Luke 1:17


17 "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." NASU

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias in the temple, he announced that Zacharias and Elizabaeth would have a son to be named John. The angel announced that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) "while yet in his mother's womb." (NASB) Then the angel announced John's forerunner role. John would go before Christ "in the spirit and power of Elijah" so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Elijah

This announcement by the angel of the Lord in Luke 1:17 calls to mind the closing verses of Malachi. In Malachi 4:5-6 the Lord, speaking through his prophet, makes the following declaration:

5 "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
6 "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse." NASU

Was this prophecy fulfilled in John the Baptist? The Jews understood that Elijah would reappear in-person. When the priests and Levites asked John if he were Elijah, he said, "I am not" (John 1:21). However, in John 1:23 he cited Isaiah 40:3 with this declaration, "I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord." Thus, he acknowledged that he would fulfill the role of the forerunner projected in Luke 1:17. Moreover, Jesus declared (Matthew 11:14) concerning John, "And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come." John the Baptist was not Elijah in-person, but he was Elijah in spirit.

The Spirit and Power of Elijah

John the Baptist would minister "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Just before Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elisha (II Kings 2:9) asked Elijah for a "double portion of your spirit." According to Jewish custom, the first-born son received a double portion of the family inheritance. Elisha wanted to be Elijah's successor, his first-born spiritual son, and he was granted (II Kings 2:15) this request.

Was the spirit of Elijah his human spirit or the Spirit of God? The text simply says "spirit." Clearly, Elijah was a man of God and was enabled by the power of God. This is one of those cases, as often occurs in Pauline writings, when we can refer to both the human spirit and the Spirit of God. The "spirit" of Elijah was empowered by the Spirit of God.

John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and he ministered in the "spirit and power of Elijah." To minister in the "spirit and power" of Elijah is another way of saying that he was empowered by the Spirit. Unlike Elijah, John the Baptist did not perform any miracles; Jesus would do that. However, like Elijah, he preached a powerful message to an impenitent and unbelieving nation. Also, he was a successor to Elijah in a greater way than Elisha in that he was the forerunner of Christ.

For Further Reading

Biederwolf, William Edward. The Millennium Bible. Grand Rapids: The Baker Book House, 1964.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Findlay: Dunham Publishing Company, 1958.

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