Was there a reincarnated prophet of God?
By Mark T. Tonkery, Minister,
South Point (Ohio) Church of Christ, August 29, 2003
Reincarnation is a popular belief in today's world, which teaches, "...that the soul reappears after death in another and different bodily form. The process is believed to be repeated thousands of times until perfection is reached" (Ben Alexander Out from Darkness [Miranda Press, 1993], page 148). The popularity of reincarnation has caused some to go to the Bible and try to justify it by using the prophet John the Baptist. As one studies the New Testament one can see that trying to prove reincarnation from the Bible is not true and that reincarnation is a false idea and teaching.
In Luke 1 we see that John the Baptist was born to Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth in their old age. Not only was his birth an unusual one but Luke 1:17 states that John the Baptist, "...shall go before him [Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, 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." John the Baptist was a special person with a distinct purpose from God (John 1:6-7). It is important to note that Luke 1:17 does not say that John the Baptist will be the literal Elijah the Tishbite of 1 Kings 17:1 but be in the spirit and power of Elijah. This was to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi 4:5,6, and Isaiah 40:3.
John the Baptist seems to understand that he is not the literal Elijah the Tishbite at least in part by what is quoted of him in John 1:21 "And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No." John the Baptist knew that he was not the literal Elijah the Tishbite reincarnated. As one reads John 1:21 it is apparent that the people in John's day did not understand the prophecies of the Old Testament about Elijah and John the Baptist, but this is not uncommon for people in John's day. Many did not understand the prophecies about Christ either; for example John 6:15 the people wanted to make Jesus a literal king that would rule like Herod or Caesar, this was not to be. The people in John 1:21 asked John the wrong question. It was understood by the people of John's day that the prophecies of the Old Testament about Elijah were to be literal and that he would somehow resurrect from the grave. The idea of reincarnation was foreign to them and was not even considered, their minds were on resurrection. Yet, in John 1:21 John the Baptist tells them that he is not Elijah the Tishbite.
It is apparent by reading scripture that the crowds still did not realize who John the Baptist was, so Jesus tries to explain in Matthew chapter 11. Here Jesus says John the Baptist is Elijah. Notice Matthew 11:13-15, "For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears let him hear." Jesus is trying to explain what Luke 1:17 has already stated, John the Baptist had the spirit and power of Elijah, and not that he was the literal Elijah the Tishbite. John the Baptist was not the resurrected or even reincarnated Elijah the Tishbite but took on the prophetic role and spirit of Elijah. He did not come to relive the life of Elijah nor come to make things right that went wrong in Elijah's life because Elijah was already dead. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus affirms that once a person dies, his life is over on this earth ("And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal"). Hebrews 9:27 repeats Jesus' statement by saying, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." John the Baptist did not repeat Elijah's life until he "got it right" nor does any human. John the Baptist was sent to this world as a unique individual to fulfill prophecy and to prepare the way for Jesus Christ the Lord. Just as John the Baptist was a unique individual with a purpose and direction in life so is every person. The purpose and direction for every human life comes from Jesus Christ. Mankind does not have to believe in reincarnation to find meaning and purpose, but read the Bible, which points them to Jesus Christ the One who gives true meaning to life and death.
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