If John the Baptist was the final fulfillment of the prophecy of the return of Elijah, then the Tribulation, Day of the Lord and the setting up of the kingdom of Christ are all past and we are living in the kingdom age of peace throughout the world and the lion lying with the lamb (what a depressing thought).
Thankfully, we have the words of our Lord, John the Baptist, and the proper dividing of the word of truth to make clear (to anyone but a “scholar”) that scripture says what it means and means what it says.
Let us examine:
Jesus taught his disciples that Elijah was coming and had already come. This appears a paradox. There are similarities and differences between John and Elijah’s future ministry.
First, the original promise:
1For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.
4Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6And 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.
It is evident that:
- Elijah comes before the great and dreadful day of the LORD which is a horrific time of judgment.
- He is to turn the hearts of the fathers and children toward each other or else, the earth will be smitten with a curse.
Now, of John the Baptist:
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 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.
- John will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
- He will minister in the power and spirit of Elijah to turn people’s hearts toward the Lord.
What is clear so far is that they both have a ministry of preaching repentance.
However, John the Baptist is not Elijah and he knows it.
John 1:21 “And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.”
John knew exactly who he was and what prophecy he fulfilled.
John 1:22,23 “Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”
John while he ministered did turn many to repentance but the leaders of Israel rejected his preaching. Even many of the people who initially followed John ended up turning away from Jesus. Thus the land of Israel was stricken with a curse. When Elijah comes, this will not be the case as Jesus taught, Matthew 17 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things”.
NOW, WHEN IS THE RESTORATION? The scriptures below tell us.
“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
“Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” Here Jesus is affirming their understanding but stating the "restoration is yet future.
Interestingly though, The Lord while telling his disciples the Elijah will come in the future, also tells them that he had already come and the Jews did not know it. How can this be?
Matthew 17:12 "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."
Very simply, we are dealing with a literal fulfillment in the future preceded by a fulfillment in type.
This is a common occurence is scripture. ESPECIALLY, ESPECIALLY when our Lord Jesus Christ states the Elijah will come and yet has come. Sometimes in scripture, this works the other way around where a literal fulfillment is in the past and a partial or type fulfillment is in the future.
Dual fulfillments are common as in Hosea 11:1"When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." referring also to Jesus's departure from Egypt.
Jeremiah 31:15 "Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." referring also to the slaughter of children in Bethlehem.
We know that while our Lord builds His church, his spiritual kingdom in this age of grace, there will come in the future a literal great tribulation, followed by a literal physical kigdom of Christ on earth and for this we literally look forward to.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.