“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; [2] as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [3] The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. [4] John did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. [5] And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptised of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. [6] And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; [7] and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. [8] I indeed have baptised you with water: but he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost”. (Mark 1:1-8). 

In his dress and diet, he was distinctive from what was normal for the time.

His dress was functional — his appearance was perhaps to some, scary, in that his hair would have been long (his parents brought him up as a Nazarite) and because he lived in the wilds he probably appeared dishevelled. The same is true of his diet. His diet consisted of among other things, wild honey and locusts.

Regarding how he lived, Luke 1:80 adds, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel”. 

Mark 2:18 shows that he and his disciples lived simply and away from the political and even religious life of the time. Later John would be criticised by others for being antisocial. Taken together, these verses indicate that despite John’s greatness, God kept him away to preserve the purpose of his calling. Elijah was similarly kept unlike Elisha who was more outgoing and gregarious. This was also true of Jesus who mixed and mingled with all and sundry, for which he would be criticised by the religious of his day.

We can be assured that since he had God’s Spirit from birth, as Luke 1:15 states, he was in no way the almost wild man he is usually portrayed as in popular culture. Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” People would not have been attracted to him if he was weird.

Also note that, though John was of the Aaronic line from both parents, no direct connection is ever made between him and the already installed system of Temple worship.

Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Bible positions John’s ministry as the starting point of Christ’s gospel, not because John literally preached the gospel, but because of his preparatory work to Jesus preaching it. Verse 5 records, “And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” This reveals the impact of his ministry: All Judea, including those from Jerusalem, went out to hear and be baptised by him, believing he was a prophet. While “all” does not mean every last person, it indicates a sizeable majority of the population was conversant with John and his message.

Mark 11:32 provides insight as to how the people perceived him: “But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed”. Clearly, the common people considered John a prophet, and indeed, he was. This also shows that the highest Jewish authorities were fully aware of his reputation as a prophet and feared it. We can begin to see that in many respects the magnitude of John’s work was similar to Jesus’.

Mark 1:9-11 speaks of Jesus and John’s first recorded contact: “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. 

The “all” of verse 5 includes Jesus both as believing his message and being baptized of him. God at this time fully revealed to John who the Messiah was. However, verses 7-8 make it plain that, before baptizing Jesus, he already knew he was preceding someone. The prophecy given to his father Zacharias (Luke 1:76) had undoubtedly been communicated to him.

Despite the fact that he was no wild man, he was radically alienated from those who were part of the system God had installed during the time of David a thousand years earlier, re-established under Hezekiah and Josiah, and then later still re-instituted under Ezra following the Jews’ return from Babylon.

Unlike the New Testament era, prophets tended to operate outside the priestly system established by God. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of John, Jeremiah, and Amos. Jeremiah 15:17 records the prophet’s complaint about his solitude: “I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because of your hand, for you have filled me with indignation.” Amos provides us with his experience when receiving God’s calling: “Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” .(Amos 7:14-15). 

John’s separation from the system is clearly noticeable in Matthew 3:7-10: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire”.

Notice that his scathing attack is against both the Pharisees and Sadducees: The Pharisees had public power because they tended to be successful people in private life. In spite of this, they also had the admiration of the people. The Sadducees were largely from the priesthood and thus controlled the Temple. Consequently, they pretty much controlled the religious life of the people. Yet, because they also tended to be wealthy but haughty in disposition, the feelings of the people were prejudiced against them.

John courageously confronts the establishment’s leadership. His was an unpopular message of judgment aimed directly at the powerful, and they did not take kindly to what he said. “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptised with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:29-30). 

Matthew 21:32 confirms John’s rejection when Jesus speaks to the chief priests and elders at the Temple: For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him”. The powerful knew John was speaking about them, so in disdainful anger, they rejected him, while the publicans and harlots accepted his teaching.

His most powerful foe was Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Herod and John had an interesting relationship because Herod respected John, yet at the same time he feared what he perceived to be John’s growing political power because of the prophet’s popularity. Men, especially powerful and unscrupulous men, are afraid of the anointing because they cannot see the anointing (we tend to be afraid of what we cannot see), but can see the results of the anointing.

The celebrated Jewish historian Josephus provides a bit of background the Bible lacks. Herod was married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Petra. However, before John became a popular figure, Herod divorced her and married his sister-in-law, Herodias. This caused a problem, as Herodias was already married to Herod’s brother, Philip. At this point, a convergence takes place between John’s rising influence with the people and Herod and Herodias’ adulterous and incestuous marriage, which clearly violates the sexual purity laws in Leviticus 18.

Mark 6:17-20 explains: For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

Josephus writes that Herod took John prisoner because he feared the prophet’s prominence, believing that rebellion against his rule was growing in response to John’s preaching. Apparently, during John’s captivity, he warned Herod that he and Herodias were in an adulterous relationship.

This made Herodias very angry. Verses 21-27 add: Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you,” He also swore to her, Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison.

Thus, when a convenient occasion presented itself, she took her revenge, getting away with John’s murder because of Herod’s foolish timidity. Subsequently, Aretas came against Herod in war, seeking revenge for Herod divorcing his daughter. Josephus writes that Aretas soundly defeated Herod’s forces. The people of Judea concluded that Herod’s defeat was God’s punishment for taking John’s life.

Luke gives the most comprehensive account of John’s birth. Luke 1:5-25 covers the announcement of John’s birth to his father Zechariah, and verses 68-79 record Zechariah’s hymn of praise to God for John. However, verses 76-79 comprise a prophecy devoted without qualification to John and his work: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”.

From the very beginning, John and Jesus are allied in the salvation scheme. However, the Bible shows in interesting ways how John is subordinate to Jesus. For instance, in Luke 1:36, Mary and Elisabeth are shown to be related, probably cousins. Both women conceive in a miraculous way, but Mary’s conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is far more miraculous. Then, when Elisabeth greets Mary (Luke 1:39-41), John, while still in her womb, leaps for joy in the presence of our Lord in His mother’s womb. Finally, Luke 1:76 show John to be only a prophet, but verses 32-35 show Jesus to be the Son of God and Heir to the throne of David.

The apostle John subordinates John the Baptist to Jesus in John 1:6-9: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, which all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world. To appreciate this subordination of John, we must relate what is said here to the cultural environment in which these books were written. We must consider what the apostles wrote from the perspective of first-century Jews who witnessed John the Baptist’s ministry.

In modern times, we tend to think that John’s ministry was little more than a blip on a radar screen. However, in terms of impact and importance, there was no true ministry greater than his except Jesus’. Thinking that John’s ministry was insignificant diminishes what Jesus says about none born of a woman being greater than John.

In God’s own estimation, recorded in Luke 1:15—the very first thing said about him by the angel speaking for God—John would be great! He was the prophesied messenger who fulfilled Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (see Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:76; 3:4; John 1:23). He also fulfilled Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (see Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76; 7:27).

John was the crown of a long line of Old Testament prophets. John Is the Elijah of the book of Malachi.

Our platform is the world and our congregation the people.  

The Lord’s servant  

Lloyd Denny

Source: King James Bible. An extract from an unknown internet article.