“Behold I Will Send My Messenger”

Alan C. Miner

John Pratt notes that the closing words of the Old Testament contain Malachi’s promise that Elijah the prophet would be sent before the Messiah to fulfill an important mission:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Malachi’s words were considered so important that the Savior gave to the Nephites all of chapters 3 and 4 of Malachi, which end with this prophecy of Elijah’s return. After commanding them to write the words (3 Nephi 24:1), he explained, “These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom that they should be given unto future generations.” (3 Nephi 26:2)…

The promise of Elijah, taught by the scribes in Jesus’ day, is still remembered by the Jewish people every year at Passover. A special place is set for him, with a cup of wine. At a prescribed time during the meal, the door is opened for him to enter.

The origin of the tradition that Elijah would return at Passover seems to have been lost in antiquity. It has been suggested that Elijah’s return was associated with Passover, the feast commemorating the redemption of Israel, because it would herald the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel… .

The long awaited return of Elijah occurred in the Kirtland Temple on Easter Sunday, 16 Nisan, 3 April 1836. First the Savior appeared, followed by Moses, then Elias, and finally Elijah… .

Thus, the coming of Elijah on 3 April 1836 was to occur after forerunners had returned in the spirit of Elias to prepare the way. (See D&C 27:6-7; 128:20-21) …

Should the date of Elijah’s return be anything special? Ancient prophets had revelations concerning the use of astronomy for reckoning time. Abraham, for example, was given to know the “set times” of the earth, moon, and sun, and then was shown that these “lights in the expanse of the heaven” were to be “for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years.” (Abraham 3:6; 4:14) … Moses received revelations mentioning the use of the sun and moon to reckon time (Moses 2:14), which became very important in determining sacred days according to the law of Moses (see Leviticus 23) …

Even in our day, the Lord has promised that “all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 121:31)

It is intriguing that Elijah’s return at the Kirtland temple occurred not only during Passover week, as anticipated by the Jews, but also on an Easter Sunday that was calendrically similar to the proposed date of the Savior’s resurrection, being both April 3 on the Gregorian calendar and 16 Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. Was this merely a calendrical coincidence? Or could the timing of Elijah’s return have been purposely chosen to correspond to some special Passover in accordance with Jewish tradition? … The chance that Easter Sunday would occur on both April 3 and 16 Nisan (as it did in A.D. 33) happens less than once every century… . In addition, to the very day, the Easter of 1836 completed a Jewish calendar realignment interval of 1,803 years since the Easter of A.D. 33… . In other words, this means that the Easter of 1836 was calendrically the most similar in history to the Easter of A.D. 33… . Moreover, the interval of exactly 658,532 days between 3 April A.D. 33 and 3 April 1836 is equal to 100 saros periods of 6,585.321 days each… . The saros is a period of 18.03 years known to astronomers as the interval in which solar or lunar eclipses often repeat… . That is, if one counts saros periods from the lunar eclipse that occurred on the proposed date for the Crucifixion, 1 April A.D. 33, the first time that a saros would again begin on April 1 would be in 1836.

It should be emphasized that the fact that the same period of time (1,803 years) can be equal both to a lunisolar calendar realignment interval and to 100 saros periods is very surprising because the length of the saros is also determined by other factors.

Is there any astronomical significance to the number 100 (saros)? Yes, it turns out that after 100 saros periods, the lunar orbit is in about the same orientation relative to the sun.

Thus in summary, a period of 1,803 years (658,532 days) is simultaneously two realignment intervals: (1) for the day, week, month, and year of the Jewish calendar; and (2) for the saros and the year.

The evidence presented above suggests that the timing of Elijah’s return may have been arranged to occur on the best anniversary of Easter, calendrically speaking, in history. But for what reason?

1. Apparently this dispensation could not have fully begun before 3 April 1836, when the keys of Elijah were restored… . Thus, on Sunday, 3 April 1836, apparently the time had fully come to open the dispensation of the fulness of times on a special anniversary of the fulness of time of the Resurrection.

2. It is proposed that on Easter Sunday, 16 Nisan, 3 April A.D. 33, the physical body of Christ was restored, clothed with a fulness of power and glory. (See Alma 40:23) On Easter Sunday, 16 Nisan, 3 April A.D. 1836, the ecclesiastical body of Christ was restored, clothed with a fulness of priesthood authority. Thus, a correspondence is suggested between the restoration of the body of the Savior to a fulness of power and the restoration of the body of the Church to the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood. [John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836 -- Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return,” in The Ensign, July 1985, pp. 60-61] [See the commentary on 3 Nephi 25:4, 5]

3 Nephi 24:1 Thus said the Father unto Malachi -- Behold, I will send my messenger ([Illustration] Realignment Intervals. [John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836 -- Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return,” in The Ensign, July 1985, p. 60]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary