I frequently find some of my favorite pieces of information simply by pulling random books off the shelf and turning to random pages. This happened last night with one of my favorite (and most expensive) volumes on my shelf: James Scott's Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Brill, 2001), p. 266.
I opened to an article on restoration eschatology in Rabbinic Judaism by Chaim Milikowsky and found a fascinating quote from a Rabbinic work I've never read (or heard much discussed): Seder Olam. This text, which is attributed to Rabbi Yose ben Halaphta (2nd cent A.D.), relates an ancient Jewish tradition that Elijah will come twice: once at the time of the Messiah, and again during the final Great Tribulation. It reads:
In the second year of Azariah (King of Israel) Elijah was hidden away and is not seen until the messiah comes. In the days of the messiah he will be seen and hidden away a second time and will not be seen until Gog will arrive. At present he records the deeds of all generations. (Seder Olam, chap. 17)
This is a fascinating quote, for it suggests that there was an expectation in ancient Judaism that Elijah would not only return, but that he would come twice: once during the days of the Messiah and then a second time during the time of "Gog." This second reference is a reference to the mysterious days of Gog and Magog described in Ezekiel 38-39, after the coming of the Messiah in Ezekiel 37. As many people are aware the days of Gog and Magog are linked in Jewish eschatology and the New Testament with the Great Tribulation that will precede the Final Judgment and the resurrection of the dead (see, e.g., Rev 20:7-10).
One reason this was so interesting to me was that I had already argued in my book on Jesus and the Tribulation that Jesus held John the Baptist to be the new Elijah and that there was a link between the persecution and death of John as Elijah and the eschatological tribulation (see chapter 3 on Mark 9:11-13; Matt 11:11-15). Here this link is confirmed by a rabbinic text of which I was totally unaware when I wrote the dissertation.
Moreover, the passage also is intriguing because it illuminates another quite baffling text in the book of Revelation, which describes the coming of two witnesses during a time of tribulation and persecution. One of these witnesses is described as an Eljiah figure, who "shuts the sky" so that "no rain may fall" just as Elijah did in the Old Testament (Rev 11:4-7). Unfortunately, the beast ascends from the bottomless pit and kills this new Elijah, along with his Moses-like counterpart. Clearly this is a time of tribulation...
Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, it is a well known fact that many orthodox Jews today are still waiting for the (first) coming of Elijah. This is particularly expressed through the tradition of the Jewish Passover seder, where a cup of wine is left for Elijah to drink when he comes. For Christians, Jesus declares that "Elijah has come" in the figure of John the Baptist (Mark 8:13). But perhaps there is room for agreement here, if we both somehow await Elijah's "Second Coming"? Just a thought, just speculation, but interesting nonetheless...