Jesus sent the Twelve Apostles on a mission while He continued to teach and perform miracles in Galilee. This prompted John the Baptist to ask if Jesus was really the Messiah. After proving His powers to John the Baptist's messengers, Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist is the prophet spoken of in prophesy who was to prepare the way for God.
After Jesus spoke about just how wonderful John the Baptist was, He dropped some peculiar verbiage about how since John the Baptist had been active, people were forcing their way into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 11:12, Luke 16:16). It is hard to know the exact meaning here, but I think it may be best rendered like this: “Since people have started learning about the Kingdom of Heaven, they are doing everything they can to ensure that they get into it.” The words speak of a much more dramatic change than simply believing something new, and may also imply a dire urgency to make such a conversion, as if the end of the world was nigh.
Then, much like the previous tying of John the Baptist to prophesy, in Matthew 11:13-14 Jesus goes one step further to try to remove all doubt:
“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John[ the Baptist]. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” NIVYou should know that in the original Greek text, “he is the Elijah” is actually rendered “he Elias.” Elias is another name for Elijah, so there are no problems there. The words “is” and “the” were added by interpreters. The “is” is no big change, as that state of being Elijah is implicit. However, the “the” is a major change found in the New International Version (NIV), and a dishonest one at that. It is dishonest both because the Greek language had a definite article which would have been put there if it was needed to be accurate, and because it changes the meaning to suggest that John the Baptist is not actually Elijah, but rather a prophet similar to Elijah, thereby implying that that was the original intent of the prophesy from Malachi 4:5.
Enough quibbling about words. Who was John the Baptist supposed to be, or be like? Who was Elijah? He was only one of the greatest prophets EVER! Check this out:
Elijah first appears in the Bible in 1 Kings 17, and he makes an impressive entrance! In 1 Kings 17:1, God uses Elijah to announce a three year drought, and gives Elijah the power to make it rain on command during that drought. Being a rather unpopular announcement, God directs Elijah where to hide, and has ravens bring him meat and bread (1 Kings 17:2-6)!
After the water source dried up in the hiding spot, God directed Elijah to stay with a widow and her son. The widow said that they did not have enough flour and oil for themselves, let alone Elijah. So Elijah reveals to her that God has promised to keep her flour and oil jars full throughout the drought. And presto! They had unlimited flour and oil (1 Kings 17:7-16).
When the widow's son later became deathly ill and died, she accused Elijah of reminding her of her sins and killing her son! Elijah, knowing that God caused all death, questioned God as to why He would kill this widow's son when she was hosting Elijah, and asked God to bring the child back to life. God God must have realized that the situation was not a fair, and He did want to support Elijah, so He brought the widow's son back to life. Then the widow knew that Elijah was a man of God for sure (1 Kings 17:17-24).
In the time of Elijah, Ahab was king of Israel. (This is not to be confused with the entire Promised Land. There had been a schism which split the land into two kingdoms; Israel/Samaria and Judah.) Ahab was pretty evil in God's eyes, which in no small part was due to him marrying Jezebel and converting to Baal worship (1 Kings 16:29-32).
Anyway, God commanded Elijah to confront King Ahab, and so Elijah went to Ahab and told him that the king himself has caused great trouble to fall on Israel for promoting Baal worship. He tells the king to summon all of the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a showdown on Mount Carmel. Amazingly, the king summons them without protest (1 Kings 18:1-21).
Once all of the prophets are at Mount Carmel, Elijah challenged them to prove that their god was real with a contest. They would prepare a bull for an offering, and Elijah would do the same. Then they would each call for their god to consume the offering with fire. The god who does this would be proven to be the real God. The other prophets agreed. They prepared their bull, and solicited Baal to torch the chopped carcass. After about half a day without an answer, Elijah taunts them, telling them that they should shout louder in case their god is busy or sleeping. After a full day without an answer from Baal, Elijah ups the stakes. He prepared a fire pit with wood, lined it with stones, put his bull pieces on the wood, and then had the prophets of Baal pour water on his offering until the fire pit was flooded. At the appropriate time, Elijah stepped forward and prayed to God to consume this sacrifice to convert the hearts of the people of Israel to worship God again. With that, fire pours down from the sky, consuming the bull, the wood, the water, and even the stones lining the pit! The people repented. Flush with victory, and with support of the people, Elijah had the prophets of Baal rounded up and slaughtered (1 Kings 18:22-40).
Then, Elijah made it rain, thereby ending the drought (1 Kings 18:41-46).
Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah for slaughtering Baal's prophets. So Elijah fled. God feeds Elijah bread and water (despite Elijah's request just to let him die) until he had enough strength to travel to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-9). There, God showed Himself to Elijah, although it is unclear whether or not Elijah actually saw God. After a little discussion, God gives Elijah the task of anointing the next king of Aram, the next king of Israel, and the man who would become Elijah's successor, Elisha. He grabs Elisha first (1 Kings 19:10-21).
