ELIAS MUST FIRST COME
Matt 17:10-13 And His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Peter, James, and John had just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus standing with, and talking to Moses and Elias. They had also just heard the voice of God declaring Jesus to be His beloved Son, and His commandment to hear the message He delivered to them. The word translated "hear" carries with it the meaning that they are also to accept, believe, and obey that which He commanded them to do. And moreover, by inference, the gospel taught by Jesus was to make void and take complete precedent over all other Old Testament covenants established by Moses, Elias, and other prophets of God. How and when this was to take place was not completely known to the apostles of Jesus at this time. Therefore, Jesus told them that they must not reveal to anyone what they had witnessed this day upon this mountain.
No doubt, the presence of Elias, who is the same person known as Elijah, prompted the question posed by Jesus' disciples in the lesson text. They asked, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? As interpreters of the Law of Moses and the prophets, the scribes were well aware of all Old Testament prophecies. Therefore, they assuredly knew of the prophecies of Malachi, one of which says: Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to this temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts (Mal. 3:1). Later Malachi renders this prophecy, which identifies this "messenger" of God. He wrote: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Mal. 4:5-6). Because of their knowledge of these writings, their question to Jesus seems logical and in order at this time.
Answering their question, Jesus assured them that Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. Here, Jesus acknowledged the truth in their question - indeed, Elias must first come. One must note in Jesus' answer that He did not say that Elias was yet to come, but He was assuring them that the doctrine established in the prophecy of Malachi was true and factual. To come and restore all things, means to correct, as much as possible, that which is not in order; to put people in the proper, peaceful, and forgiving frame of mind toward family and fellow Jews, and to teach and lead as many Israelites to seek repentance of their sinful past from their Heavenly Father. The object of the coming of Elias was to teach the will of God to the Jewish nation, and, in doing so, prepare them to openly receive the Messiah that was soon to come.
The prophecy of Malachi being confirmed as true, Jesus now tells His disciples that Elias is come already, and they knew him not. Just as the Jewish nation failed to recognize a promise of God when it had already been delivered and given to them, so it was with the coming of John the Baptist in the likeness of Elijah. He had already come and fulfilled his God-assigned mission. That mission was fully described in the gospel of Luke when he wrote this about John the Baptist before he was even born: he shall go before Him (Jesus Christ) in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). This, had already been fulfilled, yet they did not recognize him as the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy due to the Jewish leaders failure to rightfully interpret the prophecies leading to the coming of the Messiah and John the Baptist, who was to come before Him. Instead of accepting John the Baptist and the mission foretold of him, these religious leaders have done unto him whatsoever they listed, meaning whatever they desired to do to him, which was to put him to death. Jesus said that, like John the Baptist suffered death at their hands, so shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. This was the lesson Peter, James, and John learned at the transfiguration of Jesus in the mount, and afterwards was learned by all Jesus' disciples. With this being said, then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist. .