Reading the Word
Matthew 17:9–13 (ESV)
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
Parallel Text: Mark 9:11-13
Understanding and Applying the Word
After the Transfiguration, Jesus tells the disciples not to say anything about what they witnessed until after he is raised from the dead. Of course, they obviously did not fully understand what he meant by this because the resurrection will be an unexpected surprise when it happens.
The disciples did take an opportunity to ask Jesus a question regarding prophecy and the coming of the Messiah. The scribes, the teachers of the Old Testament to the people, had taught that Elijah must come before the Messiah. If this is true, where is Elijah? How can Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah has not come? This understanding comes from Malachi 4:4-5 and Isaiah 40:3.
Jesus responded that Elijah had indeed come. John the Baptist was the one who fulfilled the prophecy. It was not that Elijah himself was going to return, but one who would come in the spirit of Elijah (cf. Luke 1:17 and John 1:21). John appeared as a forerunner of Jesus to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry to the people.
John the Baptist not only served to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, but he also served as an example of how Jesus would be received. John was rejected, imprisoned, and later beheaded for his ministry. Likewise, Jesus too was rejected, arrested, mocked, beaten, and crucified. And Jesus tells all of his followers that if the world rejected him, it will also reject his disciples:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)
Lord, grant us the strength and grace to serve you each day as we live in this world as your people. Amen.