John the Baptizer was “a man sent from God” (John 1:6), God’s messenger that was “called the prophet of the Highest” (Luke 1:76). John was not the Light of God, but came “to bear witness of the Light” (John 1:7). John also confessed that he was not the Christ, but rather said of himself, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:20,23).
It seems that John’s work and role in God’s scheme of redemption often go unappreciated. He had the unique diet of locusts and wild honey, but he was more than a man with a strange lifestyle in the wilderness. John’s mother, Elizabeth, was a cousin to Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:36), but the Baptizer was much more than a relative of Jesus. John had the privilege of immersing the Son of God (Mark 1:9), but he was more than the one that carried out such a memorable act. John was God’s voice to the Jewish people. He was the first prophet that Jehovah had sent to His people since the days of Malachi, who lived about 400 years before the birth of the Christ. What are some of the things that we learn about this one whom Jesus Himself highly praised? Consider:
John’s Family – John’s father was Zacharias, a priest of God under the old covenant, and his mother was Elizabeth (Luke 1:5). John was blessed to have godly parents, of whom the Bible says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). As far as John’s personal life goes, there is no Bible record of him being married.
John in O.T. Prophecy – Other than Jesus, can you name a New Testament character that is specifically mentioned in Old Testament prophecies? John the Baptizer was mentioned in three Old Testament prophecies. First, as we already noted, he was “the voice crying in the wilderness” that was to come and prepare the way of the Lord [prophecy, Isaiah 40:3; fulfillment recorded, Luke 3:3-5]. Second, John was the one about whom Jehovah spoke when He said, “Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” [prophecy, Malachi 3:1; fulfillment recorded, Matthew 11:10]. Third, Jesus plainly declared that the Baptizer was the one about whom the prophet Malachi also wrote, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” [prophecy, Malachi 4:5; fulfillment recorded, Matthew 17:10-13].
The Nature of John’s Work – His work was one of preparation. He prepared the way for the public ministry of Jesus, and in the process helped prepare the hearts of the Jewish people to receive Jesus as the Messiah. Make no mistake about it, his role was important. An angel of God told the following to John’s father before John was even conceived, “For he (John, rdc) shall be great in the sight of the Lord . . . And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15). Later, by the Holy Spirit Zacharias said to John, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76,77). Because John’s work dealt with salvation and the remission of sins, though it was a work of preparation, it was a necessary, significant work. Do not overlook it.
The Message Which John Preached – John preached about the coming kingdom, telling the Jews, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Some 600 years before God’s Son came into the world, Daniel had foretold of God’s kingdom, saying that it would be established in the days of the Roman kings and would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). John said that in his days the time of its coming was near.
John also preached repentance, saying, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8), and charging the people to reform their lives (Luke 3:10-15). His message of repentance was also directed to the political officials of his day, as he reproved Herod Antipas “for all the evils which Herod had done” (Luke 3:19).
A third aspect of John’s preaching was what he told the Jews about Jesus. At one point John spoke of Jesus in these terms: “. . . he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear” (Matthew 3:11). John further declared, “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:27). When John spoke of Jesus’ coming forth as being in the future, he instructed people to believe not that the Christ had already died, but that the Christ would come after John. This we read in Acts 19:4: “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (Acts 19:4). At a later point in John’s ministry, he no longer said that Jesus would come after him, but spoke to the people about whom he already knew Jesus to be. “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John went on witness to the people and to “bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). John pointed the Jews to Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God, the Son of God.
John’s baptism – Because of his work of baptizing people, John was known as “the Baptizer.” The first mention of baptism in the Bible is in connection with John. Because the word “baptism” means an immersion, we are not surprised to read that John baptized in a particular place “because there was much water there” (John 3:23).
John’s baptism was preceded by belief – belief in the coming Messiah. “Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (Acts 19:3,4). As we already noted, John’s baptism was to be accompanied by repentance (Matthew 3:2,8). Those that received John’s baptism also made a confession – not a confession that Jesus is the Christ or Son of God (like the eunuch, Acts 8:37), but rather a confession of sins. “And were baptized of him (John, rdc) in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6).
What was the purpose of John’s baptism? Twice the Bible calls John’s baptism “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Many are surprised to learn that his baptism was “for” or “unto” the remission of sins, but that is what the Bible clearly says. How important was the baptism of John? “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Luke 7:29,30). Thus, those Jews that refused to receive John’s baptism rejected God’s counsel.
Two final thoughts about John’s baptism. First, John baptized Jesus, but since Jesus had no sins, He could not do three things that other Jews did when they received John’s baptism: (1) He could not repent, (2) He could not confess any sins, and (3) He could not be baptized for the remission of sins. In view of these facts, it is obvious that Jesus was a special case, and though John immersed Him, He did not receive what the Bible commonly calls “the baptism of John.” Second, John’s baptism was temporary, being in effect only until the death of Jesus. Now there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), and it is the baptism that Jesus commanded as part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16).
John’s Character – Even Herod the tetrarch, who eventually gave the sentence to kill John, recognized John as a just and holy man (Mark 6:20). Jesus spoke openly about John’s greatness, declaring, “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet . . . Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:24-28). What praise the Son of God gave to John! On your list of “Great Prophets of God,” don’t you dare leave off John’s name!
John was a preacher with conviction and courage. He rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees just like he called on the common people to repent (Matthew 3:2-8). He refused to be silent when he saw that Herod Antipas was in an unlawful marriage with Herodias. John told Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). The result? John was put to death. One preacher that I personally know reportedly said that if he preached what God’s word says about marriage and divorce, he would lose his job. Friends, John preached the truth and lost his life because he was not a compromising coward. We need John-imitators today, godly men and women of God that will stand up for what the Bible says, come what may!
John was an humble man, saying, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worth to stoop down and unloose” (Mark 1:7). John never desired to get in the way of Jesus or His glory, saying of Jesus and himself, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This brings up another admirable trait of John’s: he understood his role and was satisfied with it. He knew that he was not sent to be the Light, but rather to point people to that Light. He was not the Messiah, but a voice in the wilderness that prepared the path for the Messiah. We need preachers today that will humbly serve like John did and refrain from boasting about their own deeds or complaining that they do not receive enough of the spotlight.
May God help us to appreciate His faithful servant, John. May his tribe increase.
— Roger D. Campbel
From The Union Grove Church of Christ http://www.ugcoc.org/