As a pastor and teacher, I get asked a lot of Bible questions. I do my best to search the scriptures and provide accurate, biblical answers. It dawned on me that the Bible questions I receive are likely the same or similar questions that others have, so I decided to post some questions I receive and my responses. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but hopefully the answers I’ve given will be a blessing and a source of information for you in your study of God’s Word.
Question from JF:
I am currently reading through Matthew. In Matthew 3:13, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus but doesn’t want to because he feels like he is the one that needs to be baptized by Jesus. However, in Matthew 11:2, it states: “John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?'”
How does John recognize who Jesus is when he baptizes Him, but then sends his disciples to question Him later?
Then, in Matthew 17:12-13, it indicates that John the Baptist was Elijah who came back to set things in order. I know I’ve heard people talk about this before. How do you interpret that?
Thanks for your questions, JF. First of all, we see in the story of John the Baptist the effect that discouragement can have upon a person. John the Baptist, of course, knew Jesus – John and Jesus were cousins. At some point – whether early in life growing up together (which I think it the case) or at Jesus’ baptism – John believes that Jesus is the Messiah. However, after a season in jail, feeling left alone, betrayed, and offended, John begins to doubt that Jesus is the Messiah.
We need to do our best to ward off discouragement through prayer, devotion, worship, and faithfulness to a local church.
We can see how powerfully offense and discouragement can affect a person. John was wrestling with offense, because Jesus said to John, “Blessed is He who is not offended in Me” (Matthew 11:6). When people get offended, wounded, discouraged, etc., it can breed unbelief, doubt and fear. It can cause you to doubt your previous convictions and conclusions. John was discouraged and wrestling with offense and that affected his faith and his vision of Jesus. We need to be careful that bitterness and offense don’t creep into our lives. We need to do our best to ward off discouragement through prayer, devotion, worship, and faithfulness to a local church. We don’t want discouragement and offense to skew our perception of Jesus or make us doubt what we know to be truth!
In response to your second question, I believe the passage you referenced to be figurative. John was not literally Elijah but had come in the spirit or anointing of Elijah. His ministry, purpose, and approach was so similar to that of Elijah that people remarked that John the Baptist was Elijah. In the Old Testament it was said of Elisha: “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.” Elisha was not literally Elijah – they were two distinct people – but Elisha walked in the spirit and anointing of Elijah. I believe this is what is meant by John the Baptist being referred to as Elijah.
I hope these answers help. God bless.
** If you have any Bible questions, feel free to post them in the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer them!