“come first to restore.” If the text is to be translated and understood as if John did restore everything, then the restoration has to refer to a spiritual restoration. However, it seems apparent that John did not restore everything. In fact, that John did not manage to restore everything sets the stage for Jesus’ question, “how is it that it is written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” In other words, the disciples need to understand that John did not restore everything, which is one reason the Messiah must suffer and die.
It is a well-known aspect of the Semitic languages that an active verb can represent an attempt to do something, not an accomplishment of something. In other words, instead of John “restoring” everything, he “tried” to restore everything. This use of the Hebrew verb is well documented and even appears in places such as the “Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation” section in the front of the Young’s Concordance (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1970, hint #70). Young’s has, “Active verbs frequently express only an attempt to do the action,” and one of the examples it gives is the verse about Elijah restoring everything.
It is because of the Semitic idiom that versions such as the ESV, NRSV, and RSV, say “to restore all things.” John came to restore all things, but could not accomplish that task, which is a reason that Jesus had to suffer and die.
“and yet.” (Cp. Lenski, NASB). Jesus was asking the question, without answering it, how it could be that if Elijah came and restored everything, there was any need for the suffering of the Messiah. The disciples did not believe that the Messiah would die (and did not truly understand that until after his resurrection). Thus, Jesus is just trying to get them to open their mind to other possibilities for the Messiah than they had learned in Synagogue. The question is a good one, because although the death of the Messiah was veiled to the disciples, the fact that he would suffer should have been clear to them. But why even that if John did indeed restore all things? The restoration of John was a spiritual restoration, turning people’s hearts back to God. It was not a political restoration, or a full restoration in which the Devil and his minions were defeated, the curse removed from the earth, etc.
“and restores.” The Greek uses just the participle, “restoring.”