When Yeshua described the identity and calling of John the Baptist, He gave us an important key to understanding biblical prophecy.
Matthew 11:14 – “… he is Elijah who is to come.”
Yeshua was referring to the prophecy at the end of Malachi which states that Elijah will come before the “great and terrible day of YHVH” – Malachi 4:5.
However John was NOT Elijah–we do not believe in reincarnation! John was a totally different person who came with a similar calling and anointing as Elijah.
Luke 1:17 – “He will walk in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
So there is a “third” Elijah-type person who is yet to come before the “great and terrible day” of His judgment. He will be another totally different person, neither John or Elijah. However, he will have a similar spirit to them. He will have a prophetic authority to influence the events of the end times, leading up to the Second Coming of Yeshua.
Yeshua’s teaching explains the pattern of “three-fold” fulfillment of biblical prophecy: 1) ancient Israel, 2) 1st coming, gospel period, and 3) 2nd Coming, end times. There was a real Elijah in ancient Israel. John came in a similar spirit during the gospel period, preparing the way for Yeshua’s 1st coming. Amidst end times’ tribulation, another prophetic figure (or multiple figures, as in Rev 11:3-6) will arise in the spirit and power of Elijah, “shutting up the sky, so that no rain will fall,” just as in the days of the first Elijah. The pattern of “three-fold” fulfillment is found in many prophecies as well concerning Israel, the nations and the end times.