kings). This period is known as the division of the kingdoms between the north, Israel and the south, Judah. The events in the life of this prophet contain many prefigurements of Christ concerning His Church and the way we are called to live the Christian life. Elijah whos name means “Strong God” is often known as the prophet of warning and judgement. Elijah comes abruptly into the Scripture passages of 1 Kings 17 with a dire warning of a severe drought that will descend upon the land because of the wicked ways of Ahab. (1 Kings 17:1) This sudden appearance of Elijah establishes the mysterious and often grave mannered leitmotif of this prophet. He often delivers a warning followed by a delayed punishment that often seem severe but after a second look are often merciful for the sin committed in hope of the sinner’s repentance. After a series of warnings, punishments and miraculous events, Elijah chooses a successor Elisha and then leaves in just as an abrupt manner as which he appeared by being taken up into the clouds in a chariot.
4. Prefigurement of Christ through Elijah
King Ahab and his malevolent wife Jezebel are the primary figures who bring down the wrath of God through the prophet Elijah. Although we see Elijah proclaiming warnings for their evil in worshipping Baal, we also see merciful acts done through the prophet as well. As we will see Elijah can be viewed as a prefigurement of Christ and His Church. In a manner of speaking Elijah begins his ministry in a similar manner as Christ begins His role as prophet calling for the repentance of sinners. Elijah warns of coming punishment of three and a half years drought for the evil the king and his wife did which was “more than all that were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) The punishment is fitting being that Baal was considered to be the god of rain and fertility. Christ likewise after proclaiming “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” warns the Jews of impending punishment for their evil ways, “And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:2-7) So we have from the start the prefigurement of the call to repentance and a warning of punishment for not heeding the warning.
After delivering the dire message Elijah then flees to the wadi Cherith by the command of God where he is fed by ravens and drinks from the wadi or stream. There are two typological realities in this event; St Ephraim says the first being the wadi signifies the coming baptism of the Lord. The second is the food brought by the ravens being like the miracle of the manna in the desert, another prefigurement of the Eucharist. Some of the Church Fathers even proposed that the ravens were angels in disguise. Another irony is that the raven was considered unclean and thus shows God’s command and providence over all of creation. It is also interesting to note the prefigurement of the apostles ministering to the Gentiles in the symbol of the raven. Several of the Church Fathers see the dark raven coming to Elijah as the Church of the Gentiles. Persecution is also another unifying reality for both Elijah and Christ. Elijah fleeing from the evil king and his wife clearly prefigures Christ by the fact that Elijah suffered persecution by the Jews, being scorned and often threatened with death. “Elijah left his own people, and Christ deserted the synagogue.”  “Amen, I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:24)
One of the most astonishing miracles of the Old Testament is the resurrection of the widow’s son in Zarephath. After the wadi runs dry God commands Elijah to go and stay with the widow in Zarephath. After being fed miraculously by the widow with an endless food supply, which is also a prefigurement of the Eucharist, the widow’s son died. Just as Christ resurrected Lazarus, Elijah resurrected the boy. This is the first time a resurrection miracle is recounted in Sacred Scripture. It is significant and aside from the resurrection itself it has several typological meanings in the event. First, we see a similar merciful love for the widow and her son that Jesus shows in how He chooses to execute this miracle. Saint Augustine and Ephraim view this resurrection event of Elijah on several levels. Elijah in seeing the faith of the widow, stretched himself over the child three times symbolizing the Trinity. It also symbolizes the mysteries of Baptism and the resurrection believers will have in Christ.  The widow herself being a Gentile also typifies the New Covenant which would be for the Jew and the Gentile. Finally, the widow gathers two sticks when Elijah meets her, symbolizing the mystery of the cross. The widow’s faith shows that even the faithful in the Old Testament desired to die to this world through their faith in God. They were implicitly professing dying to oneself in Christ, through the future Sacrament of Baptism in the Church. The widow then falls into the category of one who is good according to Thomas Aquinas mentioned earlier. We have then in this encounter with the widow prefigurements of faith in Christ, the Sacrament of Baptism, the Holy Trinity, and the resurrection of those who believe in Christ, including the Gentile.
The next main event for Elijah is his reappearance to Ahab after fleeing, to demonstrate the foolishness of the worship of Baal. We have a faceoff between the priests of Baal and Elijah. They both prepare their altars and are prepared to call upon their deity to accept their sacrifice. The heathens in their ritual call upon Baal to no avail, and Elijah mocks their insolence. Elijah then performs his ritual calling upon God. He covers the wood and fills the trench around the altar with water in jars three times symbolizing Baptism and the Holy Trinity. Then fire descends from above consuming the burnt offering. What is significant to the early Biblical commentators concerning this event is the typology of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Church. Saint Ambrose among others write, “Christ baptizes in fire and spirit. Hence, you read of this type in the book of Kings, where Elijah placed the wood upon the altar and told them to pour water on it from urns.” Ephraim the Syrian views this sacrifice on Carmel which abolishes the pagan sacrifice as the prefigurement to Christ’s eternal sacrifice on Golgotha. In this ritual the prefigurement of Baptism, the Holy Trinity, Christ’s sacrifice and Pentecost are to be found.
