Tuesday, July 25, 2017
John the Baptist Is the New Elijah
2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things (miraculous works, deeds) the Messiah (Christ) was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 “Are You the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” 4 Jesus told them (John’s disciples), “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen — 5 the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured (cleansed), the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News (Gospel) is being preached to the poor. 6 And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of Me.’” 7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him (John the Baptist) to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? 8 Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. 9 Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he (John) is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, and he will prepare Your way before You.’ 11 I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. . . . 13 For before John came, all the Prophets and the Law of Moses looked forward to this present time. 14 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he (John the Baptist) is Elijah, the one the Prophets said would come. 15 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! 16 To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, 17 ‘We played wedding songs, and you did not dance, so we played funeral songs (dirges), and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John did not spend his time eating and drinking (with others), and you say, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man (Jesus), on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He is a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” 20 Then Jesus began to denounce (censure) the towns where He had done so many of His miracles (mighty works), because they had not repented (change their hearts) of their sins and turned to God. 21 “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. 22 I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you. 23 And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. 24 I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.” Matthew 11:2-11, 13-24 (NLT)
The New Testament Gospel writers reveal many links between the Old Testament prophet of Elijah and John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ. However, Jesus is more superior to Elijah and John the Baptist. The living God, who is Father of Jesus and Creator of the heavens and earth, has entrusted everything to His Son, Jesus Christ (see Matthew 11:25-27; Matthew 17:5; Luke 10:21; Acts 17:24; Ephesians 3:9). Blessed are those who believe and accept Jesus as the Son of the living God (see Matthew 11:6; John 20:31).
In Matthew 11, Jesus the Messiah identified John the Baptist as the long awaited Elijah (see Matthew 11:14). John the Baptist was not the literal reincarnation of Elijah. Nonetheless, John the Baptist did fulfill the prophetic function and role of Elijah by coming in the spirit and power of Elijah (see Luke 1:16-17). Elijah never died, but rather chariots and horses of fire took Elijah into heaven in a whirlwind (see 2 Kings 2:11). Because Elijah ascended to heaven without dying, faithful Jews believe Elijah would return again to rescue them from troubles on Day of the Lord (see Malachi 4:5-6). At the Jewish annual Passover feast, each Jewish family set an extra place for Elijah in expectation of his return. Enoch was another person taken into heaven without dying (see Genesis 5:21-24). The only other person taken into heaven in bodily form was Jesus after His resurrection from complete death (see Acts 1:9). One day, faithful believers of Jesus Christ will also rapture and taken into heaven at the time of Jesus’ second coming (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).
John in a moment of weakness, while imprisoned, doubted Jesus’ mission as the Messiah (Christ) (Matthew 11:2; see also Luke 7:18). Sadly, Herod had John arrested and imprisoned because he criticized his adulterous marriage Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (see Matthew 4:12; Matthew 14:3-5; Luke 3:19-20). John had heard about all the miracles and mighty works of Jesus (see Matthew 11:2). So, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3, ESV; see also Luke 7:18-20). The Jews had long been awaiting the arrival of the Messiah from God as predicted by the Old Testament (e.g., see Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; John 4:25; John 6:14; John 11:27).
Then, Jesus answered and told John’s disciples,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have Good News preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (Matthew 11:4-6, ESV).
Jesus performed many miraculous works and healing during His public ministry as predicted by the Old Testament prophets (e.g., see, Isaiah 29:18-19; Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 61:1-2; Matthew 15:31; Luke 4:18-19; Luke 7:22-23). Interestingly, the Old Testament prophets of Elijah and Elisha also performed the same supernatural and amazing miraculous deeds listed by Jesus in the Gospels (e.g., see Matthew 11:4-6; Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). Elijah and Elisha were the great prophets of the Old Testament that ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Old Testament reveals Elijah and Elisha restored the dead to life (see 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:8-37); brought food and Good News to the poor (see 1 Kings 17:7-24; 2 Kings 4:1-7, 42-44); healed people suffering from leprosy (see 2 Kings 5:1-14); and gave sight to the blind (see 2 Kings 6:18-20). Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha had God’s power to control the forces of nature and control the raging waters (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:7, 13-14; 2 Kings 2:19-22; Luke 8:22-25). Interestingly, Jesus acknowledged the miraculous works of Elijah and Elisha and linked His ministry to the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha (see Luke 4:24-27).
After John the Baptist’s disciples had gone away, Jesus began talking about John to the listening crowds. Jesus said concerning John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’” Matthew 11:7-10 (ESV)
John the Baptist was a prophet, and the Jewish people held John in high regard as a prophet sent from God (e.g., see Matthew 14:5; Matthew 21:25-26; Luke 1:76; Luke 20:6). Many people repented of their sins and were baptized by John (e.g., see Matthew 3:5-6). However, Jesus declared that John the Baptist was a more than just a prophet (see Matthew 11:9; Luke 7:26-27). John the Baptist was the messenger predicted in the Old Testament prophets that would precede the Messiah’s arrival and announce the Messiah’s coming to prepare the people’s hearts to return to God (see Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27-28, John 3:28; cf. Malachi 3:1). Moreover, Jesus declared that of all humans ever born, none shines more brightly than John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:11). Most important, Jesus explicitly proclaimed that John the Baptist is Elijah (Matthew 11:14-15; see also Matthew 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13; cf. Malachi 4:5-6). John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” as the forerunner announcing Jesus the Messiah’s arrival (Luke 1:16-17, 76; cf. Malachi 3:1).
