Was John the Baptist Elijah reincarnated? Obviously not since we don’t believe in that sort of thing, but also because Elijah wasn’t dead. If you remember his story, he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, making him one of only two people assumed to have never died. The other is Enoch early in Genesis. It was this fact that he never died that led to the belief that he would return to proclaim the Messiah’s coming. This belief was so strong that it made its way into both the Seder meal and Jesus’ own teachings.
At the Seder meal, the annual celebration of the Passover Feast through which we celebrate our exodus from Egypt, there is a special place set at every home for Elijah. He has his own special cup which is not drunk until he returns, and even a portion of the celebration where a child runs to the door to see if Elijah has come this year to proclaim Messiah’s coming. It is to this that Jesus refers in Matt. 11 when He states, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”
Even Zechariah seemed to make the connection long before John donned his camel-hair robe and began his insect diet. Here before John’s birth, Zechariah proclaims that he will “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…” This was a direct quote of Mal. 3 which foretold Elijah’s coming. He recognized that John would be a prophet of the Most High God, which John proved true by acting the prophet, from his life with the Essenes in the desert to his odd dress and cuisine to his message.
And just what the message? What was it he preached that prepared the way for Jesus to come? His was a message of repentance, forgiveness, and preparation. Maybe that’s a good place for us to begin with non Christians when we introduce them to Christ – with repentance and forgiveness and preparation.