Over the years I have often read the scriptures that talk of John the Baptist as being the “Elijah who is to come.” But in all that time I have never stopped to consider why he was called by that name. So I have spent a little time looking at the ministry of Elijah and comparing him to John the Baptist.
The key words used by Jesus were that the Elijah who is to come was to “…restore all things.” (Verse 12) Also in Matthew 11:7-15 Jesus talks of John as being the one who fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare they way before thee.” Even before John was born an angel appeared to his father saying, “…and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli’jah, 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.” (Luke 1:17)
The ministry of John the Baptist was to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He did this by preaching repentance and the need to turn away from evil and sin. He also upbraided the religious leaders of the day, as did Jesus, calling them a “brood of vipers” and warning them to repent also. (Matthew 3:7) John was also at odds with Herod the tetrarch who had been reproved by John for taking his brother’s wife and all the evil he had done. His wife also bore a grudge against John and it was eventually through her that John was beheaded.
John’s ministry was to bring the people back to the Lord in preparation for the coming of Jesus. In many ways there are similarities with Elijah the prophet.
Elijah lived in the days when Ahab was king over Israel. Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all the evil kings before him, and he considered it a light thing to walk in sin. He took Jezebel as a wife and together they built idols to Baal and made an Asherah to the false gods and Jezebel killed many of the prophets of the Lord. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than all of the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16:29-34)
Elijah was at odds with Ahab and Jezebel just as John was at odds with Herod and Herodian his wife. Like John, Elijah was in the wilderness for a time and during that period was fed by ravens and drank only water from a stream. But the main similarities are in the respective ministeries of these two prophets. The most telling scripture in the events surrounding Elijah’s ministry was when he called upon the Lord to bring fire down to light the burnt offering when he challenged the priests of Baal. As Elijah prayed to the Lord he said, “Answer me O Lord, answer me that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:37)
In this scripture we see that the purpose of the Lord in Elijah’s ministry was to turn the hearts of the people back to God and away from all the evil brought on them by Ahab, Jezebel and the worship of Baal. Elijah was the instrument used by God to bring his people back to worshipping the Lord. This was in essence the same as the ministry of John the Baptist, for he was called 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.” (Luke 1:17)
Thus we see the similarities in the ministries of Elijah and John and why it is that John was called the “Elijah who is to come.”
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