“To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things ....” (Matthew 17:11-12)

The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.(Matthew 17:10-13)

Why does Elijah must come first?

Jesus is discussing a verse in Malachi:
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4:5) 
Some claim that God was foretelling that the prophet Elijah would come again before the “messiah” will come. They interpret "that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes" as the day the "messiah" comes down to the earth and everyone will at the same time be judged for their sins and their faith in God. 

This may be based upon words of scripture, but the interpretation is incorrect. Let's clarify this.

Here is the complete statement in the Book of Malachi on this topic:
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly, the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’”

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His Name.

“They will be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession, I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere My Name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Remember the law of My servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
(Malachi 3:14-4:6)

Who is Elijah?

The prophet Elijah of the Old Testament (Kings - before Malachi) was a servant of the Supreme Being. 
Elijah's devotion to God is captured with his name:

The word Elijah arose from a translation of:
“He who comes in the Name of God,”
or “He who reveres the Name of God,”
or “Yahweh is my God.”

Thayer states the following about Elijah:

"Elijah, a prophet born at Thisbe, the unflinching champion of the theocracy in the reigns of the idolatrous kings Ahab and Ahaziah. He was taken up to heaven without dying, whence the Jews expected he would return just before the advent of the Messiah, whom he would prepare the minds of the Israelites to receive."

Thus we see from Jesus' quoting of Malachi and this statement that Elijah is supposed to appear just prior to the advent of a certain Messiah. In this context, it relates to the appearance of John the Baptist appearing just prior to Jesus.

How could Elijah come again as John the Baptist?

The verse in Malachi combined with Jesus' statement regarding John the Baptist also means something else. It means that Jesus and his disciples accepted reincarnation as a reality.

How else could Elijah have come again as John the Baptist?

This is why Jesus says, "they did not recognize him." The reason they didn't recognize him is because the spirit-person is unseen by the physical eyes. The spirit-person (or soul) exists in another dimension - even though it is the source of our consciousness.

So how did Elijah become John the Baptist? The key is understanding that the physical body is not the same as the spirit-person. The physical body is like a car that the spirit-person gets into and drives for a few decades.

After the physical body wears out or is otherwise killed, the spirit-person leaves that physical body. Just as a driver of a car gets out of the car after he parks the car and turns the keys off.

Just as a person can get out of one car and then get inside another car and drive it around, the spirit-person or soul leaves the physical body at the time of death. Then that spirit-person can return to the physical world, but in a different body.

This is apparently what has taken place in the case of Elijah. The spirit-person of Elijah reincarnated into the physical body of John the Baptist.

This is not the first indication that Jesus' disciples accepted that reincarnation was a reality. Remember in John 9 the question asked by Jesus' disciples:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Because the man would have had to live before in order to have sinned, and he was 'born blind' we know this question specifically relates to the acceptance of reincarnation. That is the only way the man could have sinned prior to this lifetime.

What is the 'great and dreadful day'?

Notice that in Malachi above, God says that Elijah will come before the “great and dreadful day.” God will be sending, prior to this “day,” one of His loving servants (as we know that God has many loving servants, not just one), who will represent Him, and teach His message.

So what is this “day” anyway? If we were to assume the interpretations that many Christians make of Malachi and Jesus’ statement here, then the “day” where all the evildoers would be trampled to ashes would have had to be when Jesus came, since that “day” would follow “Elijah” - who Jesus states here has already come, and the disciples understand Jesus to be referring to Jesus' teacher, John the Baptist.

So when did the "great and dreadful day" occur during Jesus' life? Jesus does say that Elijah has already come. So when did the wicked get trampled, and the fires burn them to ashes? Did it occur during Jesus' life? How about when he was crucified? How come the wicked seemed to do just fine after the crucifixion? The Romans went on to control the region and eventually control the new sectarian church - they certainly did not get trampled.

Could they have also been wrong about their interpretation of the 'great and dreadful day'?

In reality, this “day of reckoning,” quite simply, is the day our physical body dies.

Each of us is wearing a physical body that will one day, die. This “day” will be the point of reckoning for each of us. We will have to reckon with the decisions and actions we made throughout our physical lives.

For those who lived their lives trying to grow in their love and faith for God, this “great and dreadful day” will be a great day. As God said through Malachi: “But for you who revere my Name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”

Let’s think about this clearly: For each of us, this day is coming for each of us: It would simply not make sense to say that this day is coming at a time in the future after we were dead.

