Was John the Baptist Elijah Reincarnated?

A Biblical Examination

By Grantley Morris


Elijah & John the Baptist

Reincarnation & the Bible

      Matthew 11:13-14 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John [the Baptist]. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

      Matthew 17:10-13 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man [Jesus] is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

    First, we should note that both Elijah and John the Baptist were so exceptional that whatever happened in their case is most unlikely to apply to anyone else.

    Elijah never died:

      2 Kings 2:1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind . . .

      2 Kings 2:11-13 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. . . . He [Elisha] picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah . . .

    This was no metaphor: other prophets were so certain that Elijah had been alive when taken that they sent out fifty people to hunt for him lest the fiery chariot had deposited Elijah somewhere (2 Kings 2:16-18). Not surprisingly, what happened to Elijah was such an abnormal event that of all the thousands of deaths recorded in Scripture, it contains no other account of anyone else ending their time on earth via a fiery chariot.

    John the Baptist, too, was exceptional to the extreme. Jesus declared this man was the greatest of all prophets:

      Luke 7:24-28 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? . . . A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. . . . I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

    More than this, however, the angel Gabriel told John’s father that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth(Luke 1:13 – emphasis mine), and while he was still in the womb he recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb as being the Messiah:

      Luke 1:41-44 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! . . . As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. . . .

    Most Christians see it as so exceptional as to be almost incomprehensible that John the Baptist had the Spirit of God upon him not just from an early age but from before his birth – before he even had a chance to seek spiritual cleansing.

    So both John the Baptist and Elijah were so exceptional it would be really stretching it to say that if reincarnation occurred in John’s case it would normally happen for other people. But there is more than this against using it as a suggestion that it suggests reincarnation. The angel Gabriel, declared to the father of John the Baptist about his son:

      Luke 1:17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

    This is a reference to the Old Testament prophecy:

      Malachi 4:5-6 See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 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.

    Note that Malachi says the prophet will be Elijah but the angel Gabriel clarified the meaning to John the Baptist’s father by declaring that John would be “in the spirit and power of Elijah” i.e. not literally Elijah but having his spiritual anointing. Someone having Elijah’s “spirit” had already occurred previously. Soon after Elijah was taken alive into heaven, we read:

      2 Kings 2:15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

    That was in fulfillment on this promise:

      2 Kings 2:9-10 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours . . .”

    Of course, Elijah did not reincarnate into Elisha. Elisha had been Elijah’s assistant for years (1 Kings 19:19-21).

    There is also precedent for the spirit of a prophet coming upon other people even while the prophet remained on earth:

      Numbers 11:17,25 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone. . . . Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied . . .

      Deuteronomy 34:9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

    Clearly, this has nothing to do with reincarnation but with spiritual anointing.

    Likewise, it is highly unlikely that the Bible means that John the Baptist was literally Elijah but that he had the same spiritual anointing as Elijah. Consider also this:

      Luke 9:29-33 As he [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  . . . As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

    This appearance of Elijah is also recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 and in all three accounts of this event there is no mention of John the Baptist. The man Jesus spoke with was consistently and solely referred to as Elijah. The disciples had been extremely close to John the Baptist (e.g. John 1:35-42) and if the two prophets were the one person and he appeared speaking with Jesus, one would expect them to instinctively think of this person as Jesus’ cousin (Luke 1:36), John the Baptist, not as Elijah.

    Moreover, when John the Baptist was questioned as to whether he was Elijah, he specifically denied it:

      John 1:19,21 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. . . . They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”. . .

    The simplest explanation of this emphatic denial is that John the Baptist was not literally Elijah, nor was this ever the meaning of Malachi’s prophecy. He simply had a prophetic calling and spiritual gifting of the magnitude of Elijah’s powerful anointing, just as Elisha was not literally Elijah but had “the spirit of Elijah” – his amazing prophetic gifting, and as the seventy elders received the Spirit that was on Moses, thus empowering them to prophesy.

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