“Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he 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 been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come’” (Matthew 11:7–14).
Was John the Baptist the Prophet Elijah?
In the above passage, Jesus was quoting from Malachi 4:5 and talking about a messenger who is “the prophet Elijah,” whom Jesus identifies as John the Baptist. Malachi is the last chapter of the Old Testament, and it ends with a prophecy that someone will come again in the spirit of Elijah.
Malachi 4:6 says, “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.” Notice how Luke 1:17 says, “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
John the Baptist came with the spirit of Elijah but he was not Elijah incarnate. The Bible teaches that Elijah appeared with Moses at Jesus’ transfiguration after John the Baptist’s death. This means that Elijah was not John the baptist incarnate (Matthew 17:11–12).
Also, Mark 6:14–16 and 8:28 teach that the people and Herod differentiated between John the Baptist and Elijah. Finally, John the Baptist himself denied that he was Elijah. “And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not” (John 1:19-23).
John confirmed that he had come to do the work the prophets of old had predicted Elijah would do (John 1:23; Malachi 3:1; 4:5; Mark 1:2, 3), but he would have been misleading had he claimed to be Elijah. It was predicted of John that he was to go before Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elias.”
In His service,