As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking about John the Baptist.
The Second Book of Kings describes Elijah, in his final days, talking with the prophet Elisha when…”a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Thus it was believed that he did not last death.
Some 500 years later in the Book of Malachi, God says, “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes.” Jewish theologians took this to mean that Elijah would return before the Messiah came.
So the disciples are asking in today’s Gospel passage: If Elijah hasn’t returned, how could Jesus be the Messiah? Jesus gives the answer: John the Baptish is the Elijah figure prophesied by Malachi.
The Gospel writers do not give us a biography of Jesus, but answer the question: Who is Jesus? All four Gospels answer: He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He has come to begin the final preparation for the kingdom of God.
Picture Jesus saying to me (as he once said to the disciples): Who do you say that I am?
Let me give that my honest answer – not in the abstract, but to him.