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Who Was John the Baptist?

One of the great enigmas in the Bible is that concerning John the Baptizer. While the physical aspects of who he was are quite apparent from the Scriptures, the spiritual aspects are unclear. What we know is that he was born into the priestly family of Zacharias and Elisabeth. Both of his parents were from the tribe of Levi, and descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses—whose progeny it was to inherit the office of the priesthood. He was, from a natural viewpoint, a miracle baby, because he was born to parents, who, till that time, were childless, and were now “well stricken in years.” His conception was the result of God’s answer to a lifetime of prayer; and his birth and ministry were foretold by the angel Gabriel to his father as he ministered in the temple. Even his name was foretold as the result of this heavenly appearance to Zacharias.

We are also told from the Scriptures that Elisabeth, his mother, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were cousins—which indicated some kind of family relationship. How Elisabeth, who came from the tribe of Levi, and Mary, who came from the tribe of Judah, could be relatives is somewhat of a mystery. Their kinship, however, would make Jesus and John second cousins, or cousins once removed by today’s standards, depending on how their family tree was intertwined. Although Jesus and John were close to the same age, John being six months older, we have no evidence that they were ever childhood playmates or even acquaintances. John would later say of Jesus, “And I knew him not”—indicating that there was never any social contact between them.

Not only were the details of John’s birth miraculous, but his life was nothing short of extraordinary. Jesus said of him, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” Although he is not specifically called a Nazarite,[1] he also was forbidden to drink wine or strong drink. Furthermore, he had the unusual distinction of being “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.” This anointing of God’s Spirit from birth happened to only one other person—the Lord Jesus Himself.

Concerning John’s childhood and youth, like Jesus, we know very little. All that the Scriptures record is that, “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” His lifestyle was anything but common; for we are told that “John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” He seemed to live as a hermit and recluse from society until “the word of God came unto John.”

His ministry, pronounced by the angel, was to “go before (Christ) in the spirit and power of Elias”; “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”; and, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zacharias, his father, prophesied, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” John was the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”; whose ministry was to “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John was not only the forerunner of Christ, to prepare the hearts of God’s people, but it was his testimony that pointed others to Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Many of John’s own disciples became followers of Christ because of John’s witness. It was also John’s privilege to baptize the Son of God.

Not only was John’s birth and life extraordinary, but even his death was not common. Because he was uncompromising about sin, Herod the king had him thrown into jail. John had accused Herod of adultery for taking his brother’s wife. Although Herod feared to put John to death, through the beguilement of his wife, he reluctantly had John beheaded. From his conception to his death, John had given his all for the glory of God; and when we think back upon all the dedicated saints who had ever lived, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others, Jesus called him the greatest.

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

Heb 7:14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.

Luke 1:57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
80
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

Matt 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 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 unto Abraham.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin 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 unto Abraham.
9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass

John 1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

John 3:22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
24 For John was not yet cast into prison.
25 Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him
.

Mark 6:16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:
20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

Having somewhat examined the natural aspects of John’s life, let us now answer the question we have put forth—who was John the Baptist? We have already seen that he was the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness.” He was the one who was ordained to “Prepare … the way of the Lord,” “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” There is, however, another aspect of John’s identity that is often overlooked. On at least two separate occasions Jesus indicated that John was more than just someone who was born to be His forerunner.

Isa 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.
3
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The book of Malachi, which is the last book in the Old Testament, was followed by four-hundred years of prophetic silence. Although many books of religious significance were written—the writings of the Apocrypha and others—there was no other recorded message from God to His people until the time of Christ. In the book of Malachi, and particularly in the last two verses, we are told of a special messenger that God would send to Israel. This messenger would be none other than Elijah, one of the most renowned prophets of ancient Israel. Elijah lived in a day when the people of Israel had gone into great apostasy, and it was he who was sent to turn them again to the Lord. Elijah was the prophet who prayed for it to stop raining for three and one-half years; and it was he who called for fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel.[2]

Mal 3:1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to this temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifer of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
6 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.

Another significant aspect about Elijah was that he was taken up from the earth without dying. As Elisha, his protégé, looked on, the Scriptures record that “there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Now, we have to say that the heaven referred to here is not the one we think about as God’s throne. Jesus taught us that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Therefore, before the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, no man, in a body of flesh, has ever walked the streets of glory. Even though Elijah was a great prophet, he was still a sinner like all other men; and, like the saints of all the ages, he awaited the sacrifice that would open the way to God’s presence.

