Monday, April 1, 2019

Responding to the counter-missionaries’ (supposedly) “unanswerable” question: Is John the Baptist Elijah?

The initial response, of course is:  NO!

I once had a long email dialogue with Rabbi (Dr.) Akiva Gamliel Belk, dean of Jewish Studies at the B'nai Noach Torah Institute, who surreptitiously (without first seeking my permission to include my full name and email address) used our private emails as a teaching tool for his yeshiva students, with the intention of showing them the supposedly “inadequate and insignificant ways a missionary responds” to Jewish counter-missionary challenges.

Fortunately for me, one of his students informed me of his antics, and that is when my eyes first began to be opened to the deceitful tactics and gymnastics many counter-missionaries tend to employ.

Granted, back in 2006 although I was no novice to YHWH/Yeshua/Torah, I still had a lot to learn. Still, my responses at the time weren’t too shabby, because ADONAI had given me the gift of knowledge and discernment.  He has caused me to grow exponentially since then, and so I would like to take this opportunity to re-visit the question of whether “John the Baptist is Elijah.”

Below is Rabbi Belk’s challenge concerning John 1:19-23 and Matthew 17:10–13.

“John said, ‘I am not {Elijah the Prophet}.’ John also said for the record that he was not even a prophet. He was just a voice crying in the wilderness... Jesus said, Elias {Elijah the Prophet} is come already. Jesus' disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

“Are you aware of the fact that most Christian theologians date the writings of Matthew between 50 C.E. and 70 C.E. and the writings of John after 85 C.E. Why do you think John contradicted what is written in Matthew? Was it because John was the only member and witness to what actually happened said exactly what he remembered? How do you explain this?”

Here is how I would respond to Rabbi Belk today:

The problem is, people tend to misinterpret what Yeshua said about Elijah having already come. Yeshua is saying that Elijah and all the prophets before John (and including John), were the "spokesmen of God" and that the "spirit of prophecy" is Yeshua, and that they had killed and rejected all of the previous prophets, foretelling of the coming of the Messiah as the Lamb of God, and the Pharisees had rejected them all.

Yochanan the Immerser knew that the first coming of Messiah would be as the Lamb of God, but that there would be an end of days where Elijah would return again right before the “Day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5-6). Counter-missionaries continue to misinterpret the two comings of Messiah in Scripture.

Both are preceded by the "spirit of prophecy" represented by Elijah. The rabbis were looking for the coming of Messiah as the King who would judge the world and destroy Israel's enemies, but this doesn't happen until Yeshua returns the second time, so they errantly misinterpret the pertinent passages because they are viewing them "out of context."

Let’s dig a little deeper.  (On second thought, let’s dig a LOT deeper!)

In Matthew 11:7–14 we see the following:

Matthew 11:7. And when they left, Y’shua started to speak to the crowds concerning Yochanan, What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed that was shaken by the wind? 8. And if not, what did you go out to see? A man that was wearing soft robes? Behold, those that are wearing soft things are among kings. 9. And if not, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes! I say to you, and more than a prophet.

10. For this is about whom it is written that “Behold I send my Messenger before your face that he might establish the way before you.”[1] 11. Truly I say to you that not before has anyone born of a woman been greater than Yochanan the Immerser, but even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. 12. From the days of Yochanan the Immerser until now, the Kingdom has suffered violence, and the violent are robbing it[2]. 13. For all the prophets and Torah have prophesied until[3] Yochanan. 14. And if you desire, accept that this is Eliyahu who was to come.[4] (AENT)

[1] Malachi 3:1. (See further explanation beneath the footnotes.)

[2] “The violent are robbing it,” simply means that people are making up and promoting counterfeit “kingdoms.”

[3] Neither Torah nor the Prophets have ceased prophesying, therefore “until” here simply refers until this time, not to the end of the prophetic time clock. Shem Tob reads לא “concerning” rather than אמדע “until”, as the Aramaic text does here. The fulfillment of Y’shua’s first coming as Mashiyach ben Yoseph has far fewer verses allotted than Y’shua’s second coming as Mashiyach ben David.

Now, returning to Yeshua’s reference to Malachi 3:

In Matthew 11:10, above, we see Yeshua quoting from Malachi 3:1, where the messenger seems to be a prophetic figure who is going to appear. We find in Malachi 4:5, that this messenger is “the prophet Elijah,” identified by Yeshua as Yochanan the Baptizer. This does NOT mean that Jochanan was Elijah reincarnated!

