Was John The Baptist Elijah

by Tony Warren

    There is a doctrine being taught today that postulates that the prophesy of Elijah's coming before Christ, was not totally (if at all) fulfilled by John the Baptist. There are many who maintain that the actual reincarnated personage of Elijah must literally return to earth from Heaven to turn the hearts of the Israelites and prepare the way for Christ. They insist that this is the only way that the Old Testament prophesy can be fulfilled literally. But this postulation is tortuous of the clear declarations of scripture. Taken to it's logical conclusion, such an interpretative understanding would also mean that because prophecy declared he would "make straight in the desert a highway," he must also come and literally be a highway construction worker. Needless to say, this type of literalistic exegesis is illogical, unbiblical and totally inconsistent throughout. And inconsistency is the hallmark of error.

There are other groups who understand the inconsistency in this reasoning, and so take another path by teaching that it has to be a double fulfillment. In other words, where it's undoubtedly true that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophesy "somewhat," but that it has a greater fulfillment by being literally fulfilled before the Second Advent. They believe that it was partially fulfilled as a pattern, but will be fulfilled in it's best sense in the future.

The objective of this Bible study is to take a careful look at the passages in question, to see if there is really any Biblical validation or support for such eschatological teachings.

We start with the often quoted verse of Matthew chapter seventeen, in which the Apostles questioned Christ on why the Jewish leaders were insisting that Elijad had to come before the Christ. First not that Christ affirms that the question was valid, and says that Elias (Elijah) truly must come first and restore all things. Many people point to this verse in the belief that it means that Elijah hasn't come yet. They retort, "else why would Jesus say he shall come first?" However, to accept that position we have to completely ignore the context, and the very next verse, in which Jesus explains his comment:

Matthew 17:11-12

In other words, Christ affirms that the prophesy that Elijah shall come first is true. But He says unto them, it's already fulfilled. In the literal Greek verse 12 actually says, "Elijah indeed comes first and restores all things.." So Christ has plainly told them that the prophesy was true, "BUT" that Elijah had come already and they didn't know him, so did to him what they wanted. And "Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them." So not only do we see in this verse that Christ references the prophesy of Elijah's coming first as true, but also that Elijah had come (this prophesy fulfilled) and they killed him because he wasn't recognized by them. And why not? Because like the true Messiah, he came spiritually, and they were looking for a literal reincarnation, and a Messiah as a literal king to rule Israel from the earthly city of Jerusalem. John and Christ came to restore a spiritual kingdom, not a physical earthly Kingdom. And to this day, many miss this most essential truth of the gospel.

These teachers who claim that it hasn't been fulfilled are ignoring the fact that if verse eleven means Elijah is to come in the future, then verse twelve saying he (not someone else) had come already, is a totally illogical and contradictory statement. That would be like an architect saying, "Yes it's true that the building plans must be drawn up before the construction can commence. And I'm here to tell you, the plans have already been drawn up, and you just didn't see them." In response, would you retort that this means that plans will be drawn up sometime in the future? Of couse not. Because that would make no sense whatsoever, considering what the architect himself had said. Likewise, this theory of the prophesy of Elijah coming first--later, while still having already come first as Christ testified in this prophesy, makes no sense.

The primary rule when studying scripture is that we cannot build a doctrine upon one single verse, while ignoring all others. A sound exegesis involves taking ALL of the scriptures (in context) that have bearing upon the question, into account. doing this, we must make sure that they are in harmony with each other. scripture doesn't contradict itself. The fact is, scripture clearly tells us that John the Baptist was he that was prophesied to come. Isaiah prophesied of the time of Christ, and John was he of whom Isaiah prophesied. Consider wisely what Christ "Himself" declared of the prophesy.

    Matthew 3:3

Esaias is the Greek transliteration of the name Isaiah. So I hope that you won't be ignoring this plain declaration as so many others have done. It not only says that this (John the Baptist) "IS HE," but also that it was him "that was prophesied" to come before Christ by Isaiah. I mean really, how many ways does God have to say that a scripture is fulfilled before some people actually start to believe it? There is no scripture that says it wasn't fulfilled, or that it must be fulfilled again, or that it was only half fulfilled. Those ideas are simply the creative manipulation of scripture by teachers who choose not to follow the scriptures, but to lead them. And all under the convenient blanket of the alleged "double fulfillment." God says "this was" the fulfillment of that prophesied in Isaiah.

