Prophesying at the birth of his son, John the Baptist, Zacharias shared that John would be born in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah. He also foretold that John would have a great spiritual impact upon the children of Israel as he prepared them for the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
16 He will turn many of the sons of Israel
to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go before Him
in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of fathers
to their children,
and the disobedient
to the understanding of the righteous,
to make ready for the Lord a prepared people. Luke 1:16-17 (HCSB)
Elijah was well known in Israel for his working of miracles, confronting their evil king, Ahab, and his demonic wife, Jezebel, and for wiping out hundreds of her false prophets of Baal that were tragically misleading the nation. This did not make Elijah a favorite of the king and his wife.
17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 1 Kings 18:17 (NKJV)
When God set up a showdown between Himself and the people’s false god, Baal, Elijah was center stage. Baal’s prophets were thoroughly defeated, then killed at Elijah’s direction. This did not go over well with their patroness, Jezebel.
1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 1 Kings 19:1-3 (NKJV)
God delivered Elijah from the clutches of Jezebel, but, as he was now thoroughly spent and desired to end his ministry, the Lord soon took Elijah directly to heaven in a fiery chariot. Unlike all other people in history, perhaps excepting the ancient Enoch, Elijah did not experience death before being taken up by God. At the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi writes that Elijah will one day return to earth, and Jesus will tell us that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Like Elijah before him, John was well known by the crowds. Many people were drawn from great distances to hear his messages. John told them of the need for repentance from their sins, and many were drawn by the Spirit to be baptized in the Jordan River to be cleansed and made ready for the imminent arrival of the Messiah.
Also like Elijah, John did not shy away from confronting an evil king. As a result, John was imprisoned.
3 For Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her!” Matthew 14:3-4 (HCSB)
The Lord had spared the life of Elijah from the efforts of Jezebel, but John would not enjoy the same result. An evil scheme by Herodias virtually forced Herod to kill John to save his own pride, and he obliged her by beheading him.
The sad news of John’s death reached Jesus at a particularly busy stretch of ministry for both Him and His apostles, and He tried to retreat to give them a brief rest and recovery in the hills, but the press of the spiritually and physically hungry crowds would not permit it. Meanwhile, John’s disciples came to Herod to claim John’s corpse, and he was buried. As John had prophesied at the height of his mission, his ministry would eventually decrease, and the ministry of Jesus would continue to increase. But the Lord had placed John into his vital role since the earliest times. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus confirmed that John the Baptist was indeed the Elijah who had been prophesied to come.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; 14 if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. Matthew 11:12-14 (HCSB)
Like John the Baptist, God has a plan and purpose for our lives, established since the beginning of time. There will be times of joy and glory in our daily efforts, as well as times of grief and hardship, but in the end, the Lord will use all of it to achieve His purposes and to build and grow the kingdom of God. May His will be done in our lives today.
Father God, thank You for using us to help build Your kingdom under the leadership of Jesus Christ. May we go forward today in the power of the Holy Spirit to live a worthy and pure life. Forgive us for all the times that we have failed and use us to be a blessing to You and to others. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.