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.Matthew 17:10-13
And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.Mark 9:11-13
This conversation is a private one between Jesus, Peter, James, and John. The four had not yet reached the place where the other disciples were left. These three, very blessed men, were still confused by what they saw and heard. But it was not God that had confused them. They were confused because they were trying to reconcile what they saw and heard on the Mount of Transfiguration with what they had been taught by the Scribes and Pharisees.
It is always dangerous to mix God’s truths with man’s opinions.
In this case, the religious leaders of the day were close to correct but had a false conclusion. It is true that Elijah would proceed the coming of the Messiah. Consider Malachi’s prophecy:
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.Malachi 4:5-6
The error the scribes and other religious leaders made was that they seemed to think the Elijah would come back from the dead before the Messiah would come and deliver Israel. They believed that since the actual Elijah had not returned, then the Messiah had not come either. They wanted to reject Jesus as the Messiah anyway. This false interpretation of scripture helped feed their delusion.
These three disciples, as well as the others, had a bad habit of trying to always reconcile what Jesus said and did with what the leaders had taught. Every time they did this, they got confused. And so will we. Man’s opinion has no standing against the clear word of God.
It was not hidden from men that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Consider the words of the angel to Zachariah:
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him 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 1:16-17
And John’s own testimony:
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.John 1:23
John denied being a resurrected Elijah or any other prophet. But he did confirm that he was the prophet that was promised to come before the Messiah by quoting Isaiah 40:3 and applying it to himself.
Jesus plainly teaches them the fact that John the Baptist is indeed the fulfillment of the prophecy of the “return” of Elijah. He then also reminds the three men that John suffered greatly at the hands of those that hated him. Once again, Jesus tells them that He will also suffer, and even more than John.
Even though they did not understand, Jesus was explaining again to them how to understand what He meant by raising from the dead. If He did not suffer, He would not die. If He did not die, He would not be raised from the dead. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, we have no hope.