2 Kings 2:9 And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
10 And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

Matt 27:50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom;
and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

We understand that there are three heavens referred to in the Scriptures, the atmospheric heavens, outer space, and the third heaven—God’s throne. Whether he was carried to another place on this earth, or to another planet, we don’t know. Wherever Elijah was taken, and in what condition he existed after his chariot ride is a mystery. Furthermore, we know that he was not the first person to be taken from the earth in a miraculous way: We are told that “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Just where “God took him,” as with Elijah, we do not know. Possibly, God has some specially prepared place for these two saints, and others we do not know about.

2 Cor 12:2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Gen 5:24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

While we are not concerned about the many questions of if, how, or where Elijah may still exist, one thing is clear from the Scriptures—he must come back and have an appointment with death. No son of Adam, from either the Old or New Testament eras, can live forever in a body of sinful flesh. Every saint of God must die and be resurrected. Therefore, Elijah, in some manner, must return to this earth and go through a physical transformation or death. While many others have their views about when and how Elijah will return, we will attempt to show, from the Scriptural evidence, that he has not as yet come back in the manner described by Malachi.

Rom 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Now, we have brought forth all these truths concerning Elijah because of what Jesus said concerning him. After the experience, when they saw Jesus transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, the disciples of Jesus had asked Him, “Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?” Jesus answered them, “That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.” The Scriptures then tell us that, “Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” Therefore, in this context of Scripture, Jesus taught us very plainly that John the Baptist was Elijah. However, if we take what Jesus said literally, we have some problems. First of all, what Jesus said in this Scriptural account raises with us a little ambiguity, “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.” In one verse He says that Elijah “shall…come,” and in the next He says that Elijah “is come already.” One verse indicates a future coming, and the other indicates that the event had already taken place.

Matt 17:1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

The second problem is that John himself denied that he was Elijah. When confronted by the religious crowd who asked him, “Art thou Elias?” John answered very emphatically, “I am not.” We have, therefore, three options, either Jesus was not talking literally, or John did not know that he was Elijah, or John would not reveal himself as Elijah to these priests and Levites. John very clearly knew that he was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”; and he had received other revelations from God concerning who Jesus was. Consequently, it is hard to believe that he was ignorant of his true identity—that he indeed was Elijah. Therefore, as we shall soon see, John knew all too well who he was, but it depended on the crowd to whom he was speaking.

John 1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

In order to answer our dilemma we have another Scriptural account where Jesus seems to say that John is Elijah, but He does so conditionally. To fully understand this account we must recognize some important things. First, we must recognize the crowd to whom Jesus was speaking, because this is very important. Many verses in the Bible can only be properly interpreted by determining to whom the Scripture is speaking; and much error has been cast upon the world by those who do not “rightly” divide “the word of truth.”

2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Jesus had just instructed and empowered His disciples to go forth to the people of Israel. They were to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the Gospel to them.[3] He had also just finished assuring the disciples of John that He was the true Messiah. After these followers of Jesus and John had left—what we might call the believers—Jesus now addresses the pretentious crowd that had been following Him—the unbelievers[4] of Israel. He first of all berates them for their careless attitude about John the Baptist. They had gone out to witness the spectacle of John’s preaching, but had failed to receive his message. Jesus also bears witness to the prophetic ministry of John, and the importance of what he had to say. He then honors John by saying that he was greater than any man that had ever been born. Finally, Jesus says to this crowd, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.”

Matt 11:1 And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.
2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:
5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

The things we must understand about what Jesus has just said are—who the “ye,” and what is the “it.” We have already noted that that this crowd was basically unbelieving Jews who were following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. Many followed Him to see the miracles; others followed Him to have their bellies filled; and others followed merely to argue and find fault with what He said. While many of the children of Israel did come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the vast majority rejected Him, even as they still do today; and it was to this group, the unbelieving nation of Israel as a whole, that He was speaking—they were the “ye.”

John 12:37 But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:

John 6:2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.

John 6:24 When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.
25 And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?
26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

Matt 19:1 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;
2 And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.
3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

The next thing we must consider is what Jesus was implying when He told this crowd, “if ye will receive it”—receive what? Jesus was not just saying that they needed to receive the truth that John the Baptist was Elijah. What He was saying was, that if Israel, as a whole, received Jesus as their Messiah, they would be receiving the Kingdom of God—the “it”; and John would be Elijah. Jesus was sent to restore the kingdom to Israel; but He first had to atone for their sins. The people of Israel, because they trusted in their own self-righteousness, rejected any idea that they needed a saviour. They wanted a messiah who would restore to them their former glory, and cast out the Roman rule over them. Elijah’s ministry would be to turn Israel’s heart to their Messiah, but John did not accomplish that for most of Israel. Therefore, when Israel rejected Christ, they rejected “it”—the Kingdom of God; and when they rejected Christ, they nullified John being Elijah. The result was that God then offered the message of the Kingdom to the Gentiles.

