“‘For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come’” (Matthew 11:13–14).
All of God’s Old Testament revelation climaxed in John the Baptist. And the apostle John picked up the theme (which at times had been only implicit) that said, “The Messiah is coming!”
The Lord Jesus suggests a close likeness between John and the prophet Elijah, based on Malachi’s prophecy, which are the final words of the Old Testament: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:5–6).
That Malachi referred to the future John the Baptist and not a literally reincarnated Elijah is clear when we look at Luke 1:17—“It is he [John] who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.” John himself clearly denied that he was actually Elijah come back (John 1:21). Rather he was like Elijah—inwardly in “spirit and power” and outwardly in independence and nonconformity.
John was uniquely great, in the mold of Elijah and more so than any man but Jesus; but God’s highest bestowing of greatness is not John’s. His greatness, Jesus declared, pales beside those like us who enter God’s spiritual kingdom by trusting in the Son as Lord and Savior. Thus true greatness is to be like Jesus Christ, not like Elijah or John the Baptist.
“Spirit and power.” How could these words more readily describe you and your ministry in the kingdom? Are these characteristics the sole possession of the overly demonstrably inclined? Or does “spirit and power” even have a gentle side in the cause of Christ?
From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.