ESV - 17 And he will go before him 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 for the Lord a people prepared.
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The verse cited in the question was spoken by the angel Gabriel at the time that he informed the Jewish priest Zacharias that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, who was to be named John (later known as John the Baptist). By indicating that John the Baptist would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, Gabriel was referring to both the actions of the prophet Elijah (as recounted in 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2 in the Old Testament), and the words of the prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:5-6), with respect to events that would precede the appearance of the Messiah whom God had promised to send ever since the time that humanity first fell into sin (Genesis 3:15). Elijah was a prophet sent by God to the Northern Kingdom of Israel at a time when Israel had largely forsaken God and turned to the worship of idols, under the influence of Israel's king at that time, Ahab (whom the Bible records (1 Kings 16:30) as committing more evil than any of the kings of Israel before him), in concert with his pagan wife Jezebel. Idol worship during his reign was so prevalent that there were only 7,000 people in the entire kingdom of Israel who had not bowed down in worship to Ba'al (the false god whom Jezebel served)(1 Kings 19:18). Elijah's prophetic mission was to bring Israel back to the worship of God. He repeatedly exhorted the people to repent of their sin and return to God, and warned them of the judgment from God that awaited them if they did not. He served God so devotedly in this mission that he was taken up from earth by God without having to experience death (2 Kings 2:11). He also later represented all the prophets whom God had sent to Israel when he appeared (along with Moses, who represented the Law that God had given to Israel after the exodus from Egypt, which Moses had led) at the Transfiguration, talking with Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; and Luke 9:28-36). It was this same zeal for the Lord that John the Baptist would display hundreds of years later in condemning sin, urging the people of Judea to confess and repent of their sins in preparation for the imminent appearance of the Messiah (Jesus), and baptizing them in the Jordan River as a sign of their repentance, as noted in passages such as Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18; and John 1:19-36. Jesus Himself later indicated (Matthew 17:10-13 and Mark 9:11-13) that John the Baptist, by his actions, had fulfilled the prophecy by Malachi that Elijah would return.
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