Matt 12:28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

Rom 15:8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

Matt 15:21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Matt 21:42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
43
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.


Summation

In answer to our question—who was John the Baptist?—we offer the following points.

1. John was the natural born child of Zacharias, a Jewish priest, and his wife Elizabeth. Although his conception to such an aged couple may be considered extraordinary, there is nothing to indicate that he was anything but a man, or that he was supernatural in any way.

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

2. From his conception to his death, John was wholly dedicated to be a servant of God. God’s hand was upon him “even from his mother's womb,” and he died a martyr’s death.

Luke 1:15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

3. John was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” His ministry was foretold by Isaiah the prophet hundreds of years before his birth. John’s preaching was meant to prepare Israel’s heart to receive their soon to be revealed Messiah.

Luke 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4. John went forth in “the spirit and power of Elias.” There were many similarities between the characters of John and Elijah. Their lifestyles and manner of preaching were almost identical. They both lived in the wilderness and scavenged their food. They both were known for their fearless preaching, even to kings.

Luke 1:17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

5. John was sent to bear witness to the Son of God. He was given a direct revelation from God concerning the identity of the Messiah, and he proclaimed to all that it was Jesus.

John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light,
but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

6. Jesus said that John was the greatest of men, and more than a prophet. John’s ministry under the Old Testament economy was unequaled, but he was still a man. His courage, dedication, and conviction brought praise from the Son of God. However, Jesus also said that “he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Those who are to become the sons of God, through faith in Christ, will enjoy an even greater position than John.

Luke 7:24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
25 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts.
26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

7. Although John could have been and would have been Elijah, he was not. Israel’s rejection of their Messiah nullified God’s provision to fulfill the promises made to the Fathers at that time.

Matt 11:14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

We will now try to summarize what we have brought forth about this conundrum. When Jesus spoke to those disciples who had received Him as their Messiah, John the Baptizer was truly Elijah the prophet to them, in a very literal way; because John had accomplished his purpose in turning their hearts to the Saviour. Therefore, to them, Jesus said, “Elias is come already.” However, because the nation of Israel did not receive Jesus as a Suffering Messiah, John the Baptizer did not accomplish the work of Elijah to them, as was prophesied that he would. Speaking of a future event, Jesus said, “Elias truly shall first come”; and then Elijah will turn Israel’s heart to the Saviour.

Matt 17:11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,[5] and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.


Lessons Learned

There are many important things to consider about this passage of Scripture as it relates to God and man.

1. God makes many covenant promises to man, but some are conditional upon man’s response to God. God has many covenant promises to fulfill to the Fathers of Israel—Abraham[6], Isaac[7], Jacob[8], David[9], and others. Jesus was sent to restore Israel and fulfill those promises—but He was rejected by the nation as a whole.

Luke 17:20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.
24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
25 But first must he suffer many things,
and be rejected of this generation.

2. God always fulfills His covenant obligations even if man does not. God promised to send Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD”—the day when God would destroy His enemies and Christ would rule and reign upon this earth. If Israel would have responded, John would truly have been Elijah. Even though God knows beforehand that man will fail to respond to God, it can never be said that God does not give him the opportunity, and make every provision for him to do so. God also makes ready for every contingency, just as if He expected man to fulfill his obligations. Therefore, in Israel’s case, because of their unbelief, John was not Elijah; but he could have been, and would have been.

Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
6 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.

Matt 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

3. God’s purposes will always be fulfilled despite man’s failure. Even though Israel failed to receive Jesus as their Messiah, that did not nullify God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world. Jesus was sent “unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; but God’s eternal purpose has always been to save the elect of the Gentiles also. Israel’s rejection of Christ opened the door for the Gospel message to be sent to the people of every nation.

Isa 49:1 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
2 And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
3 And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
5 And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
6
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

Acts 28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
28 Be it known therefore unto you,
that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

4. God’s covenant promises to Israel will one day be fulfilled. God is not finished with the nation of Israel; and all the blessings that were promised to the Fathers will someday come to pass. The Scriptures declare “that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” When “the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” then God will once again visit the people of Israel. At that time “all Israel shall be saved”; God will restore them to their former glory; and every promised blessing will be fulfilled.

Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.
29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:
31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
32
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

Luke 21:24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Jer 32:36 And now therefore thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city, whereof ye say, It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence;
37 Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely:
38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God:
39 And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them:
40 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.
41 Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.
42 For thus saith the LORD; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them.

