John the Baptist I
by Shawn Brasseaux
[5 June 2011]
John the Baptist is a very important figure in God’s dealings with the nation Israel. He is the first prophet God sent to the nation Israel since the prophet Malachi, who preached to Israel some 400 years earlier. During the “400 years of silence” between the prophet Malachi and John the Baptist, JEHOVAH sent neither angels nor prophets to speak to Israel. Now, God suddenly breaks that silence by sending John the Baptist to preach a message to Israel. In this two-part Bible study, we want to examine the special ministry of John the Baptist. This week, we will introduce you to John.
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In the opening verses of Luke chapter 1, we read of Zacharias, a priest of Israel. He and his wife Elizabeth are elderly and childless (verse 7). While Zacharias is ministering as a priest in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him, and reveals some rather shocking news: Elizabeth’s barren womb will give birth to her and Zacharias’ first child! Gabriel prophesies that the child’s name will be John (verses 8-14).
Gabriel also describes John and the special role God will give him. Consider Luke 1:15-17 KJV:
“15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 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.”
Zacharias doubts Gabriel’s prophecy, so Gabriel declares that Zacharias will be unable to speak for the next nine months (verses 18-23). Some time after Zacharias and Elizabeth return to their home, Elizabeth in her old age conceives. Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of the physical body of God the Son (verse 26-35).
As it turns out, Elizabeth and Mary are cousins, making John the Baptist and Jesus Christ relatives! When the time has come to circumcise John the Baptist on the eighth day, Elizabeth’s family and neighbors want to name the baby Zacharias, after his father (verses 57-59). “Not so; but he shall be called John,” Elizabeth says (verse 60). In the following verses, Zacharias, who is still unable to speak, writes on a tablet that the baby’s name is John, remembering what the angel Gabriel instructed. The people are rather astonished to suddenly hear Zacharias speaking again. Through Zacharias, the Holy Spirit speaks (verses 76-79):
“76 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;
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The Holy Spirit has revealed that John the Baptist is going to prepare Israel for her coming Messiah-King, Jesus of Nazareth. Notice what we read in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:
“6 There was a man sent from God [the Father], whose name was John [the Baptist].
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light [Jesus Christ], that all men through him might believe.
8 He [John] was not the Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew him not.”
According to the Bible, John the Baptist’s purpose is to bear witness of the Light, Jesus Christ. God the Father has sent John the Baptist to point Israel to Jesus as their Messiah-King. Six months after the birth of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem: John is six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:26,36).
So, three decades later, by the time John the Baptist and Jesus Christ begin their ministries, they are aged 30 (Luke 3:23), the youngest age to enter Israel’s priesthood (Numbers 4:3). Notice the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, as recorded in Luke 3:1-3 KJV:
“1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,…
2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;”
Let us compare that with Mark 1:1-4 KJV:
“1 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 baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
Over 400 years before Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, JEHOVAH had spoken through the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me…” (Malachi 3:1).
The prophet Isaiah wrote circa 700 B.C. (40:3-5):
“3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
Mark 1:1-4 explains that Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3-5 were prophesying the ministry of John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 3:3, Matthew 11:7-10, and Luke 3:4-6). Interestingly, the last book of the “Old Testament” in our English Bible is Malachi. The last few verses of the “Old Testament” are Malachi 4:5,6 KJV: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Earlier, recall that we read that the angel Gabriel told Zacharias (Luke 1:17): “And he [John the Baptist] 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.”
Matthew 11:7-14, Matthew 17:11-13, and Mark 9:12,13 all confirm that John the Baptist is the individual promised in Malachi 4:5,6. John the Baptist’s ministry is still on Old Testament ground, because the Old Testament prophesied his ministry. The only thing that is different between the “Old Testament” (Genesis through Malachi) and John the Baptist’s ministry is that now Israel’s King is in her midst!
Next week, we are going to examine the details of the message that John the Baptist preached.
John the Baptist II
by Shawn Brasseaux
[12 June 2011]
Last week, in part I, we were introduced to John the Baptist, a very important figure in God’s dealings with the nation Israel. In the Old Testament (Malachi 3:1), JEHOVAH said that just before He would come, He would send His messenger before Himself. The forerunner of JEHOVAH, Jesus Christ (Israel’s Messiah), is John the Baptist. Last week, we learned that John the Baptist would (Luke 1:17): “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.” John was to prepare the nation Israel to accept her Messiah Jesus.
As we saw last week, John the Baptist’s birth was extraordinary because his parents were elderly. John’s father, Zacharias, had been mute for his wife’s entire gestation period (nine months). The angel Gabriel had visited Zacharias to foretell John the Baptist’s coming. These events should have gotten the attention of the nation Israel. Alas, as we will discover, Israel was too content in her lost state, and she, for the most part, refused to hearken unto John the Baptist. But, what message did John the Baptist preach to Israel? We will examine that issue this week.
