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2: More Important than You Think!

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1

The John the Baptist Experience
Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger
Chapter 2: More Important than You Think!

Copyright © 20221

by
Jim Kerwin

Image of John the Baptist from a 16th Century painting“He must increase, I must decrease.”2

Christian, have you paid attention to how important John the Baptist really is? And have you considered why the vital importance of his ministry and message should matter to you?

Why is it that the story of Jesus can’t be told without including the enigmatic, camel-skin-clad, long-haired Nazirite prophet called John the Baptist? Stop and consider just a minute. There aren’t a lot of events or messages from the life of Jesus which appear in all four Gospels. All the Gospels include the Last Supper, the trial, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Only two include anything of the Birth account of Jesus. Only two have some version of the Sermon on the Mount. How many miracles (not counting the Resurrection) appear in all four accounts? Answer: not many. But all four inspired Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — are compelled by the Spirit to include events and teaching from the life and ministry of John the Baptist.

Why is that?

For that matter, John the Baptist and his influence keep popping up in the Book of Acts. Jesus is still referring to him just minutes before His Ascension. Peter is compelled to mention him in his teaching (Acts 1:22) and preaching (Acts 10:37; 11:16). The communal, all-things-common, materialism-free love-economy of the early Jerusalem church (Acts 4:32-37) may well have grown out of seeds planted by John (Luke 3:10-11). Paul must include John in his preaching (Acts 13:24-25). And disciples of John the Baptist are still being encountered in corners of the Roman Empire more than twenty years after his death (Acts 18:25–19:4).

Have you ever thought about that?

Oh, and I should mention something else: At least two, probably four, and perhaps more of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles were disciples of John before they became disciples of Jesus. And we will see that sitting under the teaching of John the Baptist, as well as responding wholeheartedly to his message, was a clearly stated prerequisite for filling the empty apostolic vacancy left by Judas (Acts 1:21-22).

Who is this guy John the Baptist?

“Prepare the way of the Lord.
Make His paths straight!”

Each of the Synoptic Gospels3 ushers in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ by quoting this verse from Isaiah and then introducing the powerful ministry of John the Baptist. Even in the Fourth Gospel, when John the Baptist is pressed by the religious leaders of his day about where he fits into God’s scheme, the Apostle John records this response from the mouth of Messiah’s Forerunner: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as said the prophet Isaiah.”

In God’s infinite wisdom, His people could only be heart-prepared for the earthly message of Jesus through the ministry of this one who “baptized… unto repentance.” Every hungry, thirsty soul in Israel had a “John the Baptist experience” which prepared the heart for an encounter with the Christ.

In a day when the faithful in the Church cry out for the coming of Jesus again in revival power – and for His Second Coming itself – we have yet to realize that God, who “changes not,”4 and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,”5 still decree that the answer to those prayers is dependent on the heart-preparation of God’s people through their own, end-time John the Baptist experience.

In John’s day, only fifty or sixty miles separated Jerusalem, the religious capital, from Aenon (John 3:23), where John baptized.6 But the spiritual distance between the two locations was in­cal­cul­able. When God chose to prepare His people for the unveiling of His Son Jesus to the world, His sovereign choice dictated that the work be done neither in the place nor with the methods the religious leaders of the day were using. Everything Jerusalem represented – wealthy trappings of successful ministry, popular ministers, well-dressed worshippers, educated religious leaders, showy buildings, popular fads, shallow thought, shallower spirituality, and comfortably acceptable levels of worldliness and sin – all of this God passed over when it came time to prepare for Jesus the Christ to begin His ministry in the earth. God’s chosen man, method, ministry, and message for this preparation were embodied in the person and preaching of John the Baptist.

God longs to unveil Christ once again to the Church and the world in an end-time revival. But the distance between the “Jerusalem” of popular Christianity today and the preparatory message which beats in the heart of the Lord seems greater than ever. Too many of the leaders of twenty-first-century “Jerusalem” assure us that God has lowered His standards, and that His blessing requires new methods. Pop psy­cho­logy and Madison-Avenue marketing methods rule the day.

First and foremost, our “Jerusalem” leadership hardly speaks any more of “sinners,” only the “unchurched.” Secondly, just about any method that succeeds in coaxing and coddling the “un­churched” into God’s Kingdom is deemed acceptable. Speaking plainly about sin is anathema, because, at best, it might lower the listeners’ self-esteem, and, at worst, it might drive them away. In our mad rush to be “seeker sensitive” above all things, we have long since ceased being “Spirit sensitive.” Thus we have become spiritually undiscerning, nearly incapable of sensing or being led by God, the Holy Spirit. We have become like Samson, who “did not know that the Lord had departed from him.”7

Ignoring, for a moment, the irony that we lead those “you’re not sinners, just unchurched” people in “the sinner’s prayer,” it’s plain that we still sidestep the issue of dealing with sin, even after telling people that they have been “born again.” For instance, a pastor known to the writer, whose church paid thousands of dollars to a “church-growth consultant,” told his leaders that if newcomers say the “sinner’s prayer” and “become Christians,” the church would just have to accept the fact that these new “Christians” might be living together in sin without benefit of marriage for quite a while, and that the Lord would sort it all out later. A pastor-friend from metro Washington, D.C. recently informed the writer of a “successful” mega-church in his area where the leadership has decided that no mention will be made of the Lordship of Jesus in the salvation message or in discipleship training with new converts for at least the first six months, the desire being not to “scare them away.”