The period of time when this begins to happen will be known as The Great Tribulation, or The Seventieth Week of Daniel.[10]  This will be a period of unspeakable suffering for the whole earth, but especially Israel. At this time the world will see the rise of the Anti-Christ, whose mission will be to destroy the people of God. It will be then that God will send “two witnesses,” who will “have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues.” Because of the similarity of their miracles to those of Moses[11] and Elijah,[12] many people believe that they indeed are the ones sent to bring judgment to this world and turn Israel’s heart to Jesus their Messiah—“and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son.” A second indication that the “two witnesses” will be Moses and Elijah is that they appeared with Jesus on what is called The Mount of Transfiguration. While the Scriptures definitely tell us who these men were, in what form they appeared is somewhat ambiguous— “Who appeared in glory.” Did they appear as the spirits of these men, or were they present bodily?

Matt 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Rev 11:3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.

8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10 And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.

Zech 12:8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.
9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

Luke 9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:
31 Who appeared in glory
, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

While the Scriptures definitely teach that Elijah will be sent to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,” the identity of the second witness is not so clear. We have already said that Elijah must return to this earth and die—he is to be killed by the Anti-Christ. However, Moses, we know, has already died and was buried by the Lord[13]—which raises the possibility other interesting theories. Has the Lord preserved his body to bring him back to life? The Scriptures do record some kind of dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over his body. Many people, like Lazarus,[14] were raised from the dead, but still had to die again. This may be the fate of Moses. Enoch could also be the second witness, as we have no record of his death; but the Scriptures do not record him doing any such miracles. However, the book of Jude does call him a prophet who speaks of the Lord’s second coming and of great judgments upon the earth.

Jude 1:9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Jude 1:14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

While we could continue to elaborate and speculate about the identity of the two witnesses, one thing is certain—Elijah is going to be sent to turn Israel to God. The people of Israel still live in a state of unbelief concerning Jesus the Messiah, so we know that that time has not come yet. However, it is our belief that that day is close at hand, as we see the many signs of our Lord’s Second Coming. Although John the Baptist would have been Elijah had Israel received her Messiah; and although, in a spiritual sense, he was Elijah; Elijah will, in an actual and literal way, return to this earth and complete his mission.

Matt 24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

1 Thess 5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Luke 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.


A Biblical Application

The truth about John the Baptist clears up a great misunderstanding about many important doctrinal issues in the Bible. Perhaps the most misunderstood doctrine is that of Atonement—was it Universal or Limited? Who did Jesus die for?—the world, or the elect. Just as some Scriptures seem to teach that John was Elijah, and others emphatically say he was not, so we find verses that support both viewpoints of this doctrine. While many Bible scholars, on both sides of the issue, have found it necessary to twist the meaning of those verses which do not support their view, if we understand this doctrine properly, that is not necessary.

John 1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

Matt 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

Matt 17:11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

2 Pet 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

The first thing we need to understand from the Word of God is that all men are sinners and in need of salvation. All men, Jews and Gentiles alike, are “guilty before God.” All men have broken God’s law, and by doing so “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The reason the Jews of Jesus day did not receive His message is that they didn’t see themselves as sinners. They were self-righteous and did not need a Saviour. Most people see themselves as being relatively good when compared to other men; and therefore, they are quite adequate, in themselves, to reach heaven. Their thinking is that what they do or don’t do is the measure by which they are justified or condemned.

Rom 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Rom 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3
For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

The next thing we need to see from the Bible is that God’s salvation is truly whosoever will. When Israel rejected Christ, that opened the door for all men to be saved. No one is forbidden to come to Christ for salvation. The hyper-Calvinistic doctrine, which teaches that some men are predestined to hell while others are predestined to be saved, is not what the Scriptures teach. If some men are predestined for hell than every verse that says “whosoever” must be cut from the Scriptures. While this author certainly believes that the Bible teaches predestination, it must be viewed properly in light of the whole Word of God.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Rom 10:12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
13
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The whole issue of salvation is not of permission, but of ability. All men—whosoever—may come to Christ—permission; but no man has the wherewithal to come to Christ—ability. Jesus said twice that “no man can come to me.” He did not say that “no man” may come, but “can come.” On another occasion, after His disciples saw how hard it was for anyone to come to Christ, they asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible.”

