Was John the Baptist Elijah Reincarnated?

A Biblical Examination

By Grantley Morris

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 His disciples asked him, saying, “Then why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered them, “Elijah indeed comes first, and will restore all things, but I tell you that Elijah has come already, and they didn’t recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted to. Even so the Son of Man [Jesus] will also suffer by them.” Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptizer.

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 As they continued on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. . . . He [Elisha] also took up Elijah’s mantle that fell from him . . .

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 When John’s messengers had departed, he began to tell the multitudes about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? . . . A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. . . . For I tell you, among those who are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptizer, yet he who is least in God’s Kingdom is greater than he.”

More than this, however, the angel Gabriel told John’s father that John would “be filled with the Holy Spiri,t even from his mother’s womb(Luke 1:15 – 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. She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! . . . when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb 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 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord.

This is a reference to the Old Testament prophecy:

    Malachi 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike 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 When the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho over against him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.

That was in fulfillment on this promise:

    2 Kings 2:9-10 When they had gone over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be on me.” He said, “You have asked a hard thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, it will be so for you . . .”

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 talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you not bear it yourself alone. . . . The Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses], and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied . . .

    Deuteronomy 34:9 Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands on him. The children of Israel listened to him, and did as the Lord 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 was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure . . . As they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” not knowing what he said.

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 This is John’s testimony, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” . . . They asked him, “What then? 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.

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2014 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

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Elijah & John the Baptist

Reincarnation & the Bible