Matthew 11:14 says, “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So does that mean John was the second coming of Elijah?
This is a good question and one of those that takes a bit of digging. In fact, this is not one of those surface questions that one is probably going to understand without context. The answer is easy and won’t take long, so in the interest of keeping this interesting, let me use it to express some truths about our life with the Bible.
The Bible is truly an amazing book. It is really a collection of writings of various sorts. Some of it is just historical, some is prophecy, some is poetry, and some, letters to people. With this knowledge, we have to understand that all of these things in life, you read differently. For example, if I write a poem to my wife, it will read very different than a letter to a group of people or a news article on current events. That knowledge is incredibly important.
The Bible is a very complex book that can teach someone on its simple and surface level but also be a wealth of deep knowledge for an advanced scholar. That understanding should never be thrown out but embraced. Part of embracing that is to realize, if you read it just for a devotional, to get closer to God, there may be things you come across that you will not understand fully. If you desire to understand those things in more depth, you must give yourself to studying.
As always, context matters in understanding this scripture. It’s a context one may not just pick up 2000 years from when it was written. Jesus was speaking to Jews who had a very different understanding of the world around them. Some of us have had some sort of religious upbringing. In that, certainly there are traditions and ideas you might get that others would not if they were brought up differently. This scripture is like that.
In that day, prophecy and prophets were considered to be rare. People had an understanding of old time prophets like Elijah, who looked and acted a certain way. When John came prophesying (like Elijah) in the wilderness about the Kingdom of God, dressed similarly to the way Elijah dressed, eating what Elijah ate, he came “in the spirit” of Elijah. This had been prophesied as well. Malachi 4:5-6 (NASB) says, “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.” In true Biblical prophetic fashion, it was harkening back to something of old. It wasn’t that God was actually sending Elijah, but He sent one in that spirit, LIKE Elijah. This was a way of making it clear to them, and probably also why so many ran to see him.
We see this theme a lot in scripture actually. As I have been studying Jesus, one thing becomes more and more clear, He wasn’t random in His actions. Many of the things He did either answered Jewish ideas or harkened back to something that had been done or thought before. Once we understand that, it actually makes what He did even that much more incredible! Notice Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear…” This is a common theme as well. Those closed-minded to what God was doing would never understand.
So how should this speak to us today? Basically, don’t put God in the box of what you think He ought to be and do! God is doing wonderful things in and through those who are open to Him. If we allow our religiousness to run us, it will also deceive us. When God is in something, you don’t have to ask if He is, it will be evident. Either by what He has said and done, or with undeniable proof. Trust God first, and through that trust and the study of His word, God will reveal Himself and His plans to you. His Spirit will assure you along the way, that is, if you have ears to hear!