Is John the Baptist the same as Elijah?

What was the Lord saying about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:14?

The Lord pointed to the past and present when He said, "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." From the past, He combined two prophecies, both in Malachi. In verse 10, He quotes His promise that He will send His messenger to prepare the way before Him (Malachi 3:1). Now in verse 14, He informs us that the prophet Elijah whom the Lord of Hosts would send "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord" (4:5) is His messenger mentioned in the previous prophecy. As to the present, the Lord states the one condition which determines if John fulfills these two prophecies: literally, "if ye will receive." The context indicates what they were to receive. The Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah reached their terminus in John (Mat 11:13). If they recognized who John was, they would receive His message. That is why the Lord immediately refers to their responsibility to heed what they heard ("He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" v 15). Yet they were like the children who heard the mourning, but didn’t lament (v 16). By not recognizing John’s authority, they wouldn’t and couldn’t recognize Christ’s (21:24-27).

Gabriel had told Zecharias that John would go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elias"; he then referred to Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah (Mal 4:5, 6). John was not a reappearance of Elijah, but was a prophet whose might and mission was the same as Elijah’s. In Matthew 17, the disciples understood that the Lord was speaking about John (v 13) when He said two seemingly contradictory things about Elijah. The Lord said, "Elias indeed comes first and will restore all things" (v 11); that is the prescribed order of Malachi’s prophecy, but John is now dead and the restoration must await a future "Elias." "The crooked" had not been "made straight" (Luke 3:5; Isaiah 40:4), nor had John’s ministry restored "all things." Why? "Elias is come already, and they knew him not" (v 12). On God’s part - and John’s - John had fulfilled the prophecies. On the nation’s part, they had rejected him and his message of repentance. In the future, God will yet fulfill the prophecy of sending "My messenger," the Elijah to come. Then, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" (Psa 110:3), and the future prophet ("in the spirit and power of Elijah," see Revelation 11:3-7) will present a people restored to Him "before that . . . day of the Lord."

D. Oliver