That would mean that we (and billions upon billions of others) would have to wait around in some kind of fictitious waiting room ("purgatory?") after we died for this day, which occurs thousands of years after some of these people have died. Does this make any sense? Is God limited to having just one day of reckoning?

Why hasn't this 'day' come?

So we must now ask, why has this “day” not come yet? Why has the world not been destroyed, and everyone trampled? Hasn't Elijah in the form of John the Baptist come?

Even more puzzling is that according to the institutional temple teachers, the “messiah” (and the "day") has not come yet. They are still awaiting the Messiah, and maintain that Jesus was not the messiah.

Some sectarians maintain that while the Messiah came, he didn't really come in the way foretold in Malachi. In other words, Jesus is supposed to come again: A second coming.

According to their interpretation, it is this "second coming" that will supposedly bring upon the earth the trampling and burning of the wicked.

Many institutions and their teachers who claim to follow Jesus insist that the 'second coming' will also take place at the 'end of the world.' Yet as Jesus states, Elijah already came a second time, in the form of John the Baptist.

This means the institutional temple officials didn't recognize Elijah when he appeared again.

What is judgment day?

The day of reckoning is also spoken of as a day of judgment: "Judgment day." Yes, each of us will be judged for our lifetimes at the time of death. This is our judgment day. God also says through Malachi that the day will be preceded by Elijah. Yes, God sends His loving servants to the earth to pass on His message throughout time - as confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 17:11-12.

If we desire to hear the truth about God and desire to return to Him, we are shown this person. For those who do not wish to return to God, they will not be paying any attention because they are too focused upon the mad chase for the illusory pleasures of the physical world.

Those who utilize this human form of life to harm and abuse others without repentance will face a "dreadful day" upon leaving the body. At the time of death, when those beings leave their dying bodies, they will be faced with the consequences of their actions.

As for those who decide they want to return to God during this lifetime, they will be guided back to their loving relationship with God. For them, the time of death ("day") will not be dreaded. On this day, God and some of His servants will come to embrace and welcome that person back into the spiritual world. Carefully consider these statements from Malachi:
A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared [honored] the Lord and honored His Name. “They will be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession, I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (Malachi 3:16-17)
For Jesus and his disciples, they all accepted John the Baptist as that great Teacher of the Truth who came in the Name of God, to teach them the truth, just as Elijah did. 

Jesus was a close follower of John the Baptist. Jesus accepted John as his teacher, evidenced by John's baptism of Jesus. And since Jesus also baptized his followers, we see there is a linkage between John's teachings and Jesus' teachings.

Also by his statements, it is obvious that Jesus was a devoted follower of John the Baptist.

How is this about John the Baptist?

After Jesus says that Elijah already came again, Jesus proceeds to discuss the life of John the Baptist, whom he considered a Prophet.

Jesus is condemning those who persecuted John the Baptist along with those who stood by and did nothing. This is the mark of a devoted student. Jesus was, as he wanted each of his disciples to pass on his teachings as he had passed on the teachings of those before him. This continues the succession or lineage of prophets and teachers, allowing this ancient knowledge to be passed on even to today.

Many think of the Old Testament as a history of Israel, but rather, it was intended to be a history of a lineage of devoted servants of God, who also taught others to be devoted to God. That is, until institutional scribes misinterpreted and mistranslated this important history. Jesus was part of this lineage, and he wanted his students to also be part of it.

Certainly, Jesus' humility regarding the position of Elijah ("one who comes in the Name of the Lord") is illustrated here. Jesus condemns those who heard the teachings of John the Baptist and disregarded those teachings: "Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him."

Jesus certainly did not disregard John's teachings. Like a faithful student and loving servant of God and his teacher, Jesus passed those teachings on, and asked his students to pass them on further. This is evidenced by these three verses:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 3:1-2)

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

[Jesus instructing his students] "As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’" (Matthew 10:7)

"... to suffer at their hands.”

This statement illustrates that just as John the Baptist had to suffer for his teachings and service to God, Jesus too would suffer for those same teachings and service. Why did they suffer? They suffered so that we might listen and learn the Truth.

Who, then, is the "Messiah?" The true Messiah (Savior) is the Supreme Being Himself - Christos in Greek. Thus anyone the Supreme Being empowers as His representative and teaches and lives His message is, by virtue of representing God, delivering the message of the Messiah - our Savior. And what is that central message the Messiah delivers? An invitation back home, into God's loving Arms:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)