This article is one in a series of studies on the doctrines of William Branham that pointed to himself - you are currently on the article that is in bold:
William Branham pointed to Matthew 17:11 as proof that there was to be a Gentile Elijah:
Is this a proper interpretation of this scripture?
While William Branham's interpretation does appear to make sense, is it correct?
Improper View of Malachi 4
William Branham’s understanding is seriously flawed because Jesus is clearly referring to Malachi 4 as it is the only reference to Elijah in the entire Book of Malachi. So his statement that Jesus is referring to John the Baptist as fulfilling Malachi 3 and not Malachi 4 is clearly an incorrect interpretation of the passage.
Jesus is quoting directly from the Septuagint
The Septuagint was the Bible of Jesus and the apostles. Most New Testament quotations from the Old Testament are taken from it directly, even when it differs from the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text. On the whole the Septuagint closely parallels the Masoretic Text and is a confirmation of the fidelity of the tenth-century Hebrew text.
The word “Septuagint,” (from the Latin septuaginta = 70; hence its common abbreviation of LXX) derives from a story that 72 (other ancient sources mention 70 or 75) elders translated the Pentateuch into Greek; the term therefore applied originally only to those five books. That story is now acknowledged to be fictitious, yet the label persists by virtue of the tradition.
William Branham puts great stock in the fact the Jesus uses the future tense. However, the verb ἀποκαταστήσει, “will restore,” is drawn verbatim from the LXX of Mal 3:23 (Mal 4:6 in the KJV), where, however, the object clause is “the heart of the father to the son and the heart of a man to his neighbor” (the Hebrew of Mal 4:6 is only slightly different).
The future tense, therefore, does not suggest that Jesus expects a future return of John the Baptist. The restoration of “everything” (πάντα) must here refer not to the renewal of the present order itself (which would make Elijah the Messiah himself, rather than the forerunner of the Messiah), as, for example, apparently in Acts 1:6 (and compare especially the cognate noun ἀποκατάστασις, “restoration” or “establishing,” in Acts 3:21 in an allusion to the return of Jesus), but to a preparatory work of repentance and renewal (as in the Malachi passage; see especially Luke 1:17).
Only an interpretation of this kind can make possible Jesus’ identification of John the Baptist with Elijah in the verse that follows. In short, Jesus responds initially by fully agreeing with the scribes in their understanding of Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah is to come and accomplish his preparatory work. It is only in his conclusion that the passage is fulfilled with John the Baptist that Jesus parts company with the scribes. 
How did the disciples understand it?
Jesus’ disciples ask why the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come before the Christ. Malachi prophesied that God would send the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). By claiming that the restoration of all things by Elijah had not taken place, the scribes could cast doubt on the messiahship of Jesus. Jesus answered that Elijah has already come but was mistreated in the same way that the Son of Man is “destined to undergo suffering at men’s hands.” Then they made the connection. He was talking to them about John the Baptist. John was the Elijah who came first in order to set things in order. The argument of the teachers of the law against his messiahship would not hold. 
The disciples’ question can be taken in two ways.
Whatever their question meant, both these puzzles were answered when 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” (vv. 11–12).
This means that the scribes were right to insist that Elijah must come before the Messiah, but they were wrong in failing to see that he had in fact come. They were wrong in their interpretation of the restoration too.
They understood this as a promise of a perfect messianic age. But that was not a given fact, even in Malachi, since the last verse says that if the people do not repent at the forerunner’s teaching, then God will return “and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). Since Jesus is making clear that the work of Elijah had been done by John the Baptist and that the people had not repented at his teaching, the only thing they could reasonably expect from God now was this judgment.
Moreover, since the leaders had mistreated and killed John the Baptist, why should Jesus expect any different treatment? By calling their attention to this pattern, Jesus was reinforcing his teaching that it was necessary for him to be crucified.
This was the second most important thing he had to teach them after he had taught who he was. Peter, James, and John had been given a glimpse of glory on the mountain, just as we have been given a glimpse of future glory in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation, but that is for later. This is now, and what is needed now is that the followers of Christ deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow him. Before glory there must always be a cross.
It is clear that the disciples did not take Jesus' explanation to mean that there would be another Elijah coming 2,000 years later.
Why did John deny that he was Elijah?
In John 1:19-23, John the Baptist denies that he is Elijah:
There was a sense in which John was Elijah and a sense in which he was not. He fulfilled all the preliminary ministry that Malachi had foretold (Luke 1:17), and thus in a very real sense Jesus could say that he was Elijah.
But the Jews knew that Elijah had left the earth in a chariot of fire without passing through death (2 Kings 2:11), and they expected that in due course the identical figure would reappear. None of the Gospels supposed that John was literally Elijah (see Mark 9:4; Matt 17:3; Luke 9:30). John was not Elijah in this sense, and he had no option but to deny that he was.
It is true that before John’s birth, an angel prophesied to his father, Zechariah, that John would “go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). John the Baptist denied being “Elijah” to counter the expectation (that was held by the Pharisees in his day) that the same Elijah who escaped death in a fiery chariot would return in like spectacular manner.