They don’t understand the why of John the Baptist!

John the Baptist came to prepare the hearts of God’s people in his day by preaching repentance, a word we hardly know the meaning of today. No heart can truly be prepared today for the coming of Jesus – whether in regeneration and New Birth, or in revival, or Jesus’ Second Coming – unless it has unreservedly responded to John the Baptist’s message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God” – and therefore, by implication, the King Himself! – “is at hand.”

A basic assumption in Scripture is that a “foundation of repentance” has been laid, and that it is required before we can “go on.”8 The depth and strength of that spiritual foundation is vital to the structure of spiritual life on every level, so it must pass muster with the heavenly Building Inspector. If He doesn’t “sign off” on the work, at some point He has to dismantle the building, bulldoze the substandard substructure,9 and lay a new foundation according to the “code” of His divine specifications. Many a believer and so-called Christian alike are mired in fruitlessness and frustration because they have bypassed, wittingly or not, God’s mandatory “John the Baptist experience.”

The Who and Why of John

In order to understand how God lays His approved foundation, to appreciate what it is He does in this “John the Baptist Experience,” we have to come to grips in the Scriptures with John himself, as well as his ministry. In this chapter, we’ll do an overview of the prophecies concerning John and his ministry. In the remaining chapters of Book One, we will look at how John powerfully fulfilled the five prophecies concerning his life. In the chapters of Book Two, we’ll zero in on the interlocking components of his actual message. With that understanding in heart, mind, and experience, we’ll devote Book Three to how “The John the Baptist Experience” needs to inform our preaching, evangelism, and teaching.

The more we study John the Baptist, the more we read about him, the more amazing his ministry becomes. It makes us focus in and ask, “Why did he have to precede Jesus? What was it about him that made him so special?” Well, for starters, he was the subject of five prophecies. Additionally, he was filled with the Holy Spirit before birth, and he was frequently mentioned in Jesus’ teaching, as well as in apostolic teaching in the Book of Acts.

Five Prophecies about John the Baptist

We usually focus — quite rightly — on the many Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. But other than Messiah, there are no Old Testament prophecies about any man we find in the New Testament except John.10 No oracle presages the lives of Peter or Paul or James or the Apostle John. But John the Baptist is the subject of three separate Old Testament prophecies, and two more in the New. The coming of no other prophet is foretold in prophecies;11 John the Baptist alone holds this distinction.

Old Testament Prophecies

Using the pen of the prophet Isaiah, God first spoke of John the Baptist almost 800 years before his birth.

Isaiah 40:3-5 —

3A voice is calling,

“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
4Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
5Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”12

Then, about 400 years before John’s birth, God spoke of him again through the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi.

Malachi 2:17–3:1 —

2:17You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice [judgment – kjv]?3:1“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.

And God wasn’t content with giving only one prophecy about John the Baptist through Malachi.

Malachi 4:4-6 —

4“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. 5Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”13

New Testament Prophecies

And as if having a “major” and “minor” prophet foretell John’s life and ministry wasn’t enough, the Almighty sent another prophecy, this time of his conception, birth, and ministry, through the angel Gabriel. In trying to grasp the importance of John the Baptist and his ministry, let’s look aside for just a moment to the importance of this heavenly being who appears four very significant times in Scripture. The angel Gabriel, who stands “in the presence of God,” was used by God twice in the Book of Daniel to unfold the meaning of two deep and sweeping prophecies: the vision of the ram and the he-goat (Daniel 8, especially verses 15-27), and the oracle of the Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9, especially verses 20-27). It is Gabriel who has the incomparable honor of announcing the Incarnation to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-39), the nexus of so many Messianic prophecies.

Now consider this: Gabriel, this specially honored and chosen divine messenger, this unfolder of God’s prophetic plan, this holy herald of Immanuel’s conception, is also tasked with one other profound announcement — the birth of Messiah’s Forerunner. And so we read:

Luke 1:13-17 —

13But the angel [Gabriel] said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children,14 and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Look at the scope of this angelic prophecy:

  • John’s birth requires an angelic announcement like that of Samson of old;
  • Like Samson, he will be under a lifelong Nazirite’s vow (more on this below);15
  • “He will be great in the sight of the Lord”;
  • “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit” pre-natally, the only human being of whom we know this to be true before Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit);
  • John will reconcile God’s people to Him;
  • He will be the Elijah of the Malachi 4:5 prophecy;
  • He will be “the forerunner before Him,” that is, the herald of Messiah.