Once the pagan priests are dispensed with Elijah will end the drought. He travels near the sea and prays calling on the one true God to end the drought. He sends his servant to look towards the sea, but his servant sees nothing. Elijah commands him to go and look seven times, and then the rain finally comes out of the sea in the appearance of a hand or foot, depending on which translation you read. This is a manifestation of God similar to the cloud that appeared to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. There are two main points of interest here. First is the number seven representing the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit. The second is the significance of the three years and six months of the drought till the rain falls. Our Lord’s ministry on earth was also the same period of time. So, we see the three and half years of anticipation and then the coming of God in both instances. With Elijah it was the life-giving rain, with Christ it was the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.
One cannot overlook the similarities of the apostacy in Elijah’s time as there will be at the end of time in the fulfillment of the Church’s journey on earth. In the condemnation of the idolaters it is made clear that only a very few remain faithful to God, in this case 7000. We see a prefigurement of the final judgement that will come upon mankind with the earthquake and the fire that Elijah witnesses. Then God is found in the “still small voice”. (1 Kings 19: 9-13) Christ also claims rhetorically that only a small remnant will be found when He returns, “But yet, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) After the final judgement of course comes the eternal “still small voice” of God in heaven. We see then the dual nature of mercy and justice in both Elijah and Christ.
Finally, we come to the astonishing abrupt end to Elijah’s earthly journey which also contains a strong typology in Christ. As we know, Elijah does not die, but is taken up in a chariot into heaven. He along with Moses uniquely return in the Transfiguration with Jesus on Mount Tabor. There is no mistaking his assumption into heaven with Christ’s ascension into heaven. There is also an overlying symbolism of Christ conquering death in those like Elijah who are faithful. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: And everyone that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die forever.” (John 11:25-26) Before Elijah goes he appoints his successor Elisha in a similar manner as Christ appoints His apostles to carry on His work.
5. Christ’s Fulfillment and Transformation of Elijah
As we have seen, Christ is clearly prefigured in the prophet Elijah. More importantly we also see the events of Elijah being transformed and fulfilled in the divine person of Jesus Christ. He is one of only two figures, with that of Moses where we see this transformation physically happen. The most significant event of this reality can be seen in the Transfiguration event that is recounted in the New Testament books of Matthew (17:1-6), Mark (9:1-8) and Luke (9:28-36). This event does not occur to merely show the divinity of Christ, or to bolster the faith of the apostles that were present, it is much more. It proclaims the actual fulfillment and transformation of the Old Covenant which is represented in the two prophets. Moses and Elijah are conversing with Our Lord speaking about an anticipated event that is about to be fulfilled. “And behold two men were talking with him. And they were Moses and Elias, appearing in majesty: and they spoke of his decease, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31) Christ appears luminous indicating His divinity through which He will accomplish this fulfillment. Why is it that they appear in a cloud similar to that on Mount Sinai? According to scholar J. Severino Croatto the cloud that hides the speakers foreshadows Luke’s description of the ascension of the risen Jesus. “It was inside the cloud (on Mount Sinai) that the divine revelation was received. So this “Sinaitic” frame joins the prophet Elijah to the interpretation of the divine word.” Jesus in effect appears in His glorified state joining the Old Covenant to the Word Himself.
After the conversation in light of the prophesized sacrificial event that was to come, both of the Old Testament prophets disappear. They do not stay as Peter, James and John, the present apostles thought they would. This is demonstrated by the fact that they volunteer to put up tents for them. In their minds they are going to stay for a while. This disappearance of both Old Testament prophets is not happenstance. It indicates that the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ is now the only mediator, interpreter, and teacher for the people of God. On Mount Tabor Elijah’s journey finds its fulfillment and transformation in the divine person Jesus Christ, for He alone remains. “And lifting up their eyes, they saw no man but only Jesus.” (Matthew 17:8)
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 2nd Revised & enlarged edition April 16, 2000)
2. Lawrence Feingold. Typology, How the Old Testament Prefigures the New. Talk #1 (Association of Hebrew Catholics Lecture Series 2013)
3. Walter Cardinal Kasper. Dominus Iesus (17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001)
4. Matthew Levering. Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas. (University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition April 15, 2002.)
5. Marco Conti. 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP Academic; First edition June 21, 2008)
6. J. Severino Croatto. Jesus, Prophet Like Elijah, and Prophet-Teacher Like Moses in Luke-Acts. (Journal of biblical Literature 124/3, 2005)
7. Note: All Scripture quotes were taken from the Douay Rheims version found at http://www.drbo.org/index.htm
 Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 2nd Revised & enlarged edition April 16, 2000) 128
 Lawrence Feingold. Typology, How the Old Testament Prefigures the New. Talk #1 (Association of Hebrew Catholics Lecture Series 2013) 3
 Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 2nd Revised & enlarged edition April 16, 2000) 121
 Walter Cardinal Kasper. Dominus Iesus (17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001)
 Matthew Levering. Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas. (University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition April 15, 2002.) 29
 Ibid., 29
 Matthew Levering. Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas. (University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition April 15, 2002.) 23
 Marco Conti. 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP Academic; First edition June 21, 2008) 98
 Ibid., 101
 Ibid., 101
 Marco Conti. 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP Academic; First edition June 21, 2008) 103
 Marco Conti. 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP Academic; First edition June 21, 2008) 110
 Ibid., 111
 J. Severino Croatto. Jesus, Prophet Like Elijah, and Prophet-Teacher Like Moses in Luke-Acts. (Journal of biblical Literature 124/3, 2005) 461
 Ibid., 461