Neither Yeshua’s original hearers (nor Matthew’s original readers) would have assumed that Yeshua’s words referred to reincarnation. Furthermore, Elijah did not die; he was taken to heaven in a whirlwind as he rode in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). So, arguing for a reincarnation (or a resurrection) of Elijah totally misses the point because the prophecy of the Elijah who is “to come” would have been viewed as Elijah’s physical return to earth from heaven.

Scripture is quite clear that Yochanan is called “Elijah” because he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), NOT because he was Elijah in a literal sense!  Yochanan is the forerunner of the Brit Chadashah who points the way to the arrival of Yeshua, just as Elijah filled that role in the Tanach (and might again in the future—see Revelation 11).

Elijah himself appears with Moshe at Yeshua’s transfiguration after the death of Yochanan – something that would not have happened if Elijah had changed his identity into that of Yochanan(Matthew 17:11–12).

Mark 6:14–16 and 8:28 show that both the people and Herod distinguished between Yochanan and Elijah.

Proof that Yochanan was not Elijah “resurrected” or “reincarnated” comes from John himself. In the first chapter of John, Yochanan identifies himself as the messenger of Isaiah 40:3, NOT as the Elijah of Malachi 3:1. Yochanan even specifically DENIED that he was Elijah (John 1:19–23).

Yochanan did for Yeshua what Elijah was to have done for the coming of Mashiyach Yeshua, but he was NOT Elijah reincarnated. Yeshua identified Yochanan as Elijah, while Yochanan rejected that identification.

How can we reconcile these two seemingly differing teachings? Well, there is a key phrase in Yeshua’s identification of Yochanan that must not be overlooked. “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah.” In other words, Yochanan’s identification as Elijah was not predicated upon his being the actual Elijah, but upon people’s response to his role! To those who were willing to believe in Yeshua, Yochanan functioned as Elijah, for they believed in Yeshua as YHWH’s Divine Messiah. To the religious leaders who rejected Yeshua, Yochanan did not perform this function….

Let’s dig even deeper, starting with John 1 with footnotes from the Aramaic English New Testament:

John 1:14. And the Miltha[1] became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw his glory,[2] the glory as the Only-Begotten[3] who is from the Father who is full of grace and truth. 15. Yochanan witnessed concerning him and cried out and said, “This is he whom I said would come after me, and yet be before me because he was earlier than me.”

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Miltha refers to the “Manifestation” of the Ruach haKodesh within Mashiyach. The physical body of Mashiyach is not the Word of YHWH, but his words and actions demonstrate the Will and Word of YHWH, which upholds observance of Torah. However, Pagans like Marcion and Constantine taught that Y’shua’s body and spirit manifest a different “word” that did away with Torah. The Word of YHWH was substituted with dispensational and replacement “theologies,” which are very popular among Christians.

[2] Isaiah 42:8; 48:11

[3] Ekhadaya is a beautiful term used among Eastern theologians and poets; it literally means “THE ONE” (Paul Younan).

John 1:16. And from his fullness we all have received grace on account of grace; 17. Because Torah was given through Moshe, but truth[4] and grace[5] through Y’shua who is the Mashiyach[6]. 18. Man has not ever seen Elohim. The Only Begotten of Elohim, he who is in the bosom of his Father, he has declared Him. 19. And this is the witness of Yochanan when the Yehudeans from Urishlim sent priests and Levites to inquire of him, “Who are you?” 20. And he confessed and did not deny and did not declare, “I am the Mashiyach.”

FOOTNOTES:

[4] Shemot/Ex. 34:5, 6; D’varim/Deut. 32:4; Psalm 25:10; 31:5; 119:142, 151; 146:5, 6; Isaiah 65:16; Jer. 4:1, 2; John 17:17.

[5] Genesis 6:8; Shemot/Ex. 33:12-17; Psalm 84:11; Jeremiah 31:1-3; see footnote 1 Peter 5:10.

[6] The Torah of Moshe is the Word of YHWH, but grace and truth revealed in Y’shua are the impelling forces that uphold all righteousness and keep the Word of YHWH (Torah) positioned in our hearts; these are complimentary, not opposites. It is according to the Grace of the Father YHWH that Mashiyach is revealed in a person’s heart; see John 17:9, 10.

John 1:21. And they asked him again, “Who therefore? Are you Eliyahu?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he said, “No!” 22. And they said to him, “And then, who are you that we might give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say concerning yourself?” 23. He said: “I am the voice of the crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of Master YHWH.’ As Yesha’yahu the prophet had said.” [7] 24. And those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25. And they inquired of him and said to him, “Why therefore do you immerse? You are not the Mashiyach nor Eliyahu nor the Prophet.