Later, Ahab and Jezebel have a man named Naboth killed under false charges in order to take his vineyard. Because of this, God told Elijah to tell Ahab that God says dogs would lick his blood in the same spot that Naboth was killed, Jezebel would be eaten by dogs, and God would kill all of Ahab's lineage. Ahab humbled himself, donned a sackcloth and fasted, and went around meekly. God then told Elijah that because Ahab had humbled himself, He decided that He would wait until Ahab's son was ruler to kill all of Ahab's lineage (1 Kings 21). Ahab later gets killed battle, and dogs lick up his blood as prophesied (1 Kings 22).
Ahab's son Ahaziah took over as king of Israel (a.k.a. Samaria). He had a bad accident, so he sent messengers to the prophets of Baal-Zebub to ask if he would recover. God had Elijah intercept the messengers, and told them to tell the king that he will not get up, but would instead die in his bed because he had consulted Baal-Zebub instead of God. The messengers relayed this, and the king asked who this man was. The messengers replied that he was a man with a garment of hair (or perhaps just a very hairy man) and he had a leather belt. The king recognized him as Elijah (2 Kings 1:1-8).
Ahaziah sends a captain and 50 men to go get Elijah. When they find him on a hill and request that he go with them, Elijah asks God to consume these men with fire, which God does. Ahaziah sends another captain and 50 men to go get Elijah. When they find him on a hill and request that he go with them, Elijah asks God to consume these men with fire, which God does again. Ahaziah sends yet another captain and 50 men to go get Elijah. When they find him on a hill, the captain pleads for Elijah to spare their lives and go with them. Elijah gets a message from God to go with them. When Elijah meets with Ahaziah, he tells him that Ahaziah will die because he wanted to consult with Baal-Zebub. Ahaziah dies without an heir (2 Kings 1:9-18).
At some point in time, Elijah also sent a letter to Jehoram, who was king of Judah at that time. In the letter, Elijah told him that God was very mad at him for how sinful he was, and that God would strike a “heavy blow” to everything of his (including his wives and sons) and that he himself would be afflicted with a festering disease which would cause his bowels to fall out (2 Chronicles 21:12-15).
Closing out the story of Elijah, on his way to being called up into Heaven, God led Elijah to Bethel, Jericho, and finally to the Jordan River. Elisha insisted on going with him despite being told to stay behind 3 times. At the Jordan, Elijah rolled up his cloak and struck the water with it, causing it to part so that Elijah and Elisha could walk across on dry ground. Elijah asked Elisha if there is anything he can do for him before going up to Heaven. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. Elijah says that will be difficult, but if Elisha sees him after he has gone to Heaven, then it will be so. Then a chariot of fire, with horses of fire, appeared and took Elijah up to Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-12).
Elijah never died. He just went right up to Heaven, even without the blood of Jesus to wash away the stain of his sins. If he never died, then, it stands to reason, that he could come back at any time (as himself) like what Malachi 4:5 seems to suggest.
OK, so now the time has come to see just how closely John the Baptist resembled Elijah:
John the Baptist
|Birth Legend||None||Foretold of by Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25), related to Jesus (Luke 1:36), John leaped in womb upon hearing Mary pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39-45), father was mute until John was named (Luke 1:57-80)|
|Food||Bread and meat brought by divine help, plus normal food||Locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4)|
|Clothing||Hair garment with leather belt||Hair garment with leather belt (Matthew 3:4)|
|Miracles Performed||Controlled rain, made never-empty oil and flour jars, resurrected a dead boy, called fire from the sky multiple times, parted the River Jordan, and rode to Heaven on a chariot of fire.||None|
|Purpose||Confront the wicked leaders of that time||Ready the people for Jesus|
|Biggest Impact||A showdown with the prophets of Baal, whereby great numbers of people converted back to worshiping God.||Water baptism for the repentance of sins of those who already worship God.|
|Type of Prophesy||Planned punishment for sins||Call for repentance to avoid the “coming wrath”(Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9), identification of Jesus (Matthew 3:11-12, Luke 3:15-17, John 1:29-34)|
|Men Killed||450 prophets of Baal and over 100 of Ahaziah's soldiers||None|
|Death||Wanted to die, but God kept him alive. Never died.||Beheaded because of a foolish vow (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:17-29)|
Other than their fashion sense and working for God, Elijah and John the Baptist were nothing alike. This certainly makes it difficult to accept Jesus' words that John the Baptist was Elijah, or “the” Elijah for that matter. Elijah was fresh-squeezed orange juice compared to John the Baptist's reconstituted, bottled apple juice.
Have you ever noticed that Elijah sounds a lot like “he lied yeah” all smushed together?