Jesus said that John was Elijah. John said he wasn’t Elijah. Who was right?
The question is, who is Elijah? The other question is, who’s asking?
First of all, let’s talk about Malachi’s words. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come back to Judah heralding a massive change. Malachi spoke to the Jews post-exile.
Despite the restoration of the temple, the people were overcome with despair and ennui. God didn’t meet their expectation of restoring everything to the way they perceived it having been before (even if its perfection was figurative). They were walking on the downward slope away from God, again.
Malachi didn’t let them off the hook. God was coming, in God’s timing. People would come to God, or they wouldn’t, but something momentous would happen. The Day of the Lord was often synonymous with the end of the world. It was also used to indicate a God-driven cataclysmic change.
Malachi’s words had transformed as the precursor to the Messiah. Elijah would come before the Messiah. This not a literal thing, as reincarnation was not part of Jewish thought. This “Elijah” would be “in the spirit of Elijah” meaning a prophet of God, but with a particular focus on restoring the relationship between the people and God.
So, why did John deny being Elijah? Probably because he didn’t see himself that way. The problem with being compared to a legendary figure is that you know you’re not the legendary figure. There was a lot of weight and expectation, and John probably didn’t want to bear that burden.
Also, as there was so much build-up regarding the Messiah, there was likely just as much build-up around Elijah, and much of it was probably wrong. Why would John want to be a part of that?
There is also the last part of it, which is who Elijah was really couldn’t be evaluated until the Messiah completed the return. John was dead before the fulfillment, and without himself seeing the fulfillment, he certainly would have questioned being “Elijah”.
Jesus, on the other hand, knew what was coming, and knew what had gone before. He had the perspective to be able to call John “Elijah”. In the spirit of Elijah, the Messiah (Jesus) did indeed reset the Day of the Lord. It was only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that John could fully be called “Elijah.”
Often, our own perspective of our lives is twisted and/or minimized, for we (like John) cannot really see what came before and what will come after. We do not know the hearts we’ve changed, the paths we’ve diverted. Only at the end will God let us see it all from an eternal perspective.
That we are faithful to God. That we pursue God. That we follow God. That we try to help others follow God. This is what God will let us see at the end. For now, we can only put one step in front of the other.
Father God, help us to accept that we cannot see the eternal effect of our lives. Lord Jesus, help us to follow you that the eternal effect brings you glory. Holy Spirit, guard and strengthen our hearts for those times when we are discouraged because we don’t see that we’ve made a difference. Amen.
1) There are 2 kinds of eulogies. One that is written by the deceased for reading at the funeral, and the ones that are written in the hearts of others. Which one matters most? In what ways does the eulogy matter for both?
2) What concepts and feelings come to mind when you hear the phrase, “The Day of the Lord”? Why might that be?