As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
In today's Gospel, we read that the disciples asked Jesus why Elijah must come first. Before that, three of Jesus' disciples – Peter, James and John - witnessed Transfiguration of Jesus. They also saw Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the prophetic tradition respectively.
In the time of Jesus, people looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. They also expected Elijah to come first. Jesus did not answer the question directly, but confirmed that Elijah must come and had already come. He was referring to John the Baptist. People did not recognize John the Baptist as the returned Elijah, and they would not recognize Jesus as the Messiah that they had been waiting for. Jesus would suffer the same persecution and rejection as John the Baptist did.
In order to pave the way for Christ, John the Baptist had much to suffer and was killed in the end. Following the footsteps of Christ is never easy. May the Holy Spirit grant us courage and wisdom to keep following Jesus.