Elijah or not?
John 1:21—”Was John the Baptist the Elijah (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13) or not (John 1:21)?”
John the Baptist was not literally Elijah reincarnated, but he was the one who fulfilled the prophecies spoken by Malachi and the angel Gabriel about a future Elijah-like prophet who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. Before John’s birth, the angel Gabriel appeared to John’s father Zechariah informing him that his son would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah..to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). This is an echo of the book of Malachi 4:5-6, which speaks of a coming Elijah before the day of the Lord.
The Pharisees incorrectly understood this to mean that Elijah himself would literally return. So John honestly told them that he wasn’t the historical person of Elijah. Jesus, however, understood that John fulfilled the prophecy in the correct metaphorical sense, as someone who would take the role and lifestyle Elijah took.
The Qur’ān contains a similarly perplexing issue: Some verses clearly deny any possibility of intercession on Judgment Day (2:122-123, 254; 6:51; 82:18-19), while other verses indicate that intercession will be possible by someone God approves (20:109; 34:23; 43:86; 53:26). We cannot just assume a contradiction without looking carefully at the context and meanings involved.