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

Matt 19:23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The natural man is born spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins”; and because God’s salvation is a spiritual concept, the natural man cannot comprehend or respond to it. In order for the natural man to receive salvation he must see himself as a lost sinner, who can do nothing to save himself. He must then see that Jesus is the Son of God, who died in the sinners place. However, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The plain truth is that not one lost person would ever respond to the Gospel message unless God’s grace brings them to do so; and that is where election, predestination, and the Spirit’s calling all become necessary.

Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

2 Thess 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

Rom 8:29 For whom he did foreknow[15], he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30
Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

All men are sinners who deserve eternal retribution for their deeds. God does not have to set His love upon anyone, or choose to save anyone. However, God, in His mercy, has chosen to draw certain people to a saving knowledge of Christ. On the other hand, God, “willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known,” has also chosen to pass other people by and allow them to receive the just recompense of their sins. That does not mean that God elected them to hell—they were “condemned already.” Neither does God take “pleasure in the death of the wicked”; but contra wise, God “will[16] have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Rom 9:22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Eze 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

1 Tim 2:4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

The Gospel is truly a universal call for all men to come to Christ; but only those whom God elects will come. All men have the privilege to believe in Christ; but only those who “were ordained to eternal life” will trust in Him. The salvation that God offers to all mankind is verily whosoever will; but the sad truth is that the fallen, sinful, natural man is not willing to come to Christ. He is not willing to repent, and he is not willing to put his trust in someone else to save his soul.

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

John 5:37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.

Now this brings us to our present topic of Atonement—was it Universal or Limited? We have seen how God, knowing that Israel would reject Christ, still provided John the Baptist—who would have been Elijah. In like manner, God made provision, in the sacrifice of Christ, enough saving grace for any and all sinners that would come to Christ. Christ died to “save his people from their sins”; but His death could have, and would have atoned “for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus “bare the sin of many”—not all; but there is no sinner who can ever say that God did not provide for them atonement in the death of Christ, or that God’s salvation was not offered to them. God offered to Israel the Kingdom, but they refused to receive it. God offers to every lost sinner salvation, but apart from God’s grace, they also refuse to receive it.

Matt 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Isa 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Matt 26:27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The problem with Universal Atonement is that if Christ died for all men’s sin, then God has no problem with any man—even those who refuse to repent and believe in Christ. If Jesus suffered the penalty for every man’s sin, then God’s wrath was propitiated for every man. If Christ died for every man’s sin then why will unbelieving sinners stand before God and be judged “according to their works”; and why would they be sent to the Lake of Fire for all eternity to suffer the due recompense of their deeds? Many have proposed that it is not sin that sends people to hell, but their rejection of Christ. However, if that is true, why damn people by preaching to them the Gospel? Why not let them die in ignorance and go to Heaven?

Rom 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying,
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Gen 18:25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Salvation has never been a question of whether or not men “believe” in Christ, or “will” to make Him their Saviour—because none do unless God makes them willing and gives them faith to believe. The determining factor in salvation is whether or not God chooses—elects, ordains—a sinner to come to Christ. God must draw the lost sinner to fulfill the conditions under which He saves them—repentance and faith in Christ. However, we say again, God did not exclude anyone from coming to Christ; and He made every provision to save them if they did come.

John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Eph 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Now, finally, this we say to anyone who desires to be saved by Christ, but is now unsure whether Jesus died for them—He died for you if you will trust Him. If you feel in your heart a deep conviction of sin, and a willingness to come to God on His terms of salvation, then Christ died for you. God only brings to repentance and faith those He has elected to save, and others He leaves alone. Many people hear the Gospel call but are not willing to repent and believe its message. However, if God has made you willing, then come. Confess to God your sinfulness and unworthiness; bow to Christ as your Lord and Saviour; look upon Him dying for your sins; and open your heart for Him to come in and dwell within you. The Gospel call is whosoever will may come to Christ; God is “willing” for you to come to Christ; therefore come to Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Rev 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

1 Cor 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,
how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Acts 16:30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.



[1] Numbers 6

[2] 1 Kings 17, 18

[3] Matt 10

[4] Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

[5] Jesus was the promised seed, child of Abraham, to whom the hearts of Israel will one day be turned.

[6] Gen 17:1-9

[7] Gen  26:24

[8] Gen 28:10-15

[9] 2 Sam 7:1-17

[10] Daniel 9:1-27

[11] Exodus 7:1 – 12:51

[12] 1 Kings 17, 18

[13] Deut 34:1-7

[14] John 11:1-44

[15] Foreknowledge means that God set His love upon certain individuals—election. It does not mean that He merely knew beforehand those who would accept Christ, because He knew that none would.

[16] God is willing—desirous—that all men would be saved. He does not will—choose— for them to be saved, or all men would be saved.

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