In the very last chapter of the last book in the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi says that Elijah will be sent just before the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5).
Remember that, like Enoch, Elijah never died, but was raptured off the planet (2 Kings 2:11).
Ever wonder why people thought Jesus was Elijah returned? (Luke 9:19, Mark 8:28, Matthew 16:14.)
Because some knew of Malachi’s prophecy.
But then Jesus made a curious comment in Matthew 11, and then again in Chapter 17. The gist of it is that John the Baptist could have been the Elijah they were looking for, had they accepted him. This has confused many people over the years.
As I explain elsewhere on this blog, and will continue to, there are recurring types and themes in the Bible. When it comes to prophecy, it’s staggering to me when I think about how many prophecies have more than one fulfilment. The most important example is God’s promise to send the Messiah (or “Anointed One”) to Earth among the human race. This is alluded to throughout the Old Testament. From our vantage point, it’s easy to see that this visitation has two parts–in the first, Messiah came as the Lamb of God; in the second He will come as the Lion of Judah. In the first He performed as our kinsman redeemer; in the second He will become our avenger of blood. And so on (the suffering servant, then the king with an iron scepter, etc.).
The whole return of Elijah concept, including Jesus’ comments about John the Baptist, is cleared up by looking at it from this perspective: Jesus comes to Earth twice. Both times, someone is dispatched to go ahead of Him, preparing the way.
Had the Jews accepted what John the Baptist said about their Messiah (John 1:24-36), they could have known their King when He was there the first time. The entire nation of Israel is going to get another chance before He comes again. One of their greatest prophets will be testifying for three and a half years about the Messiah’s return. There will be many false messiahs at that time, and one primary fraud, but the truth will be presented to the nation again. The grace period will end and every soul from every nation and tribe will have to choose which god they will serve.
Of course, most people will choose the wrong god (any but the Almighty Creator), just as they do so now. But a faithful remnant of Israel will be saved, and finally united to their Messiah/King when the smoke finally clears.