Today's scriptures look at two different characters who are very similar in spirit and power. Elijah the Tishbite was an Old Testament prophet through whom God worked mighty miracles. John the Baptizer was a New Testament prophet through whom God worked no miracles, yet through whom God proclaimed the advent of the Messiah. Elijah's ministry brought death to hundreds of followers of false gods. John's ministry was one of peace and justice. So why are there so many scriptural comparisons between Elijah and John?
In Luke 1:16-17 (ESV) we read about the angel's prediction of John's birth. He says:
16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Some have suggested that this means that John was a reincarnation of Elijah, but the Bible never teaches reincarnation. This simply means that the Holy Spirit would be in John in the same way that He was in Elijah--and that there would be similarities between their ministries and even their personalities.
Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) shows that John followed Elijah's fashion advice. Both were wild men of the wilderness. But while Elijah's ministry was one where literal fire was called down from heaven to consume God's enemies, John never brought that kind of heat. He did, however, give a lot of fiery sermons.
John the BaptizerIn those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;make his paths straight.’”*
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Compare this with 2 Kings 1:7-10 (ESV), which describes Elijah:
Elijah7 He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” 8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
In Jesus' day there was a tradition that said that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return. This was based on Malachi 4:5-6 (ESV), which says:
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
For the fulfillment of this prophecy, John seems to fit the bill, as someone who comes in Elijah's "spirit and power." Jesus certainly believed this to be true. Matthew 17:10-13 (ESV) says:
10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
When we read about the similarities between the personalities and the ministries of Elijah and John, it's no wonder that Jesus said that John was the Elijah who was to come. John truly came, not as a reincarnation of Elijah, but in the same spirit and power that motivated that ancient man of God.
Today, you and I have the opportunity to share in something similar. Christians should go into the world in the spirit and power of Jesus. Of course, we aren't Jesus--but He has given us the Holy Spirit, along with His power and authority to do good and proclaim the Lord's truth. In John 14:12-14 (ESV), Jesus says:
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
In Luke 4:16-21 (ESV), Jesus went into the synagogue in his hometown and read from Isaiah 61.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today, if we take up the mantle that Jesus leaves to us, we can fulfill this scripture as well. In the spirit and power of the Christ, we can likewise be anointed to proclaim His good news. We can proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. We can set at liberty those who are oppressed and declare the year of the Lord's favor.
In Jesus' day, the people were waiting for "an Elijah" that was to come. But only John decided, "I'll be him!" Today, many people are waiting for someone else to speak in Jesus' name and act in His power. But God is calling you to say, "I'll be him," or "I'll be her!" This spirit and power is available to every Christian who has the courage to say "yes" to following in the Lord's footsteps.
*See also Isaiah 40:1-5