January 13, 2012

Hard Sayings XLIV: In The Spirit and Power of Elijah

Jesus makes a matter-of-fact statement in Matthew 11:

“This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 11:10-15

So…Did Jesus say John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated?

First off we must clear something up theologically. There is no such thing as reincarnation. Many mistake Jesus Resurrection as a reincarnation. Reincarnation like a bodily resuscitation gives another mortal body. Resurrection body is immortal. So Jesus could really be saying that John the Baptist is a reincarnation of Elijah per the prophet Malachi’s statements

See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6

So what is Christ saying here as it is obvious he is comparing John the Baptist to the Prophet Elijah? Elijah had been taken up to heaven centuries before even Malachi so for all intensive purposes he was dead to people down here.

First of all, this passage presupposes a literal translation because it is coming from Jesus but we know for a fact that Jesus often spoke in parable and metaphorically. This would be a wise tact in approaching this passage. Although Scripture an Jesus are referring to a real incident and a real people they are being referred to their roles are being referred to as symbolic or as typology. Jesus is in no way teaching that John the Baptist is in actuality Elijah, this is patently absurd. We need to read Luke 1:17 to clear this up quite a bit. When the angel Gabriel approaches Zechariah and tells him that his, “wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John”. The angel also tells him that, “…and he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John came in the same spirit of Elijah preaching a message of repentance. In this way John was exactly the same as Elijah as he was carrying on a centuries old practice of….what else…prophecy. Jesus had not come in the capacity John was predicting ye when he was in the wilderness. John had come in the “spirit of Elijah”

It is also evident that by this point in Jesus’ ministry some of the Disciples had already seen Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Moses. John the Baptist would’ve been dead by this point. At the Mount of Transfiguration Elijah had still been Elijah not manifested as John on the mount.  Elijah remained Elijah and John had gone on to be John somewhere else.

John couldn’t have literally been Elijah any more than Elijah could’ve been John.

Even if reincarnation was possible, which it is not, this first assumes someone had died and as any good Christian will tell you…Elijah didn’t die!

“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” 2 Kings 2:11

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