And he shall go before him
The Lord his God, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose forerunner he was; the messenger of him, that according to the prophecies in ( Isaiah 40:3 ) ( Malachi 3:1 ) was to go before him, and prepare his ways; as he did by his wonderful conception and birth, which made way for the more easy belief of the conception and birth of the Messiah, by a virgin; and by his preaching the doctrine of repentance, and administering the ordinance of baptism; which, were done to awaken the people's expectation of the Messiah, and that he might be made manifest in Israel, and by pointing him out to them in his preaching:
in the spirit and power of Elias:
or Elijah, the Syriac and Persic versions add, "the prophet"; John the Baptist, and Elijah, were men much of the same spirit and disposition, and of like power, life, and zeal in religion; and therefore the one goes by the name of the other: they both much conversed in the wilderness; agreed in the austerity of their lives; their habit and dress were much alike; they were both restorers of religion, when very low, and much decayed; were famous for their faithfulness in reproving the vices of kings, and for their warm zeal for true religion, and for the persecution they endured for the sake of it:
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children
in ( Malachi 4:6 ) which is the prophecy referred to, it is added,
and the heart of the children to their fathers;
which some understand, of his turning the degenerate offspring of the Jews, to the sentiments of their forefathers, and causing them to agree with them in their notions of the Messiah: others, of the turning of the Jews to Christ, and his apostles; and others, of his being a means, through his ministry and baptism, of reconciling Jews and Gentiles together, which is the great business of the Gospel dispensation, ushered in by John; and who preached that all men should believe in Christ, and baptized publicans and Roman soldiers, as well as Jews; and which sense pretty much agrees with the interpretation the Jews put upon the prophecy, as referring to Elijah the Tishbite, whom they expect in person, before the coming of the Messiah: say F21 they,
``Elijah comes to defile and to cleanse (i.e. to pronounce what things are clean or unclean), and to remove afar off, and to bring near (i.e. to determine what families are legitimate or illegitimate). R. Simeon says, "to compose differences"; and the wise men say, neither to remove, nor to bring near, but (Mwlv twvel) , "to make peace" in the world; as it is said, "behold, I send unto you Elijah the prophet" "and he shall turn the heart of the fathers"''But the true meaning is, that John the Baptist, who is meant by Elias, should be an instrument of turning fathers with their children, and children with their fathers, to the Lord; that he should be a means of converting both fathers and children, one as well as another; and to gather persons of every age and station; for the particle (le) which we render "to", is the same as (Me) , "with", as Kimchi on the text observes: "and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just". By the "disobedient" are meant, either Jews or Gentiles; some understand it of the Gentiles, who were children of disobedience, before the light of the Gospel came among them: but rather the former are meant, who were a disobedient, rebellious, and gainsaying people; who were gone off from the wisdom, knowledge, and religion, of the just, or righteous ones, their forefathers; who prophesied of Christ, rejoiced to see his day, longed for him, and believed in him: now John was to be an instrument of turning some of the unbelieving Jews, to the true knowledge of salvation by Christ; which their righteous progenitors waited for, had a right knowledge of, and an interest in: and of leading them either into the Gospel of Christ, that wisdom of God is a mystery; the manifold wisdom of God, in which he has abounded in all wisdom and prudence: and which the righteous men among the Jews, searched diligently into, attained some knowledge of, and which even the holy angels desire to look into; so the patriarchs were called just, or righteous; as righteous Abel, just Noah and so the Jewish fathers: hence in the Targum on ( Jeremiah 12:5 Jeremiah 12:6 ) ( Jeremiah 31:16 Jeremiah 31:21 ) mention is made of thy fathers, (ayqydu) "the just", who were of old: or to Christ himself, who is the wisdom of God, and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, to know him, and believe in him; who in the same Targum on ( Jeremiah 23:5 ) is called (ayqydud xyvm) , "the Messiah of the just".
To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions read, "a perfect people"; and the Persic version, "all the people": not all the people of the Jews, but God's elect among them who from all eternity were "prepared", as a people in a covenant relation, as the portion of Christ, and as his spouse and bride, and as such, given to him; they were in electing grace, vessels of mercy, afore prepared for glory; and heaven, as a kingdom, was prepared for them from the foundation of the world: they were provided with all spiritual blessings, which were prepared for them, and bestowed on them in heavenly places, in Christ, before the foundation of the world; even all their grace, and all their glory; yea, even their good works are such, which God has foreordained, or foreprepared that they should walk in. Now, the work of John the Baptist, was "to make ready" this people, by pointing out to them, in a ministerial way, wherein their readiness lay, to meet the Lord, and be for ever with him in heaven; not in a civil, moral, or legal righteousness; or in outward humiliation for, and abstinence from sin; nor in a submission to Gospel ordinances, and in a mere profession of religion, and in an observance of a round of duties; but in justification by the righteousness of Christ, and in regeneration and sanctification, by his Spirit and grace; the one giving a right to, the other a meetness for the heavenly inheritance: and John; and so any other Gospel minister, may be said to make ready a people, in this sense; when they are the instruments of the regeneration and conversion of sinners, and of leading them to the righteousness of Christ, for their justification before God, and acceptance with him.
F21 Misn. Ediot, c. 8. sect. 7.