Can you explain John the Baptist? I can’t. I can only look at the evidences and come to conclusions that are far from adequate! He is an enigma. See what Jesus says of him in Matthew chapter 11:
10: For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
11: Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
13: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14: And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
15: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
We can read the words, but behind them is a deep mystery, whose answer must remain in the heavenly vault. Let us examine the information and see what we can deduce, even if the findings are beyond human conclusions.
Jesus is telling us that John was the greatest man ever to have lived. But, how many Christians think the same thing – or do they put the Baptist into a lesser category? John the Baptist is the man who prepared the way for the Messiah, preaching repentance. Between the time John began his ministry to the time Jesus began His, there was an unprecedented religious fervour (verse 12), when men of Israel sought the kingdom of God with immense vigour (‘violence’). John was the last of the human, Old Testament prophets, so he spearheaded the coming of Christ.
Verses 14 and 15 are far more profound than at first appears. The words are very easy to read but very difficult to comprehend, even for those who are able to hear and receive it – those counted to be righteous by God.
Jesus very clearly tells us “This is Elias (which was to come).” John is Elijah! How should we take this? We should take it as it is given. Perhaps we will shy away from saying John was actually Elijah, because of the implications. But, this is not how Christians should read and interpret scripture. The implications are not in our province. It is our duty to just speak the word. But, how do we interpret this very short statement? John was no ordinary man; the usual epithets just do not apply.
Elijah did not die, but was taken straight up to heaven. As this is the abode of God, his body, by definition (and according to what will happen to us), had to be changed into another kind. Nevertheless, he is still alive. So, did Jesus mean Elijah somehow transformed into the body of a seed in the womb and re-grow as a baby and then back into a man? How is this possible if he was already an elderly man, still alive in heaven, and if he will come again at a later date? If that is what happened, we can believe it, because God can do anything. But, is this what happened?
Look at the time Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent in broad daylight. Three men approached him from the desert; two were angels and the other was Jesus. They all had human bodies so Abraham was not confused or in fear. Yet, most Christians think the first time Jesus came to earth was as a baby. Obviously, there are things we cannot understand, even if we had the information. God can do anything, and He can and does break into His own laws of nature. Thus, Jesus came to earth as a man, prior to the judgment upon Sodom, but He also came to earth as a baby, much later! This is only incredulous to unbelievers. If God exists, then anything is possible from His mind and hand.
The word ‘is’, the verb (third person singular) esti, means ‘he is’ (as appears in the Greek). So, it means what it says: ‘John is Elijah’. Because it is a substantive verb, it has the meaning of ‘to exist’. We will not enter into further grammatical explanation of this tiny word, ‘is’ - the various definitions are literally vast. The pronoun ‘this’, autos, confirms the meaning of ‘he’ as ‘this very thing’
By saying this, Jesus was reminding the Jews of the very person they had been expecting since Elijah was removed from earth: that he would return to prepare them, just before the Messiah came. John was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15). This is a remarkable statement because it implies that John was righteous even before he heard God’s word and before he had a mind and heart to accept or reject the Lord. If this is so, he bypassed the usual mode of salvation; but, again, God can do anything He wishes. Singularly, he caused huge numbers of Jews to turn to God. “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias” Luke 1:17. Even in the womb, John was able to respond, by moving when he heard Mary the mother of Jesus talking about her own pregnancy. And, when John was born many feared and wondered what kind of person he would become. Evidently, John was of great note even as a baby, an unique individual.
When John began his ministry everyone wondered if he was the Messiah, such was his power and authority. He pointed them towards Jesus. Luke 1:17 is the clue to interpretation, but should not be underestimated. John would “go before him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elias”. The preposition ‘in’, en, can mean in, by, with, etc. If it means with or by, then the link with Elias is organic (not separate). If it means simply ‘in’ then it means the spirit does not belong to Elias, but is the same as.
John, then, was not Elias the person, but had the same spirit (in type and attribute) and power as Elias had. He was not just similar to Elias, but in all respects was Elias, except for body. Thus, in many ways he was Elijah, so close in type and kind as to almost be him actually. Was John Elijah, then? He was far more than ‘similar’! We can do no better than to use the words of Jesus: “This is Elias.”
© November 1997
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
Please 'Make a Donation' to support the work of Bible Theology Ministries