When Elijah died, Elisha succeeded Elijah and performed a miracle to cross the Jordan river, and the people watching said he had Elijah's spirit as Kings 2:15 (NIV) says:

The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

When Herod heard of Jesus' miracles, Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead as Matthew 14:1-2 (NIV) says:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”


In describing Herod's response to reports of Jesus, Matthew seems to be making a connection to the response of the prophets of 2 Kings after their witness of Elisha's miracle of crossing the Jordan. The connection would be that just as Elisha was said to have the spirit of Elijah, his precursor, Jesus was said to have the spirit of John the Baptist, his precursor.

Is there a connection there? And to what extent do you think that connection was intentional on Matthew's part? If there is an intentional connection, what point would Matthew be trying to tell his audience?

1 Answer 1


Herod Antipas was not alone in thinking that Jesus was a kind of second coming or resurrection of John the Baptist.

13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Mt. 16)

All three synoptic writers report this. So apparently the tendency to confuse Jesus with John the Baptist was widespread. This would be natural, since some of John's teachings were identical with those of Jesus. The Bible portrays John as Jesus' forerunner, and Jesus had - at least for a few days - put himself in the position of John's disciple. (John 1, Matthew 3:13-15) Both men conducted a ministry of baptism and both preached "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:1-3) And in Mark's account Jesus proclaims this message only after John was arrested. (Mark 1:14-16) So it is easy to see how people could see Jesus as "taking up the mantle" of John just as Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah.

It is doubtful, however, that Matthew was drawing a conscious parallel to Elisha and Elijah. For one thing, Elisha remained Elijah's faithful disciple throughout his life, while Jesus left John to pursue his own ministry immediately. Indeed, Matthew goes out of his way to show Jesus' baptism by John as only a formality initiating Jesus' public mission. (Mt. 3:13-17) There is no sense of Jesus requesting a "double portion" of John's spirit as Elisha did in of Elijah in 2 Kgs. 2. Instead, it is the Spirit of God who rests on Jesus. He is God's son, not John's successor.

Matthew may have been aware of the parallel between Elijah/Elisha and John/Jesus, but it does not appear to be intentionally referred to in Matthew 14:1-2. If anything, Matthew would want to downplay the connection, because the story in 2:Kgs 2 shows Elisha to be very much subservient to Elijah; and Elisha continues his master's follower. But for Matthew, it is John who is subservient to Jesus, and Jesus does not continue John's ministry, because John was merely Jesus' forerunner.

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