Q. Is there any connection between Lk 1:17 and Malachi 4:5-6 ? Why is John the Baptist compared to Elijah? Is Malachi talking about the 2 witnesses before the Millennium ?
A. Yes, Lk 1:17 is a quotation from Mal 4:5-6. The wording is not identical as the former is in Greek while the latter in Hebrew:
• Lk 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
• Mal 4:5-6 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.
Some are puzzled over why John the Baptist was compared to Elijah, especially in the power of Elijah. Elijah performed many miracles, but John did not perform any. Where is the power? The similarity is in the spirit or nature of their ministry.
Elijah was God’s prophet who called Israel to repentance:
• 1 Kgs 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
• 1 Kgs 18:39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.”
His ministry truly turned hearts to repentance. He restored the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their.
When John the Baptist came, the focus of his ministry was also repentance:
• Mt 3:1-2 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
• Lk 3:3-6 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT. ‘EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW; THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.’”
John’s ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 40:3-5. Even Jesus acknowledged that John came in the spirit & power of Elijah:
• Mt 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.
• Mt 17:12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. (Also Mk 9:13)
The power was in turning hearts to repentance, not performing miracles.
A second confusion over the quotation from Mal 4:5-6 arises because it applied to both Comings of Christ. The fulfillment in Christ’s First Coming was in John the Baptist. Elijah’s presence during Christ’s Second Coming will be in:
• Rev 11:3-6 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
Elijah is not mentioned by name, but the description of calling down fire from heaven and shutting up rain fitted him:
• 2 Kings 1:10 Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (Also 2 Kgs 1:12)
• 1 Kgs 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
• Lk 4:25 But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;
• Jas 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.
The references to turning water into blood and plagues fitted Moses (Ex 7:17-21). Interpreters differ whether these are two literal witnesses modeled after Elijah and Moses, or symbolic of God’s servants during the great and terrible day of the LORD. My humble opinion is the former.