The forerunner of the Messiah was said to come with the “spirit” of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. The very last passage in the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6, tells us what God will do when he begins to bring about His plan for man. It says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” In John 1:21, John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah. It says, “And they asked him, ‘Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” But Jesus said in Matthew 11:13-14 “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Mark 1:6 tells us some specifics about John the Baptist. He says, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.”

You can’t help but associate John with Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8, Elijah is described as wearing the same garment: camel hair wrapped around by a simple leather belt. Hughes says, “John definitely was not making a fashion statement. His camel’s-hair robe was the kind worn by the very poor, and his belt, unlike the fancy belts so popular in those days, was simply a leather thong.” Then he mentions John’s diet. “His food was not very exciting either. His idea of eating out was to catch a few grasshoppers and visit the local beehive for dessert.”[1] He preached a very similar message to that of Elijah. He called for repentance and pointed his fingers at his day’s religious and political leaders. Elijah provoked Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel, to the extent that she wanted him killed. John provoked Herod and his wife, Herodotus, until she wanted John killed, also.

There are two significant differences between John and Elijah that shouldn’t be overlooked. Elijah performed many miracles. He raised a young boy from the dead. He made a small clump of dough at the bottom of the barrel to indefinitely feed a widow and her child. He called down fire from heaven to consume the prophets of Baal as well as other miracles. Jezebel had her husband, Ahab, send soldiers to kill Elijah. Elijah called down fire from heaven and killed two squads of fifty soldiers.  John the Baptist didn’t perform any miracles. He just pointed his finger at the sins of the rulers and called them to repent. He also pointed at Jesus and said he was the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The second radical difference is that Elijah’s enemy, Jezebel, was defeated, and much of her was devoured by dogs. But in John’s case, his enemy, Herodotus, had John beheaded. But in spite of this, Jesus said, “Among those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28). He didn’t perform one miracle! He lost his confrontation with the sinful rulers of his day. Yet, Jesus calls him the greatest. In the same passages, notice that Jesus also says that the least of those in the kingdom of God is greater than John. A present-day believer in Jesus is the greatest!

[1] Hughes, R. Kent. 1989. Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior. Vol. 1. Preaching the Word. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.