2 Kings 2:11–15, Malachi 4:4–6, Mark 9:11–13, Luke 9:18–21, John 1:19–28 (read online ⧉)
Moses was the Great Propet of Israel, as he brought the Torah to Israel. Through the faithfulness and humanness of Moses, the Israelites became more than a collection of related families. They became a nation. You would think, therefore, with his place at the forefront of Israelite history, Moses would be the one the First Century Jews would be waiting for. He, Moses, led them out of captivity to the most powerful nation (at that time) on earth. Who else would lead the Jews (the remnants of Israel) out of their current captivity/oppression of the First Century’s most powerful nation on earth, Rome? Yet, it was Elijah who was expected.
To be clear, this is not a reincarnation story. Neither Moses nor Elijah were expected to be reincarnated. Our familiarity with other religions can actually lead us down false trails, as we all use the same language and words to convey different understandings. The language used is similar, but its intent is to convey something different. From the perspectives of the Scriptures, whether we’re talking about Malachi or all the words spoken about John the Baptist or Jesus Christ regarding Elijah, it is not literally Elijah, but the person whose time and place it is to be an Elijah. In other words, the person called has called at a particular time or place to bring the descendants of Israel back into relationship with God.
Malachi expected this “spirit of Elijah” to lead Israel back to God, restoring relationship and right worship to the people. By the time of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, Elijah was more of—though not solely—a cleansing spiritual fire that would restore the people’s desire for God, not just relationship and worship. In that regard, John the Baptists did “carry” the “spirit of Elijah.” People came to him in repentance and to be spiritually restored and healed. Jesus Christ, himself, recognized that John the Baptists bore the “spirit of Elijah.” Only John denied it.
There could be a number of reasons why. There are two likely reasons. The first reason would be that he didn’t want to draw attention away from the Messiah. That is a reasonable thing, as everyone was looking forward to a Messiah, just as they were looking for an Elijah. There would be pressure and expectation (as if John the Baptist probably didn’t already have it) to be an Elijah. John the Baptist already knew he wasn’t the Messiah.
Probably the most likely reason is that John the Baptist didn’t seem himself as Elijah. Yes, John the Baptist probably did see prophetic ministry in himself. Whether it was quiet humility (does not see himself as an Elijah) or studied humility (did not want to take away from the Messiah), either one is defensible and either one is good. John also, however, did not stop being who God called him to be and doing what the Holy Spirit led him to do.
1) Does it really matter whether John the Baptist bore the “spirit of Elijah?” Why or why not?
3) People expected whoever had “the spirit of Elijah” to lead them. What is wrong with that expectation? What is valid with that expectation?