    Luke 3:3

Again, clearly, it "was" fulfilled just as it was written of Isaiah, not will be fulfilled. So why do some people just refuse to hear this? We ask the question, "what is fulfilled as it was written?" And the answer is, "the Prophesy of Esaias (Isaiah) was fulfilled as it was written." John the Baptist was the voice crying in the Wilderness that Isaiah prophesied would come before the Lord to prepare His way.

    Isaiah 40:1

God said in Luke 3:3 that this prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled. Man may say, "not really," but according to God's immutable infallible word, all these prophesies were fulfilled in John the Baptist. So who are we going to believe, God or man? The sad truth is, many people don't want this fulfilled because that would mean that Jerusalem has "already" been restored, her warfare ended that she has Peace and Prosperity. it would mean that Elijah's coming to prepare the way has already occurred, and that would make the Premillennial eschatological theories null and void. Nevertheless, God makes it abundantly clear that John was the fulfillment of that prophesy of Elijah coming first and going before the Lord.

    Mark 1:2

People can claim John the Baptist didn't truly fulfill all these scriptures if they want, but the fact is, God's Word says that He did. And he fulfilled it "as it was written" of him. Not as man may want it to be fulfilled in the future, but as God always intended scripture to be fulfilled.

    Romans 11:34

Interpretations belong to God, not man. So if Christ said this is Elijah that was spoken of, then it cannot "not" be Elijah that was spoken of in prophesy.

Another objection to John being Elijah that these teachers use, is that they protest that John the Baptist himself said that he was not Elijah.

    John 1:21

Did he lie, they ask? No, he didn't lie. John said that he wasn't Elijah, because He wasn't Elijah! Elijah had long since gone into Heaven in a whirlwind. The prophesy was "never" that Elijah would be reincarnated and come back to earth, Elijah was the pattern, the type, and John the fulfillment.

As has been effectively demonstrated by scripture, the problem with Premillennial eschatology is that it's theologians expect everything to be fulfilled in a literalistic worldly fashion. But God wants His people to worship Him in Spirit and truth, with wisdom to compare the spiritual things with Spiritual things (1st Corinthians 2:13) to come to true discernment of scripture. When we look at the Old Testament prophesies of his coming, we read (Isaiah 40:1) "Comfort ye Jerusalem, her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned." Can we read that as a literal city with iniquity pardoned, worldly wars ended where the city is at peace? Of course not. At least, not according to the authority of scripture. True wisdom is in comparing spiritual things with the Spiritual, where we see that God tells us this prophesy was fulfilled with the coming of Christ. How? Because He was the Prince of Peace who brought Peace on earth (as the Angels proclaimed) that Jerusalem's warfare "with God" was ended. Only in Christ was iniquity pardoned and man made at peace with God.

The same with Isaiah's prophesy of Elijah making the highway in the desert straight that was crooked. Was that a prophesy of a literal highway also? Is Elijah or John prophesied to be a literal highway construction worker who was destined to measure and straighten roads in the desert? Again, the obvious answer is, of course not. The spiritual picture God paints here in using imagery of crooked highways is in illustrating John would come to make things right. To set things straight in a perverse land, not to literally be fixing crooked roads. Making our paths straight has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with literal highways. But making our spiritual paths straight is "likened unto" making a crooked highway straight.

So what in the world would make the Premillennial theologians believe that in the midst of all this prophesy using spiritual imagery by the Lord, that He would insert Elijah to come back to earth literally? That's the way man thinks. That's the way the world thinks. That's the way man teaches. But it is not prophesy understood in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

    1st Corinthians 2:13

The Holy Spirit is the teacher, through the Word. And comparing the Spiritual with the Spiritual, we know by that Word that John the Baptist was Elijah that was to come in power and go before the Lord. In fact, God doesn't leave us guessing. He very unambiguously tells us how He meant that prophesy. He tells us that John came in the Spirit and Power of Elijah, not literally as Elijah.

