Israel was in a period of spiritual crisis at the time that Elijah came on the scene. King Ahab "did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him" 1 Kings 16:30. It was under the direction of Ahab and the influence of his wife Jezebel that the nation was turned from worship of the true God to Baal worship. Elijah was sent at this critical time to rebuke sin and give a call back to worship of the one true God. This was no easy task, but Elijah took his orders from the God of heaven regardless of the difficulties involved. At the end of three years of prophesied draught, that Baal was unable to reverse, the people were ready to acknowledge the true God when His power was manifested by sending fire from heaven to consume Elijah's sacrifice (1 Kings 18:37-39).
There was an understanding that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah. Because of this, there were those who thought Jesus was Elijah (Matthew 16:13, 14), but Jesus declared that it was John the Baptist who fulfilled that role. "I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist" Matthew 17:12, 13. You see, John the Baptist had done Elijah-like work in rebuking sin and calling the people to be prepared in heart and mind for the kingdom of heaven. This alone would be correct worship of the true God.
Who is the third Elijah? In Malachi 4 it speaks of the final destruction of the wicked at the end of time, and then we read verse 5. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD." Once again, we would expect the Elijah message to include two major components. Though not a popular thing to do, sin will be pointed out, and there will be a call back to God's proscribed worship. In Revelation 14:6-11 we find three urgent messages for the end time. Note the first in verse 7. "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." In this time of relativism and discrediting the validity of God's Word, it would make sense that those fulfilling the Elijah role are those who are not afraid to call sin by its right name and who share this end time message of Revelation 14 calling us back to the worship our Creator God asks of us. Will you be an Elijah?