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Mark 9:11

ESV And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”
NIV And they asked him, 'Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?'
NASB And they asked Him, saying, 'Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?'
CSB Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? "
NLT Then they asked him, 'Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes? '
KJV And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?

What does Mark 9:11 mean?

As non-Sadducee Jews, Peter, James, and John would have believed in the resurrection, but they're confused about the timing of Jesus' words. Jesus says the Son of Man will be resurrected three days after His death instead of in the end times. They can't figure out how that fits with the Old Testament prophecy that Elijah will return. According to the timeline Jesus seems to be giving, Elijah will return, God will declare the day of the Lord when the Messiah will be revealed, then the Messiah will die. The tangle is partially unwound when Jesus explains that "Elijah" was actually John the Baptist. The situation will be completely clarified when they fully understand that the Messiah's death and resurrection are for forgiveness of sins, not to extricate Israel from the rule of pagan Rome.

In the Seder dinner, the Jews drink to the four promises God gave Moses in Exodus 6:6–7: He will bring them out, deliver them from slavery, redeem them, and take them to be His people. A fifth cup of wine is reserved for the prophecy in Exodus 6:8: God will bring the Jews to the Promised Land. According to Jewish scribes, Elijah is supposed to let the Jews know when they can drink that fifth cup of wine. At the end of the Sabbath, Jews pray that Elijah will come with the Anointed One.

The prophecy that the disciples are thinking about is found in Malachi 4:5–6: "'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…'" John the Baptist's message of repentance was designed to accomplish this but didn't completely succeed. Therefore, the last part of Malachi 4:6 applies: "'…lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.'" Less than forty years after the transfiguration, Rome destroys Jerusalem and scatters the Jews from their homeland.

Between the confusion in the timeline and Elijah's appearance, Peter, James, and John most likely think the day of the Lord is near, and the Messiah will come into His kingdom. It's no wonder the disciples will soon start vying for position (Mark 9:33–34; 10:35–37).
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