JESUS SAID THAT JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS ELIJAH, BUT JOHN DENIED IT! HOW COME? (SEE MATTHEW 17:12, 13; JOHN 1:21)
We know from Scriptures that Elijah the prophet was translated to Heaven without seeing death. The Bible records:
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)
The last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, predicts the return of Elijah.
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 heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5, 6)
The Jews had a problem in taking many things literally when God was speaking symbolically. For example when Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, about being "born again" he took it literally. When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood the Jews who heard Him took it literally. (See John3:3, 4; John 6:51-53). The same way these Jews believed that the literal Elijah, who was taken up to Heaven, would be born again physically to fulfill prophecy.
Talking about Jesus the Bible calls Him the "son of David" many a time, but also it referred to Him as "David"! Ezekiel wrote what God said:
And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:23)
David died around four hundred years before Ezekiel wrote this. And there did not arise any king in Israel or Judah by the name David. Not the literal David would come back to rule, but the symbolic David-Jesus Christ!
Elijah would come according Malachi--not the literal Elijah, the Tishbite, but the symbolic Elijah.
We understand from Jesus that the prophetic Elijah was John the Baptist. Jesus said:
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. (Matthew 11:13, 14)
But when John the Baptist was asked earlier he said he was not Elijah.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. (John 1:21)
When we go to Luke's Gospel we get the clue to the whole puzzle. Gabriel told John's father:
Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John... And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13, 17)
In the "Spirit and power of Elias" John would go before the Lord! It was not that he was literally Elijah reincarnated, but someone having the spirit and power of the fearless prophet of the Old Testament.
But the Jews believed that the real Elijah of the Old Testament would return, therefore John denied that he was that Elijah. But Jesus said John was indeed the prophetic Elijah-not the literal but the symbolic Elijah!
If you notice the prophecy of Malachi, the Elijah he refers to would come before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He tells us that it is before:
The great and dreadful day of the LORD. (Malachi 4:5)
Strictly speaking, the first coming of Jesus Christ was not "The great and dreadful day of the Lord". Many of the Bible writers refer it to the final day of the Lord's anger, which is indeed the Second Coming of the Lord. Joel wrote:
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. (Joel 2:31)
Many of the Bible prophecies are dualistic in nature--it has two fulfillments. You will also notice Peter quoting the prophet Joel during Pentecost and citing its fulfillment, though it primarily applies to the last days, the "latter rain" of the Holy Spirit. During Peter's time it was the "former rain".
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh. (Acts 2:16, 17)
Elijah will return before the "The great and dreadful day of the LORD". Not the literal Elijah, but "the spirit and power" of Elijah will be seen among God's people of the last days to preach the final message of warning, thus heralding the return of the King of kings and the Lord of lords!
Those who will be used by God to give this last warning message will have to first have the character of Elijah in their lives!
May God prepare us as He prepared John the Baptist in the wilderness, for the final showdown! As Elijah was translated to Heaven without experiencing death, the saints who will be alive when Jesus comes will be translated likewise! (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).