More about hard issues

Reincarnation

The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist.
—Matthew 17:10-13, NIV

The question often arises: Was John the Baptist a reincarnation of Elijah?

The answer is no, for these reasons:

Thus we see that reincarnation and Hebrew thought are fundamentally incompatible, and the incompatibility grows in Jesus’ teaching of a last day, a resurrection, and a judgment.

So what were the disciples thinking when they concluded that “Elijah’s coming” had been fulfilled in John the Baptist? Surely not a reincarnation, because that concept, even if it were present, would not have been applicable because they considered Elijah still to be alive.

Jesus meant that John the Baptist was Elijah in a representational sense. If scripture says that Israel suffered under Pharaoh four hundred years, none of us, nor any of the ancient Hebrews, takes that to mean that the man named Israel suffered under an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled for four hundred years! We understand it representationally; that the people descended from Israel suffered under the government of the Pharaohs. In that sense Elijah heralded the coming of the Son of Man in the person of John the Baptist.

Note also the text says, “Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist,” it does not say, “Then the disciples understood that John the Baptist was Elijah come again in the flesh.”

Does reincarnation happen? Let’s be pragmatic. If you are not sure of the answer to that question, take my advice and comport yourself as if it does not. If you live this life as if it were your only chance, and it turns out that you have more chances, then all the better for you. But if you live this life as if there were many more to come, and it turns out that there are none, then you may be caught up short.

It is given to us once to live, and then to face judgment. Therefore, while you still have the opportunity, harken to His voice and obey His commandments, so that on that last day, He will welcome you into His rest.