Elijah is one of the most fascinating characters in all of Scripture. In 1 Kings 17 he suddenly appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and begins one of the most fantastic ministries written in God’s word. Elijah contended with wicked kings and queens, he demonstrated the power of God on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), and he even shows us the great power of prayer (James 5:16ff). Elijah is one of the few people in Scripture who did not die, but, “he went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).
Centuries after Elijah’s ministry, however, one of God’s prophets predicted a return. Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, wrote: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). For 400 years after Malachi wrote those words, the people of Israel watched and waited for the return of Elijah. They believed that his renewed ministry would signal the coming of the Messiah Himself.
The Gospel accounts teach that John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s prediction of the return of Elijah. If Elijah has returned, then the Messiah has also come!
John Looked Like Elijah — “John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:4). When Ahaziah the king wanted to know who had spoken to his servant, the servant said, “It was a hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). Ahaziah immediately knew that his servant had described, “Elijah the Tishbite.” John the Baptist dwelled in the wilderness as Elijah had so often done (Matt. 3:1), and as a result many of the Jews in John’s day went out to hear him preach. John drew a crowd because he looked like the prophet Elijah!
John Preached Like Elijah — Because of his fearless preaching, Elijah was called, “the troubler of Israel” by King Ahab (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah proclaimed the word of God regardless of the potential consequences to him personally. John the Baptist once rebuked the well-thought-of Pharisees who came to be baptized merely because it was fashionable: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8). When he spoke to King Herod, John fearlessly told him about the sinfulness of his marriage: “it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Because of this statement, John eventually lost his own head (Mark 6:19-28). Where are the preachers today who will be as loyal to God and His word as John and Elijah?
John Was Declared to Be Elijah — Since the Jews were anxiously waiting for the return of Elijah, Jesus took the opportunity to point out that John’s ministry had fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi. “If you are willing to receive it, [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13). Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah was fulfilled in John the Baptist. This means that Jesus was the Messiah that the Old Testament so often predicted. When the Jews wanted to mock or discredit Jesus, they often brought up Elijah. “He casts out demons by Beelzebub” (Mk. 3:22; cf. 2 Kings 1:2-8). When Jesus cried, “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani,” the mockers said, “He is calling for Elijah” (Matthew 27:46-47). The truth is, if John the Baptist was not the prophesied Elijah, then Jesus is not the Messiah. Thanks be to God that He shows all of His promises and prophecies to be true! —JB