Correct me if I am incorrect in my interpretation: God tells the Jews a key sign to look for is Elijah,who would come before the Messiah, and then God secretly puts the spirit of Elijah in the form of John the Baptist (who himself says he is not Elijah…) What would be the point of giving a sign at all? Would it be fair to say this sign could actually be a stumbling block to the jewish scripture- scholars looking forward to his coming? How is it fair to hold the Jews accountable for not knowing? If God gives us key signs through His word( for end times, kingdom is near news, present daily decisions) does He sometimes lead us to stumble in that way too?
I believe you are right–that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the sending of the prophet Elijah who was to come, mentioned in Malachi 4:5. John came announcing that the “Kingdom is at hand” (Matthew 3:1) He was the forerunner of the Messiah and the one to announce the coming salvation and judgment.
What is the point of giving a sign? God does this so that his people will know that a great event is about to happen. In fact, this is exactly what John the Baptist did. He reminded the Jews of God’s admonition to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matthew 3:3, quoting Isaiah 40:3). God told those who were his faithful, through John, to be prepared for the Day of the Lord.
Could the ministry of John the Baptist be a stumbling block to those who refused his message. Absolutely! In fact, the coming of the Messiah himself was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23) Psalm 118:22 is a prophecy that Jesus, the one whom the Jews would reject, would become the capstone.
God does not put a stumbling block on purpose in order to make people stumble. Neither Jesus or John the Baptist were sent in order to be a stumbling block. The fact remains, however, that for those who heard the message of Jesus or the preaching of John the Baptist and who rejected them, the message became a stumbling block. We are worse off to have never heard the truth than to have heard it and rejected it. In that sense John the Baptist’s preaching was a stumbling block for some, but we should not blame God for that! Like Jesus said the the teachers of the Law, in John 5:39,40, the entire Jewish Bible was written about him. The definitely SHOULD have know it was him. It was only their stubborn, sinful hearts which prevented their knowing that Jesus was the Messiah, sent by God. God is definitely within his rights to expect them to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and to bring judgment on the Jews who rejected Jesus and had him killed. Of course, this is true of all of us as well who hear the message and reject it. Yes, God expects us to recognize Jesus and yes, he is right to judge those who reject the grace offered them in Jesus.