I am … (not)

Is John Elijah?

40 blogs of Lent, day 27

As well as the times that Jesus said “I am” in John’s Gospel there are a couple of instances here other people used the phrase negatively — “I am not.”

First up, today’s blog, is John the Baptist:

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”  He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight[f] the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:19-23

John says he is not Elijah, now compare with this:

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 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.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13


It looks like a bit of a contradiction, doesn’t it. John says he is not Elijah and the disciples infer that Jesus is hinting that John is Elijah come back. Jesus does not actually say that John is Elijah, but that is too easy, and does not explain anything.

It is clear from the context that the Messiah was expected, and that a sign would be the return of Elijah as mentioned in Malachi’s prophesy. As both the priests and Levites and Jesus’ disciples asked about Elijah’s return before the coming of the Messiah.

Malachi said that Elijah’s return was about reconciliation,

… Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers Malachi 4:5-6

The prophesy given to Zachariah, John the Baptist’s Father is that John would turn the hearts of the people back to their God and would go out in the spirit of Elijah. Like elijah, John’s ministry was out in the wilderness.

So John was not actually Elijah, but has the power of Elijah and a similar ministry. Does that make John Elijah? Well yes and no: It does if you can accept it, is what Jesus said.

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