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Was John the Baptist actually Elijah?

Submitted: 2/25/2008
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Question: Is John the Baptist also Elijah? Are these two separate being or one? Why did Jesus refer to this John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come?

Answer: The final words of the Old Testament are these: 'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn
the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse' (Malachi 4:5-6). Because of this prophecy, the people of Israel were always on the look-out for the coming of the great prophet Elijah. For example, in John 1:21 the people asked John the Baptist, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' But John answered, 'I am not.' We see then that John did not consider himself to be Elijah. Later, however, in Matthew 11:13-15, Jesus said, 'For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!' So on the one hand we have John denying that he is Elijah and on the other, Jesus declaring that he is. How are we to reconcile this seeming contradiction? The answer is found in the angelic prophecy of the birth of John, where the messenger announced, 'He [John] will also go before Him [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah, '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' (Luke 1:17). So we see that when Jesus said that John was Elijah, He meant that John was operating in 'the spirit and power of Elijah.' This tells us that the coming of Elijah does not necessarily mean the man himself will re-appear, but rather that others will come who will operate in the same ministry and anointing.