John the Baptist confuses me.
He himself baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and saw the Holy Spirit descending on Him like a dove. He heard the very voice of God proclaiming “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17. Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)
He announced Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Only the Messiah would fit that description.
Even from before birth, John the Baptist knew who Jesus was and he knew who he was. (Luke 1:41)
Jesus called him the greatest of prophets and, if we are willing to accept it, the Elijah who would announce His coming and call people to repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God. (Matthew 11: 11-14)
And yet, when John is asked point blank if he is Elijah, he denies it. (John 1:21)
Furthermore, when John is in prison, he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really is the Messiah. (Matthew 11:2-3)
What gives here? Was John conflicted? Did he wallow in doubt in prison and question God? Did he not know who he was in God’s plan? Did he lie about being Elijah?
Or are there other answers?
No, John was not conflicted or lying when he said he was not Elijah. The confusion arises because prophecy that foretells the coming of Elijah is a dual prophecy. (Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 4:5-6)
The first coming of Elijah would be a coming of the spirit of Elijah at the first coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, not the actual person of Elijah. The second appearance of Elijah will be his physical return at the second coming of the Messiah in “the great and terrible Day of the Lord” which is described in Revelation.
So, John the Baptist was telling the truth. He was not Elijah. It was the people asking the question who were confused and had the prophecy wrong.
And, when John the Baptist sends his disciples out to ask Jesus if He truly is the Messiah, he is not asking for himself. He is sending his disciples out to see Jesus in action for their benefit, not his. He said it himself: “I must decrease. He must increase.” (John 3:30) John probably knew he would be executed in prison and his disciples needed to become Christ’s disciples.
I didn’t figure any of that stuff out myself. People smarter than me have spent lifetimes looking into things like this and I am grateful for them. The answers are easy to find via an internet search, or in the notes of a good study Bible.
The amazing part is the Bible is deeper, more real, more significant, and more miraculous when you dig into with a shovel than when you skim over it with a spoon.
It’s almost as if the Bible was designed to be studied.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)