OceanSide church of Christ

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Matthew 17:12-13, Reincarnation

Victor M. Eskew


            Reincarnation is the belief that after an individual dies he will be reborn in another body (another person) or as a new life form (animal, insect, plant, etc.).  Hinduism and Scientology both teach the doctrine of reincarnation.

            Some believe that Jesus taught reincarnation during His public ministry.  In one of His discourses with the disciples, He refers to John the Baptist as the Elijah one of the prophets said would come.  Let’s look at the discussion as found in Matthew’s gospel.  “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” (Matt. 17:10-13).  In verse 12, Jesus said that “Elias is come already.”  In verse 13, the disciples realized that “he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”  Some say, therefore, that John is the “reincarnation” of the prophet Elijah.

            There are several texts to which we could turn to refute this teaching.  The simplest answer is found in Luke 1:17.  In the context, an angel of the Lord appears to Zacharias while he was burning incense in the temple of the Lord (Luke 1:8-11).  This angel revealed to Zacharias that his wife would give birth to a son.  His name was to be called John (Luke 1:13).  In verses 14-17, the angel describes this son and his mission.  In Luke 1:17 he reveals how this son would go to the Israelites in order to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.  “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.”

            John was to go before the Christ “in the spirit and power of Elias.”  John the Baptist was not literally the reincarnation of Elijah.  He was simply the mirror-image of the prophet.  His powerful proclamations would remind the children of the prophet of old.  His boldness and determination would make the Israelites think back to the days of Elijah.  Elijah did not literally inhabit the body of John the Baptist.  His style, character, personality, and preaching greatly resembled the mighty man of God who lived years before John.