In today’s Gospel the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
It was not unreasonable for the scribes to have believed that Elijah must return to this earth before the appearance of the Messiah. That was the teaching of the Old Testament.
In Chapter Two of the Second Book of Kings they were told the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Then, in The Book of Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament, they read the very last words of the Old Testament. They were, “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord comes.”
Jesus answered the question of the disciples by saying, “Elijah has already come.” He led the disciples to understand that he was speaking of John the Baptist. Earlier n Matthew’s Gospel, 11/14, Jesus had said of John, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah.”
Now, Elijah and John were separate Individuals, with different DNA, living in different centuries. So, in saying John was Elijah Jesus was using poetic license. We must see this as the key for reading most of the Bible. It uses all kinds of figures of speech that must be taken poetically.
In Chapter Twenty-three of Matthew where Jesus told people to call no one on earth your father or master, his meaning was that when compared with God earthly fathers and masters have no importance, but he didn’t mean that we should stop using the words master and father.
In Chapter Five of Matthew we find another example of when Jesus did not want to be understood literally. That was where Jesus told us to gouge out an eye that causes us to sin. If we did that we would all be blind. James Hilton, the fine author who gave us Shangri-La, wrote a novel called Without Armor. It was the story of Christian White Russians fleeing the Reds. They nicknamed one of their refugees Popeye. He had plucked his eye out for looking at something he shouldn’t have. They treated him as a fool for not knowing that Jesus didn’t want to be taken literally. God does not want us to be fools.