Matthew 17:10-13 And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" 11 He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 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." 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
The disciples are walking down a mountain with Jesus after seeing his glory in physical manifestation at the transfiguration. It was in that experience that they also saw Moses and Elijah next to Jesus as the prophets of old now standing with the One they both foreshadowed and expected. After this glorious event, the disciples were prompted to ask Jesus a question based on what they had heard from the teaching of the scribes. The scribes taught that Elijah must come in anticipation of the Messiah.
Jesus indeed confirmed the statement made by the scribes. Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. This repetition of the statement from the scribes is Jesus way of saying that the scribes were indeed accurate in their expectation. Even so, in verse 12 Jesus helps the disciples to understand that the scribes were off in their timing and in the typological nature of the fulfillment of this prophecy. The scribes had missed the prophet who had already come in the power and spirit of Elijah, John the Baptist. In Luke 1:16-17, Luke gives us this description of John the Baptist, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." Luke here is referring back to the expectation of Elijah from the prophet Malachi.
Malachi 4:5-6 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." What we understand from this passage and Jesus’ explanation to the disciples is that Elijah must come prior to the awesome day of the LORD and in so doing will prepare Israel in a restorative way so that they will not face utter destruction. If we consider this in the ministry of John the Baptist, we do indeed see that John came as a forerunner to Jesus. John came with many of the same traits as Elijah, even down to the way he dressed. He also preached a restorative message. While, Malachi talks about the restoration of the hearts of fathers and children, Luke expands this to talking about bringing disobedience to wisdom. This is all easily captured in the thrust of John the Baptist’s message. The message of repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven is one that has restorative quality for all who will believe. As those who listened to John did indeed repent with expectancy for the Messiah, they would bring a new humility of faith into their homes and a new obedience to their God.
Repentance is a call to restoration. As we see our sin in the light of God’s holiness, we are humbled before his righteous judgment and transformed by his mercy and grace as we turn away from our arrogant sinful life and seek to live in his wisdom. When you bring repentance into your home, it changes not only your nature, but the nature of your relationships. It has you showing others of the new hope that you have found and calls those around you to join you in knowing the salvation of God rather than facing utter destruction.
Elijah and John the Baptist had a message of repentance and restoration for Israel in preparation for the expected Messiah. If they had not come in preparation, the Messiah would not arrive and there would be no true salvation for these people who had lost their way. The sad reality is found in the way that Jesus tells his disciples that this Elijah has already come, the message and preparation has already happened, and he has been rejected. If they have rejected the one introducing the Messiah, why would they accept the Messiah himself? But even this is a proof of the ministry of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus. He suffered and died and was rejected as he pointed to the Messiah, just as Jesus suffered and died and his salvation was rejected by many of his own people.
Elijah had to come because he would be the forerunner to confirm that the expected Messiah had arrived. The Kingdom has come into this world with the coming of the King and this is now the fulfillment of the promise in Malachi. If you miss it, you will face destruction. If you repent and accept it, you will find eternal hope in the Suffering Servant who came to atone for your sin. So, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In fact, for us, it is now here, and this call of repentance is even more urgent.
Today we in Christ continue to have an Elijah and John the Baptist type of ministry. We point to the Messiah in hope of restoration for those who will repent and believe. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.