FOOTNOTE:

[7] Isaiah 40:3

26. Yochanan answered and said to them, “I immerse with water among you, but he stands, him who you do not know. 27. This is he who will come after me, yet is before me. I am not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals.” 28. These things occurred in Beth-Anya at the crossing of the Yordanan where Yochanan was immersing.

John 1:29. And on the day that followed, Yochanan saw Y’shua who was coming towards him, and said, “Behold the Lamb[8] of Elohim, He who takes away the sins of the world. 30. This is he whom I spoke concerning that, ‘After me will come a man, yet he was before me because he is earlier than me.’ 31. And I did not know him except that he be made known first to Yisrael. Because of this, I have come that I might immerse with water 32. And bear witness.”

FOOTNOTE:

[8] This “Lamb” harkens back to the Akeida (binding of Isaac) when Isaac showed his willful obedience to lay down his life at the command of his father Avraham. Avraham and Isaac did not know then that YHWH would provide the ram caught in the thicket. Yitzak (Isaac) the son of Avraham and Sarah foreshadows Mashiyach ben Yoseph (the Son of YHWH via Yoseph and Miriam).

YHWH provided Himself a “seh” lamb for the Perfect and complete sacrifice, not as the “ayil” (ram) caught in the thicket, but through the Lamb of YHWH, His only “begotten” Son Y’shua. that was in the place of Yitzhak’s, as seen in the sin sacrifices in the temple system, “A life for a life.”

And now Matthew:

Matthew 17:9. And while they were descending from the mountain, Y’shua commanded them and said to them, Do not speak about this vision in the presence of anyone until the Son of man arises from the dead.[9] 10. And his disciples asked him and said, “Why then do the scribes say that Eliyahu must come first?” 11. Y’shua answered and said, Eliyahu will come first, so that all things might be fulfilled. 12. But I say to you that behold Eliyahu has come, and they did not know him. And they did to him all that they desired. Likewise also the Son of man must suffer from them. 13. Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them about Yochanan the Immerser. (AENT)

[9] Psalms 16:10-11; Job 33:30.

Let’s do this again, from another angle, to give the counter-missionaries a truly THOROUGH response to their challenge on whether or not John the Baptist was Elijah.

The bottom line is, to answer the question in the affirmative, we would have to believe in reincarnation since John had a normal type of birth. For Elijah to be John he would either have to be reincarnated into Elizabeth's womb, or he would have had to appear on the scene as an adult. Therefore, the statement that John is Elijah needs to have another explanation that I believe is stated by Gabriel when he speaks to John's father Zechariah.

So now our question is, in what sense is John the Baptist to be identified with or as Elijah"?

The angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah, John's father, that his son's name would be called 'John' in Luke 1:13. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.”

He goes on to say in verse 15 that he will be great in the sight of the Lord and "shall drink no wine or strong drink and will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb.'  Verse 17 says that, "he will also go before Him (referring to the Lord Himself) in the spirit and power of Elijah, which is a ministry of reconciliation, the hearts of the fathers turned to the children and children turning to their fathers."

Notice that the angel identified John and his future ministry among the people as "in the spirit and power of Elijah!"

In Matthew 11:13, Yeshua states: 'For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John." (Yeshua calls him "John" not 'Elijah", who is included as part of all the prophets.) In verse 14, Yeshua says "and if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come." Yeshua pointed to John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Elijah's coming but he was not a reincarnation. This is proven in John 1:20 when the Jews sent out the priests and Levites to investigate John's ministry. They ask him if he is the Messiah. He states emphatically 'No !' They ask him again if he is Elijah and John answers "I am not."

This was not a temporary memory loss for John that Yeshua had to correct later! In verse 25, John the Baptist is asked ‘Why do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet?’ In verses 25-27 John points to the Messiah who is coming after him. He states that it is he who is the forerunner of Malachi 3:1.

In Luke 1:76, we see that John's father, Zechariah, is filled with the Holy Spirit and says that his child will be called the prophet of the highest and will "go before the face of the Lord and prepare His ways again." "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;"

This relates John's ministry to Malachi 3, and Luke 1:17. John labored in the spirit and power of the former prophet by calling people to repentance and preparing them for the salvation that Messiah would bring.

Let's now sum up. It's obvious that when Yeshua spoke in Matt. 11:13-14 concerning John being "Elijah who is to come" He was not speaking in a solid, literal sense. Yeshua was metaphorically comparing two different things that also shared some similarities and functions. The Jewish scriptures always taught resurrection, not reincarnation.

Each person is given one body to live in and will be reunited with that same body in the resurrection. When one takes the whole body of scripture instead of isolating verses, we find the consistent teaching that refutes any concept of Elijah becoming John the Baptist and then becoming Elijah again.

