I have this question:
“We read in Matthew 11:14 and again in Matthew 17:1-13 that Jesus unmistakably points out John the Baptist as “Elias (Elijah) that was to come”. Our question is: “why does John the Baptist himself deny that he is Elias when interrogated on this point by the priests and Levites in John 1:21? Doesn’t it appear from these passages that John and Christ contradict each other?”
The contradiction is only apparent. Elias typified the Baptist. Thus what Christ was telling the Jews is this: that “if ye will receive it, this (John) is Elias,” that is, not Elias literally raised from the dead, but one like Elias —like Elias as to his character, mode of life, and mission.
The Jews, on the other hand, thought that John was Elias literally raised from the dead. And so they put to John the question whether he was Elias, that is, Elias raised from the dead. This of course John denied.
Elias (Elijah) did indeed foreshadow, typify, John the Baptist.
As to John, he came neither eating nor drinking. The wilderness was his abode and his meat there was locusts and wild honey. And he had his raiment of camel’s hair, and about his loins was a leathern girdle.
The rigor of John’s mode of life was in agreement with the nature of his mission. The substance of his Gospel was: The kingdom of God and its king are at hand. Woe to them who will not have repented of their sins, when this kingdom will have come. For the fan of its king is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of every tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Repent therefore and live.
Being a Nazarite, he had separated himself from his people and taken up his residence in the desert. Here God spoke to him and he came forward a preacher of great power, though he performed no miracles. His audiences were vast. Quoting the Scriptures, there went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the regions about Jordan. And they confessed their sins and were baptized of him in the Jordan. We are to think here of a conversion of large numbers of Jews, and accordingly of the fulfilment of the prophetic word of Malachi, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”—Mai. 4:5, 6. So were the labors of John blessed with such fruit as to justify his bearing the title of “forerunner”, forerunner of Christ.
Also many Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism. What impelled them was carnal fear of the judgment to come. They would escape the judgment but not repent. John’s word to them was, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
As to Elijah, he, too, as John, whom he prefigured, came neither eating nor drinking. He appears in the Scriptures as living much of the time in solitary companionship with God. His attire was the same as that of John. Also the rigor of his life betokened the nature of his mission. The element of judgment was prominent also in his ministry. Suddenly and unannounced he stood before Ahab, and abruptly delivered his awful message. He was as an apparition calculated to strike with terror the boldest of kings. He made no set speech, he offered no apology. He disdained all forms and ceremonies. He did not even render the customary homage. He uttered only a few words, preceded by an oath; “As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word”.
What arrogance before a king. Elijah, an utterly unknown man, in a sheepskin mantel, apparently a peasant, dared to utter a curse on the land without even deigning to give a reason. But it was not necessary. Ahab knew and all Israel knew. God’s gifts were being placed on Baal’s altars.
At Elijah’s command the Baal priests were slain, five hundred in number. He anointed Hazael king of Assyria, who later became the scourge of Israel. He anointed Jehu, the extirpator of Ahab’s house, king over Israel. He announced to Ahab the judgments of God to come upon his house. For their impudence the two bands of fifty, that Ahaziah had sent, were consumed with fire from heaven in answer to his prayer. He went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Even some years thereafter there came to Jehoram, king of Judah, a writing reproving him for his wickedness and pronouncing upon him sorest judgments.
When the people repented and ceased from their Baal worship, he brought them rain by his fervent prayer. In his deep gloom he had imagined that all his labors had been in vain. But it was not so. Through his ministry the hearts of many had been turned back to God.
Elijah, as later the Baptist, was a “forerunner”, a “preparer of the way”, not of Christ directly but of Elisha his successor.