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In order to understand John the Baptist’s ministry, look at what Matthew 3:1-6 KJV says:
“1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Recall from last week that John the Baptist’s father Zacharias is of the priestly lineage (Luke 1:5-9). John should be following his father by becoming a priest of Israel. He should be in the Temple! But according to Matthew 3:1, where is John? John is preaching in the wilderness of Judaea! Obviously, Israel is in apostasy, and her religious system (the Temple) is spiritually dead and worthless, corrupted by the traditions of the elders. God is using John to call His nation Israel away from the Temple, away from the satanic policy of evil, and out into the wilderness (see Hosea 2:14,15).
Notice what John the Baptist preached to Israel: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Recognize that this is not the message of salvation that we preach today (compare Matthew 3:2 with 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, and Acts 19:4 refer to John’s message as “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mathew 3:5,6 tell us that Jews from all surrounding areas come to the Jordan River, being water baptized and confessing their sins.
God the Father has sent John the Baptist to prepare Israel to accept her Messiah-King, the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised Israel a King and a kingdom (Exodus 19:5,6; Psalm 2:6-9; Isaiah 9:6,7; Isaiah 60:1-3; Jeremiah 23:5,6; Daniel 2:44; et al.). Now, as John the Baptist declares, their King is here, so the kingdom is “at hand” (near, about to be established). Luke 16:16 KJV says: “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Every Jew had to repent (change their thinking) and place their faith in John the Baptist’s message. “Get ready for your King, Israel!!!”
By faith, these individual Jews were water baptized and confessed their sins (their national sin of breaking the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law): the only way that kingdom could be established is if every Jew had been saved, that is having trusted in Jesus as their Messiah-King/Christ (see Matthew 16:16; John 1:41; John 11:27).
In John 1:31 KJV, we read John the Baptist’s words: “And I knew him [Christ] not: but that he [Jesus Christ] should be manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.” Again, recall that the Bible terms this message “the baptism of repentance” (the Apostle Peter preached this same message three years later in Acts 2:38 on the day of Pentecost). Although we looked at it last week, you can re-read Mark’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry for comparison (Mark 1:1-5).
Let us consider Mark 1:7-8 KJV now: “And [John the Baptist] preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
John is making a direct reference to Jesus Christ by warning Israel that someone greater than he is coming. That man will be the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the JEHOVAH of the Old Testament! Notice the warning John gives to the wicked, unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-9).
Any Jew that refuses to hearken unto the words of John the Baptist will face God’s wrath and judgment. Unless these Jews accept this water baptism, and the later baptism with the Holy Ghost (which took place in Acts chapter 2), they will perish with all the other unbelievers in the fire baptism (the Tribulation and subsequent Second Coming of Christ).
Now, it is awfully sad to learn that Israel was so steeped in unbelief that some Jews actually thought John the Baptist was their Messiah! This is evidenced by their indecisiveness in Luke 3:15: “And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;” The Jews were still mostly confused and persist in rank unbelief. So much so, they sent Levites and priests to ask John who he is (John 1:19). Furthermore, some Jews were so mixed up they wrongly thought Jesus Christ was the forerunner promised in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, which was actually speaking of John the Baptist (Matthew 16:14). How sad! No wonder God called them “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).
As John the Baptist is water baptizing repentant Jews in the river Jordan, Jesus Christ comes to be baptized of him. John the Baptist humbly refuses to baptize the Lord Jesus, saying: “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14). The Lord Jesus had no sins to confess, for He is holy and sinless, so why did He need John’s water baptism? Christ explains: “Suffer [Allow] it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In order to be Israel’s high priest and fulfill the demands of the Mosaic Law (Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:14,15, et al.), Jesus Christ had to go through the washing the Old Testament priests had to have before entering the priesthood back in Exodus 29:4.
Also, by being water baptized, Jesus Christ identified Himself with those who had placed their faith in Him as their Messiah. The believers of Christ’s earthly ministry—the believing remnant of Israel who would inherit Israel’s kingdom—are collectively referred to as “the little flock” (Luke 12:32). The lost, wicked lawyers and Pharisees demonstrated their unbelief by rejecting John’s water baptism of repentance (Luke 7:29,30). John’s water baptism was how lost Jews were differentiated from saved Jews.
During the early part of Christ’s earthly ministry, John the Baptist had spoken out against King Herod marrying Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife. Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the people, so he imprisoned John instead. Afterward, Herodias’ daughter requests that Herod give her John the Baptist’s head, so John is beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 9:7-9).
And thus concluded John the Baptist’s ministry. The Jews allowed the voice of God the Father, John the Baptist, to be silenced. This would be the first of three times Israel would blaspheme against the Godhead. They allowed the silence of God the Father (John the Baptist), they would later demand that God the Son (Jesus Christ) be put to death on Calvary’s cross, and finally they would refuse to obey the Holy Ghost (the little flock, especially the twelve apostles) during the early Acts period. Once Israel stoned her prophet Stephen in Acts chapter 7, she had rejected all three Persons of the Godhead.