The expectation that Elijah will come back is based on a prophecy in the Book of Malachi. God said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
The Jews put out a cup for Elijah at the Passover Meal because they are so sure that he will literally come back. After the meal, they say a prayer and ask a family member to open the door to see if Elijah the prophet has arrived.
Jesus was talking about His Second Coming when He told His disciples, “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28). Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the Mount of Transfiguration where they saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-4). This is important because it shows that Elijah did show up in a vision (Matthew 17:9).
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus asked His disciples not to tell anyone about the vision until He had been risen from the dead. This puzzled the disciples. They asked, “Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come” (Matthew 17:10)? In other words, they were asking Jesus, “If you are going to die before Elijah shows up, why do the scribes say Elijah will come first?” They didn’t understand that there Jesus would come twice (first and Second Coming). And they didn’t understand that Elijah will show up before the Second Coming.
Anyway, this puzzled the disciples. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them” (Matthew 17:11-12). Jesus was saying the disciples were right. They rightly understood what the scribes were saying. Elijah will show up before the great and terrible day of the Lord or before the Tribulation Period. He will show up before Jesus comes in His glory which means before the Second Coming of Jesus. This is one reason why some think Elijah will be one of the Two Witnesses that will preach during the first half of the Tribulation Period and before the Second Coming.
Now, here is the problem: “Jesus said Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall the Son of man suffer of them.” The fact that Jesus said “Elias is come already” sounds very much like Jesus was saying John the Baptist was Elijah.
But this is explained in Matthew 11:14. Concerning their coming King, the kingdom and John the Baptist, Jesus said, “IF ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” He was saying, “IFyou will accept the fact that I am your King and believe that the kingdom has come, I will accept John the Baptist as a fulfillment of the prophecy about Elijah.”
“IF” is a big word. It is a conditional word. And the point is that the Jews didn’t accept the fact that Jesus was their King and they didn’t believe that the kingdom had come so Jesus didn’t accept John the Baptist as a fulfillment of the prophecy about Elijah.
Luke 1:17 reveals more. When the angel Gabriel told Zacharias about the birth of John the Baptist, Gabriel said John the Baptist will come in the spirit and power of Elijah. John the Baptist didn’t come as Elijah. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Jesus would have accepted John’s coming in the spirit and power of Elijah as a fulfillment of the prophecy if the Jews had accepted Jesus as their King and believed that the kingdom had arrived. But the Jews didn’t do that. The “IF” didn’t happen. John the Baptist was killed. Jesus was killed. And the kingdom wasn’t established.
So Jesus didn’t accept John the Baptist as the coming of Elijah. And that’s exactly what John the Baptist said when the priests and Levites asked him “Art thou Elias” (John 1:21). He said, “I am not.”
Prophecy Plus Ministries
Daymond & Rachel Duck