Who was John the Baptist?

The Birth of John the Baptist

John the Baptist was a great Jewish prophet in the early 1st century AD. He was the son of Zacharias, a Levitical priest, and Elizabeth. The couple, originally, had no children because Elizabeth was barren (Luke 1:7). But the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced that he would have a son. Zechariah confessed unbelief for he and his wife were elderly (verses 8–18).

The angel Gabriel said to Zechariah that his son: “will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah…” (Luke 1:15–17).

John was related to Jesus (Luke 1:36). The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. And he informed her that Elizabeth her cousin will also give birth to a son. And when the pregnant Mary visited Elizabeth, baby John leaped in Elisabeth’s womb for joy at hearing the voice of Mary (Luke 1:39-45).

The Prophet’s Life

John was a Nazirite from birth, and his simple, self-disciplined life was in harmony with the mandates of that sacred vow (Luke 1:15; Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4). Matthew wrote, “John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (ch. 3:4).

The Baptist wore the garb of the prophets (2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4). His plain dress was a rebuke to the excess of his time, to the “soft raiment” worn “in kings’ houses” (Matthew 11:8). And his abstemious diet was essential to mental strength and spiritual insight.

It is not necessary to conclude that John was an Essenes even though there are obvious similarities between him and the Essene. Like the Essenes, the prophet used baptism as the main rite of his pre-messianic movement (John 3:23; Luke 1:5; 7:29; Acts 11:16; 13:24; 19:4).

The Faithful Ministry

The work of John was predicted by the prophet Isaiah seven centuries before his appearance: “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God… And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it…'” (Isaiah 40:3–5). The Baptist’s message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2).

The Gospels declare John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus, since he announced Jesus’ coming and prepared the people for His ministry. John declared, “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD” (John 1:23). And Jesus Himself identified John as “Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 17:10-13). This statement is a reference to Malachi 4:5.

The work of John the Baptist grew and spread fast: “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:5–6). John rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees saying, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7,8).

John the Baptist declared that Jesus is the lamb of God the Savior of mankind (John 1:29). And when he was asked by the Pharisees. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (John 1:25-27). And he added that once Jesus starts his ministry, his work would be accomplished: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

Jesus asked John to baptize him but John felt unworthy to do that but the Lord said that He must “fulfill all righteousness.” Then, John agreed (Matthew 3:13–15). When Jesus got out of the water, “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (vs. 16–17).

The Baptist’s Death

King Herod put John the Baptist in prison because the prophet rightly rebuked him for divorcing his wife and then unlawfully marrying Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19–20; Mark 6:17–20).

While John was in prison, he was troubled with doubts, so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He truly was the Messiah. Jesus answered them by showing His miracles of mercy in delivering people from sin and sickness (Matthew 11:2–6; Luke 7:18–23). And He added, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28).

In revenge to John’s rebuke to Herod, Herodias waited for an opportunity to kill John. So, on Herod’s birthday, the king made a feast and Herodias’s daughter danced and the king was pleased. And he said to her, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you” (Mark 6:22). After consulting with her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (v. 25). In reponse, Herod beheaded John the Baptist (Mark 6:27–28).

In looking back at the life of John the Baptist, we can conclude that in character, devotion, and faithfulness, no prophet had surpassed him. And no prophet had had a greater honor than that of being the personal herald of the Messiah at His first coming.

John the Baptist is mentioned by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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