    Luke 1:17

Not literally Elias (Elijah), but John came in the spirit of Elijah, and in the power of Elijah. In other words, someone who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah and performs a similar ministry. That was what the prophesy always intended that God's people were to understand. It never meant that Elijah would be reincarnated and come again to earth before Christ. For example, there is the prophesy of David coming, and it speaks of Christ. Or Christ coming as David. It doesn't mean that those prophesies meant Christ was literally David. But that Spiritually David was a "type" or shadow pointing to Christ. Or that Christ was the seed of David prophesied to come. In passages such as Hosea 3:5 and Ezekiel 34:23-24, the Messianic king is called "David." But this does not mean that Christ is a reincarnation of David, or that David was prophesied to return to earth to reign. Likewise, this is the same sense in which John the Baptist is properly called "Elijah" in Malachi 4. If anyone were to ask Christ at His first advent if He were David, he would tell them no, He is Jesus Christ. But that didn't then mean that He didn't fulfill all the scriptures (Matthew 22:42-45) concerning David. And it's the same principle with John the Baptist. He wasn't Elijah, he was John. But he was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Elijah. And in truth, he makes that abundantly clear right in that very chapter that they quote. The same one where John says he is not literally Elijah, he also says that he is the Elijah of that prophesy of scripture. Theologians quote verse 21, but do they go on to quote 22-23? In other words, do they take his words of verse 21 "in context" of his words in verses 22-23 where he declares that he is the one that the prophecy of Isaiah spoke of. He is the one who was prophesied to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord to prepare the way. i.e., he was the Elijah of prophesy that Christ said he was.

    John 1:22-23

Again, the problem is not that it's not clear, or that he wasn't the fulfillment just as the prophet Isaiah said, the problem is that some people simply do not want to "receive" John ahs fulfillment because of doctrines they hold that are incompatible with this truth. Nevertheless, there is no future fulfillment of Elijah coming before the Lord, John was the fulfillment of that prophesy. Scripture reveals that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). So he was not, and nor did he ever claim to be, the actual reincarnation or person of Elijah.

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems the more scripture you give showing this, the more some seem to deny it, or to claim that it doesn't "really" mean this. One theologian declared, "the truth is, John the Baptist was not the Elijah yet to come, but he was the Elijah for the spiritual kingdom then being ushered in." The logical translation of this is that He was Elijah of prophesy, but he wasn't Elijah of prophesy. If that sounds nonsensical, it is. Because if John wasn't the "Elijah yet to come," then why did Jesus say that he was. Jesus said, "this is he" that was spoken of in the prophesy of Isaiah. And if He wasn't the Elijah prophesied, why does scripture continually say that he was? It makes no sense because it's all just rationalization by the proponents of Premillennialism.

All of the scriptures that I have borne witness to clearly say that John indeed was Elijah of prophesy. They aren't really ambiguous, they aren't mysterious, and they aren't hard to understand. Not only that He "was" Elijah, but that He was the same Elijah prophesied in scripture to come. The very same Elijah that Isaiah prophesied about. But only for those who would RECEIVE it. For even in those days, Christ knew, and wanted us to know, that the heart of man is not to receive the love of truth in the Word of God.

    Matthew 11:13

This "is" the truth. Note carefully the theologians words that John was NOT the Elijah yet to come, and then note the Words of Our Saviour Jesus Christ declaring this "IS" Elijah which was for to Come! While they deliberately ignore all the scriptures and blindly hold to these obvious errors, the testimony of Christ is sure. ...If we will RECEIVE IT, Jesus says! the question then is, "will we?" Who's word are we going to receive, theologians or God's? In my book it's no Contest. But because of indoctrination many may not want to receive truth. And truth is, many will never receive it. At least not as long as they are led by pride that they keep ignoring the pertinent scriptures. Why would Christ say, "If you will receive it?"

    ....Because He Knows there are those who WON'T!

Why would "man" not believe John was this Elijah, and believe that this must be fulfilled in the future? ..because he will not receive it.

John the Baptist was not a reincarnation of Elijah, nor does the scriptures teach such views as reincarnation. Was The Prophesy of Elijah's Coming before Christ fulfilled? Indeed it was. For John was the fulfillment of the prophecy because he came before Christ to minister in the same Spirit and the same power that Elijah did. There is no contradiction.


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Copyright ©1996 Tony Warren
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Created 11/1/96 Last Modified 2/20/98
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