Oddly, John the Baptist declared to the Jewish religious leaders that he was not the long awaited Elijah or the Messiah (Christ) (see John 1:21, 25). Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, and his story is recorded in 1 Kings 17 — 2 Kings 2). The New Testament mentions the prophet Elijah at least thirty times, and ten of those references relate Elijah to John the Baptist. The Old Testament prophet Malachi predicted that Elijah would return to earth before the time of God’s great judgment when the Messiah arrives (see Malachi 4:5-6). In the religious leaders’ minds, there were four options regarding John the Baptist’s identity: John was (1) the prophet predicted by Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19), (2) Elijah (see Malachi 4:5-6), (3) the long awaited Messiah (see Luke 3:15), or (4) a false prophet. Instead John the Baptist called himself, in the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (see John 1:23, quoting Isaiah 40:3). John emphasized only why he had come — to prepare the way for the Messiah. The New Testament Gospels confirmed that John the Baptist prepared the people’s hearts for Jesus the Messiah by urging everyone to repent of their sins and turn to God (see Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:2-17; John 1:6-8, 19-34).
Interestingly, the prophet Malachi predicted the coming of Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord” (see Malachi 4:5-6). This “Day of the Lord” is the time of Tribulation that will come on all the earth (see Matthew 24:15). However, no such judgments followed the ministry of John the Baptist because John’s ministry was to prepare the nation for Jesus the Messiah and to present Jesus to the nation (see John 1:29-34). Many Bible scholars believe that the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6 will be fulfilled literally when Elijah comes with Moses as one of the “two witnesses” spoken of in Revelation (see Revelation 11:3-12). Both Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at His Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-7; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).
John the Baptist and Elijah shared many similarities. Like Elijah, John the Baptist was a courageous man, a man of prayer empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, a man who lived alone in the wilderness, and a servant who turned many people back to the Lord. The Gospels particularly demonstrate John the Baptist’s relationship to Elijah as to their distinctive dress. Both Elijah and John the Baptist wore clothes made of camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around their waists (see 2 Kings 1:7-8; Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6). Furthermore, both Elijah and John the Baptist’s main enemies were women in the royal court who sought their lives. For Elijah, the evil woman was Jezebel (see 1 Kings 19:2, 10, 14), and for John the Baptist the wicked woman was Herodias (see Matthew 14:3-12). Moreover, both Elijah and John the Baptists had days of discouragement and isolation (see 1 Kings 19:3-5; Matthew 11:2). Also, both Elijah and John the Baptist anointed their successors at the Jordan River, and both witnessed the heavens opening and flying objects descending from heaven above (see 2 Kings 2:7-8, 11-12; Luke 3:21-22). Elijah and Elisha saw an approaching chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12), and John the Baptist and Jesus saw a descending dove (see Matthew 3:16). Like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist boldly confronted sin and evil leaders that dishonored God (e.g. see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1-2, 16-39; 1 Kings 21:17-24; 2 Kings 1:1-3; 15-17; Luke 3:8). Most importantly, both Elijah and John the Baptist encouraged Israel to repent by turning away from sin and turning back to the living God (see 1 Kings 18:30-39; Matthew 3:2, 8; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3, 8).
Furthermore, both John the Baptist and Elijah chose to work alone and live in isolation during their ministries (e.g. see 1 Kings 18:22; 1 Kings 19:14; Matthew 3:1; Matthew 11:18). John the Baptist was like Elijah as a voice of the wilderness (see 1 Kings 17:2-6; Mark 1:4). Jesus noted that John the Baptist’s prophetic message was like a funeral song because John the Baptist did not come drinking and socializing but fasting and isolation (Matthew 11:16-19; see also Matthew 3:4; Matthew 9:14; Luke 1:15). John the Baptist and Elijah preferred the bleak hills without a support group. Both John the Baptist and Elijah were able to condemn Israel’s policy because he is outside the earthly system. In fact, both John the Baptist and Elijah abruptly appears to Israel proclaiming the living God (see 1 Kings 17:1; Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:2-3).
In contrast, Elisha and Jesus did not work alone or in isolation during their prospective ministries. Elisha and Jesus were involved with other people eating and drinking. Jesus came as an insider, and He was often called a glutton and friend of sinners (Matthew 11:16-19; e.g., see also Matthew 9:10; Luke 7:36; Luke 15:1-2; John 2:1-2). In fact, Jesus compared His message as a wedding with feasting and drinks (see Matthew 9:9-17). Also, Elisha was often accompanied by a company of prophets (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 6:1-7).). Similarly, many faithful disciples, women, and followers accompanied Jesus during His public ministry on earth (e.g., Luke 5:8-11, 27-28, 33; Luke 6:17; Luke 7:11; Luke 8:1-4). All social classes had access to Jesus and Elisha, from the lowly widow to foreign kings.
Most importantly, Jesus proclaimed that the people rejected John the Baptist just as the people rejected Him (see Matthew 11:16-19). At Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus began rebuking and scolding the various cities where He completed most of His miraculous works and deeds. The people of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum saw Jesus’ miraculous deeds firsthand (see Matthew 11:21, 23). The various miracles Jesus performed confirmed Him as the long awaited Messiah sent from God. However, the people stubbornly refused to repent of their sins and believe in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ (see Matthew 11:5-6, 20).
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Dr. George Schwab, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2017).
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