Despite the greatness of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus declares that none was greater than His cousin, John, known as "the Baptist." John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus clearly says that John fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6 as the prophesied Elijah to come.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Matthew 17:13 and clearing up some misconceptions about the resurrected Elijah coming before the arrival of Christ (a mission fulfilled totally by John the Baptist in Christ's time), cautions us to apply duality of prophecy carefully and cautiously rather than indiscriminately. With this admonition in mind, the sermon focuses upon a major world event even secular historians have termed a dramatic axial period, occurring within the sixth century B.C. -a time faithfully described by the prophets beginning with Jeremiah- a time sometimes referred to as the time of the Gentiles- reckoned to be the origin of the present Babylonic system or world order. Paradoxically, this system has been embraced and perpetuated by the modern house of Jacob. A new axial period, beginning with the testimony of the two witnesses, will again turn this world upside down, replacing the present decadent Babylonian system with God's government.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the characteristics of a prophet, showing that both Moses and Aaron fulfilled this role. Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all the Old Covenant prophets, distinctive by his austere dress and diet. Highly esteemed by the common people, John was unusually vital and strong, and consciously prepared the way for the Messiah. Although by no means a wild man, John, like the prophets of old, experienced alienation from people, especially the entrenched religious and political leaders within the system. His greatness lay in 1) the office he filled, 2) the subject he proclaimed, 3) the manner in which he did it, and receding into the background, 4) the zeal in which he performed his office, 5) the courage he demonstrated, 6) his lifetime service, and 7) the number and greatness of his sacrifices, performed in the spirit and power of Elijah, by which he restored and repaired family values, enabling people to see God.