Was John the promised Elijah?

Lk. 7:18-23     John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come?” (Luke 7:19). He wants to be sure that Jesus really is the Christ or Messiah who was promised by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus asks the messengers to report what they see to John: “The blind can see, the crippled can walk … the dead are raised to life and the Good News is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). (See the feature on Who was the Messiah? earlier in this section)

Mk 6:21-29     John is beheaded on Herod’s birthday in 28AD at the request of his step-daughter, urged on by her mother, Herodias (who had been criticised by John for marrying Herod). John's disciples lay his body in a tomb.

 

               Was John the new Elijah?

After the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas in 28AD, Jesus declared that John was the messenger prophesied by Malachi, who was sent to “Prepare in the desert the way for the LORD” (Isaiah 40:3) (see Matthew 11:10 & Malachi 3:1).

St Antony's Monastery in the Eastern Desert of Egypt

“Prepare in the desert the way for the LORD”  (Isaiah 40:3)
- St Antony's Monastery in the Eastern Desert of Egypt

 

Jesus told the crowds to believe that “John is Elijah, whom they said would come” (Matthew 11:14) – the prophet heralding the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ, and the ‘Day of the LORD’ when everyone who asked God for forgiveness would be saved. It was widely believed among the Jews of New Testament times that the prophet Elijah would come back to earth prior to the coming of the Messiah or Christ (see Malachi 4:5).

However, some of those who heard Jesus believed that he was ‘the promised Elijah’ who would come before the Messiah (see Matthew 16:13-14). Jesus made it quite clear that John the Baptist had performed the role of Elijah by preparing the way for Jesus himself – the Messiah or Christ (the ‘Anointed One’). (See the feature on Who was the Messiah? earlier in this section.)

Today, most Jews (who are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah) leave a place at the table for Elijah when they celebrate Passover. During the Passover supper, the Cup of Elijah stands in the centre of the table. This cup is only to be drunk when the prophet Elijah appears as the forerunner of the Messiah. (See the feature on The Passover Supper in Section 6).

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