In John 1:19-23, John the Baptist is representing himself exactly as such, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord." (Isaiah 40:3) The Pharisees were astounded when John the Baptist came on the scene because they were sadly aware that the Voice of God through the prophets had been taken away over the last 400 years. Look at Amos 8:11-12 "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it."

Why did God send a famine of His Word upon the land? One would think that any Torah Teacher would surely know his own books in the Tanach, but this is obviously not the case with these modern day Pharisees, as it was in the days of Yeshua. God revised His covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah because of their great apostasy and rebellion against God, because they had broken their covenant with God, and this is what Amos 8:11-12 speaks to.

You never see these so called Torah teachers of today acknowledge these things, because it would mean they would have to repent, which in turn means they would have to confess their depravity and the need for a Savior to be an atoning sacrifice in their place (the Lamb of God), because they can never reach God on their on merit. This is the essence of the Gospel and this is precisely what the Pharisees of old and of today refuse to accept!

This is what John the Baptist was trying to get them to do: REPENT! Look at Matthew 3:7-11: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducess coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worth of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

John was trying to get the religious leaders to repent, but the voice of prophecy that spoke through him knew they wouldn't repent, this is why John called them a "brood of vipers", the same language Yeshua would use against them later (Matthew 12:34).

So where did that leave mankind?  One could say mankind was "up the creek without a paddle." The Pharisees of Yeshua's day could not even recognize their own poverty of spirit, that they had reject the Voice of God!  His prophets done so, so many times that He took His Voice away.

What was the cause of the Diaspora in the 7th Century B.C? Ten of the 12 Tribes would be totally carried off and swallowed up into the gentile nations. Look at the Babylonian captivity of Judah. However, God would preserve a faithful remnant to himself.

ADONAI did something that totally blew the mind of all creation; He would restore His Covenant with His people through His own Son, Yeshua!  Mankind had blown it, so God had to provide the sacrificial Lamb as He had foreshadowed with Abraham being tested by God to offer his son as a sacrifice to God.

In Matthew 17:11-12, "Jesus answered them and said to them, Indeed Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."

Yeshua is speaking of two comings of Elijah!  The first would precede the coming of the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 58 and Psalm 22), and the second would precede the righteous judge who would judge the world and set up His Kingdom with power (Zechariah 14).

In Matthew 17, verse 11, Yeshua speaks of Elijah coming in the future tense, who correlates to Malachi 4:5-6. Then in verse 12, He speaks of Elijah having come already, in reference to John the Baptist, but Yeshua is speaking in regard to the "voice of prophecy."

Yeshua is trying to point out in verse 12, that the Prophet Elijah, the "voice of prophecy" already came, and it culminated in final fulfillment with John the Baptist, who the religious leaders rejected as they had all of God's previous prophets, who foretold the coming of the "suffering Messiah".

In John 1:21, John simply records the response of John the Baptist to the Pharisees: "And they asked him, what then? Are you Elijah? He said, I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he answered, no."

The Pharisees were asking John the Baptist if he was the Elijah of Malachi 4:5-6, and John the Baptist correctly answered them and stated that he was not. Then in verse 22, the Pharisees probed further: "Then they said to him, who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He answers them in verse 23 with, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said."

John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt (the belt just as Elijah is described in 2 Kings 1:8). John the Baptist had been given Elijah's mantel just as Elijah had given it to Elisha, and so it was passed down to the Lord's last prophet prior to the coming of the suffering Messiah. John the Baptist represented the culmination of the first coming of Elijah.

Furthermore, the religious leaders of Yeshua’s time were looking for the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts."; and Malachi 4:5-6 as speaking to the same Elijah, but in fact Malachi 3:1 speaks to all of the prophets up until Yeshua, and Malachi 4:5-6 speaks of the "spirit of prophecy" up until Elijah returns in bodily form prior to the great and terrible day of the Lord following the Abomination that causes Desolation spoken of in Daniel and Revelation….

The Pharisees miss the distinction between the two comings of Elijah, just as they missed the distinction between the "suffering Messiah", and the "judging Messiah". So the Pharisees misinterpret this and claim that the writings of John contradict Matthew. This is nonsense.

So if the modern day Pharisees refuse to acknowledge the prophecy already given to them in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, and others, about the "suffering Messiah" who makes atonement for mankind's sin, then they will never correctly interpret the above passages.

If they acknowledged the "suffering Messiah", then they would look at the rest of John 1, where John the Baptist calls Yeshua "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29; or that he saw "the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him." John 1:32, or that Yeshua is "He who will baptizes with the Holy Spirit." John 1:33.

And they therefore are blinded to the connection to Joel 2:28 "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

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