“But the others said, ‘Hold on! Let us see if Elijah comes to save him!’”
“So, someone quickly came and filled a sponge with vinegar to put on a stick for him to drink, saying, ‘Wait! Let us see if Elijah will come to take him down.’”
As we have mentioned before, people are wanting a spectacle. And what would be more spectacular than for Elijah to come from the skies and rescue Jesus from the cross…but wait, Elijah did come. So, let’s take a step back.
Jesus’ words from the cross, quoting Psalm 22 were misunderstood by some of the onlookers. That ought to be no surprise as Jerusalem was a fairly cosmopolitan city as far as cities went in the Roman Empire and the comings and goings of gentiles was quite common. So, Greeks and Romans who likely were not fluent in Aramaic and definitely not fluent in Hebrew could easily be understood to mishear “Eloi” or “Eli” as Elijah (which in Hebrew, would be pronounced “Eliyyah”). When you add to the commotion, it is also not unreasonable that not everyone would have heard Jesus’ words correctly and could come to the same conclusion.
But, why would Elijah come down to rescue Jesus? Certainly, he was taken up bodily into heaven (2 Kings 2); perhaps that is what some people were hoping to see. More likely was the prophesy in Malachi 4:5 that God would send Elijah before the “Day of the Lord” would come. The Day of the Lord, in ancient Near-Eastern writings (this is found repeatedly within Biblical writings, but there are extra-Biblical writings that capture this idea as well), was the notion that one day there would rise up a king who would defeat all of his foes in a single day. This, of course, is what Jesus did on the cross, though those shouting from the ground surely did not know that.
What they also did not know was that Elijah had come. He came in the person of John the Baptist. No, no reincarnation here, simply that all of the things that Elijah stood for were stood for by John, though John did so in a greater way (see Matthew 11:11-15; 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13). Thus, just as Jesus is the greater David and Solomon and the Temple, John was the greater Elijah. Malachi’s prophecy does not stipulate that Elijah will come to deliver the Messiah from death, no, it states that he comes as a prequel to the Day of the Lord — he is a forerunner just as was John.
As is always, fools and mockers seek a spectacle. Yet the people of God need no sign for we are given His Word in the Scriptures. And the Spirit confirms these things with our Spirit. The wicked want to see what will happen next. The believer prays for their souls because the “next” for the ungodly will be the wrath of the Father. Woe be to the one who does not repent of his sins and turn to Christ in faith for shelter, lest the father whet his sword against them (Psalm 7:12).