Matthew 17:9-13 (NIV) As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
One of the things about the event on the mountain that had piqued the excitement of the disciples was the appearance of Elijah. He had been foretold as the forerunner of the Messiah for 400 years (cf. Malachi 4:5-6), and now here he was. This was great news!
But Jesus was now swearing them to silence about what they had seen. It didn’t make any sense to them. They should be shouting the news in every town and village that Jesus was the Son of God, and that Elijah had appeared to announce Him as the Messiah! If the teachers of the law were right, shouldn’t everybody be told? And, by the way, why did Elijah go away? The teachers had always said that he would preach and call the people to repentance. Why would he go away before he did any of that?
Now it was Jesus’ turn to teach. Yes, the teachers of the law were right. Elijah does come first, and he does call people back to God, restoring their priorities, and inspiring in them hope, in order to prepare them for the Messiah. But that had already taken place. “Elijah” had already done all of that, and even the Bible teachers didn’t recognize him! Instead, he had been arrested and killed, similar to what would happen to the Son of Man.
The disciples suddenly understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist. Actually, now that they thought about it, he did kind of remind them of the description of Elijah in his camel’s hair clothes (Matthew 3:4, cf. 2 Kings 1:7-8), as well as by his fiery preaching and denunciations of the slackers and false teachers. John the disciple remembered that John the Baptist had flat-out denied being Elijah (John 1:19-21), but that made sense, too. John was not Elijah reincarnated, or sent as a vision. Instead, he had come as the Elijah of their own day; a man who had the spirit and power of Elijah (John 1:19-21), and who had completely fulfilled what the old prophecies had said that Elijah would do.
Then Jesus’ command of silence made sense. Elijah had already come, so what they had just seen was not fulfillment of the sign of the Messiah. Besides, if they told everybody, even the other disciples, that they had seen Jesus glowing like the sun, and that they had seen Moses and Elijah on the mountain, they most likely wouldn’t be believed anyway. Later, maybe, people would hear and understand, but not yet.
Father, it’s interesting that even those closest to Jesus were still so blind to what You were doing; so tied to what the religious leaders told them would happen, that they completely missed the fulfillment of Your word when it actually did happen, because it didn’t look exactly like they were told it would happen. Help me, Lord, to always keep my eyes open, and my mind open, so that I never miss what You are doing in my own life, my own church, my own town. Amen.