Why did Jesus refer to John the Baptizer as Elijah?

From Issue: Discovery 2/1/2006

Jesus referred to John as Elijah (Matthew 11:14), but He did not mean that John was the actual Old Testament prophet described in 1 Kings. Jesus called him that because both he and Elijah were prophets, or messengers of God. Elijah was one of God’s greatest prophets who delivered many messages to the king of Israel (1 Kings 17-19). Though Elijah’s courage and faith in God made him great, Jesus said that John was greater (Matthew 11:11). John’s mission was to prepare the way for Christ and His kingdom “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Four hundred years before John was born, God spoke these words through the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” Malachi 4:5. This prophecy led the Jews of Jesus’ day to expect the return of Elijah before the arrival of the Messiah. After hearing Jesus’ words, they should have realized that Malachi spoke of John the Baptizer, not the long-dead Elijah. Many people rejected the teachings of John and Jesus, but some accepted them and recognized John as “Elijah,” the one who was preparing the way for the Messiah. These people were blessed as a result of their belief.


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