Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming
of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
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."
"Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife shall bear thee a son,
and you shall have joy and gladness.
. . . And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God,
and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the heart of the fathers to the children. . . ."
The angel Gabriel, in Luke 1:13-17
Malachi prophesied that God would send the prophet Elijah to Israel again just before the Messiah would come. Many in Israel at the time of Jesus knew of that prophecy. Jesus' disciples were also aware of that doctrine, and it caused them some confusion, for two reasons. First, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Secondly, they had not seen Elijah first. They were faced with a choice, then. Either Jesus was not the Messiah, or the rabbis were mistaken in saying that Elijah must come first.
They probably concluded that the rabbis were wrong. One day, they asked Jesus about this, just to make sure. They said, "Why do the scribes teach that Elijah must first come?" In response to his disciples' question, Jesus said, "Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has already come, and they knew him not, but have done to him whatsoever they wanted. Likewise shall the Son of man also suffer of them " (Mt. 17:10-12). From this statement, the disciples discerned that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist as an "Elijah" (Mt. 17:13).
The man Elijah will come to Israel again before Jesus returns to earth. He is one of the famous "two witnesses" mentioned in Revelation 11 as preaching in Israel in the days just prior to the Lord's return. But John came, as the angel Gabriel told old Zacharias that he would "in the spirit and power of Elijah", to prepare a people for the Lord from among the Israelites.
God is good. He sent someone (John) to His people to prepare them for their Messiah when they were lost and blind, and He will send someone again (Elijah) at the end of this age. This time, however, it will not be a man with the same anointing as Elijah but it will be Elijah himself, preaching to Israel of a loving Messiah whom they have hated for so long.