Is John the Baptist Elijah?

Today I received an email from a student with a question. I get questions every once in a while. I love getting questions because I’m not creative enough to think up new topics. If you ever have a question, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or just place it in the comments section. I’ve posted my response to the question since I thought it would be beneficial to everyone.

Here’s the text in question: (all passages of Scripture taken from ESV unless otherwise denoted)

    There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levities from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
    (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (emphasis mine)

    Here’s the question:

    “You’re going through John I believe….why was everyone so curious if John the Baptist was Elijah or not? I only know surface stuff about Elijah, but they asked him twice if he was Elijah…why? Much love.”

    Here’s my Response:

      That’s a great question. If you follow Jewish History, Moses was WAY more a stud and revered than Elijah was… although, I’m afraid you’re not thinking that way – you’re simply asking “why name some dead guy in the first place?”

      Still a good and valid question.

      Most likely they knew their Bibles, well at least Jewish history/prophecy. Remember, the people of Israel had been waiting a looooooong time for the coming of a.) Elijah and b.) the Messiah (Jesus). So they would especially keep a bookmark on passages that spoke to anything related to or concerning the coming Messiah (Gen. 3:15, 12:3, 17:19; Isa. 7:14, 35:5-6, 40:3) just to name a few.  So it’s no surprise that they dog-eared the last know minor prophet book, Malachi along with all the other passages that speak of or about Jesus. I’m been reading Malachi in preparation for next year and the end of the book is a great reason for the question pertaining to an Elijah / John the Baptist (JBapt) relationship.

      Malachi 3:1 says: Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

      Mal. 4:5-6 says: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (emphasis mine)

      Basically, Elijah would be the one who announced the arrival of the ‘great and awesome day of the Lord,’ so responsibly, they were just making sure that it was Elijah. Besides, I bet JBapt looked a little different than their forefathers had described Elijah to look like! And this was the problem the people had (and we have as well). When they heard “Elijah” they thought “E-L-I-J-A-H” himself. And JBapt had enough sense to inform them that he wasn’t E-L-I-J-A-H but he that he was the messenger sent before the ‘great and awesome day of the Lord’.

      So… JBapt actually WAS Elijah – not in the flesh but in the scope of his role. Jesus said as much in the following passages:

      Matthew 11:7-14: As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

      ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
      who will prepare your way before you.’

      Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

      &

      Mark 9:9-13: “And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

      So Jesus confirms the reality that JBapt was/is Elijah. I’m not sure why they asked twice whether he was or Elijah or not, but the fact reamains that he was – not E-L-I-J-A-H but he was the messenger sent before.

      Thanks for the love.

      Hope this helps.