Given the breadth and importance of this oracle in God’s prophetic calendar, is it any wonder that the message would be entrusted to anyone less than the named angel who had delivered those weighty prophecies to Daniel more than five hundred years earlier?

But God has one final word, and this last prophecy came through a priest. The Holy Spirit comes upon John’s priestly father, Zacharias, in a surprising word, as he declares the oracles of God over his son during his circumcision ceremony eight days after John’s birth.

Luke 1:76-79 —

76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;16
77To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
78Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
79to shine upon those who sit
in darkness and the shadow of death
,17
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

With Zacharias’ ability to speak having been miraculously restored18 at John’s b’rit milah ceremony,19 as he poured forth praise to God (Luke 1:59-64) and prophesied from the Holy Spirit, is it any wonder that John should become the ongoing topic of conversation among the awe-struck inhabitants of the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:65)? At a time when spiritual matters and Israel’s fate were uppermost in their minds, in hushed tones the people asked themselves and each other, “What then will this child turn out to be?” (Luke 1:66) And with good reason! “The hand of the Lord was with him” (v. 66) as he continued to grow, and he became “strong in spirit” (v. 80).

The Penetration of the Malachi Prophecy

In Jesus’ day, the righteous and unrighteous alike were uniquely “tuned in” to the wavelength of these prophecies.20 The Malachi 4 prophecy, chronologically, was the last word they had received from God before four hundred years of prophetic silence.21 For instance:

  • Consider the constant expectation evidenced about the Elijah prophecy in Malachi 4:5. The Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to John’s baptism were bold to ask him, “Are you Elijah?” (John 1:21).22
  • Many people speculated about Jesus that He was Elijah (Matthew 16:14; Mark 6:15; Luke 9:8).
  • So ominous was the atmosphere at Calvary that when Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” the hard-hearted and indifferent onlookers mistook it as a cry for the immediate return of Elijah (Matthew 27:46-49 || Mark 15:33-36) and they were half-expectant that Elijah would appear and take Jesus down from the cross.
  • Even after Peter, James, and John had seen Elijah with their own eyes on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-4 || Mark 9:1-6 || Luke 9:27-34), they were still trying to work out how this prophecy of Elijah’s return fit into their current framework of understanding (Matthew 17:9-13 || Mark 9:11-13). Jesus made it clear to them — and these three leaders understood — that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy.

The Importance of the Isaiah 40 Prophecy

As far as John’s self-identification, it is the Isaiah 40 prophecy which defines him:

  1. 22Then they [the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem] said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am ‘A voice of one crying in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
  2. John 1:22-23

This is how the Apostle John includes this Isaiah 40 oracle about John the Baptist in his Gospel. And such is the importance of this prophecy that the other three Gospel writers include it as well, quoting the same passage (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4).

In fact, in considering how vital John the Baptist and his ministry are to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we come to realize that not one of the inspired writers can tell the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection without introducing John, and then weaving his ministry and teaching into the divine narrative. Consider, for instance, the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel:

1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:23

“Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You,
who will prepare Your way

[this is the Malachi 3:1 prophecy];
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
make His paths straight’ ”

[and here is the Isaiah 40:3 prophecy].

Did you notice that Mark says that this John-as-the-fulfillment-of-prophecy presentation is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”? If we are going to preach the Gospel, let’s start from the beginning.

The Holy Spirit leads Matthew and Luke down the exact same path in their God-breathed24 writing:

1Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, say­ing, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,

  1. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    make His paths straight.’ ”
  2. Matthew 3:1-3

2…the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. 3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

  1. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    make His paths straight.
    5Every ravine will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be brought low;
    the crooked will become straight,
    and the rough road smooth;
    6and all flesh will see the salvation of God.’ ”
  2. Luke 3:2-6

Consecrated in the Womb and in Life

We have focused on the prophecies relating to John’s ministry and his birth. The circumstances leading up to his birth fill much of the account in Luke 1, a narrative that leads us to the remarkable conclusion that he was filled with the Holy Spirit pre-natally (Luke 1:15,41,44).

You will recall that God once said to the great prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
— Jeremiah 1:5 —

That’s a powerful ministry-call to the famous “weeping prophet.” But regarding John the Baptist, it’s almost as though God says, “While I formed you in the womb, I filled you with the Holy Spirit!” We know of no other human being (before the Holy Spirit came upon Mary) of whom the Scriptures make this claim. No wonder the Apostle John, writing of John the Baptist’s unique birth, says, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” (John 1:6).

Take a moment to ponder the order of events. In normal experience, when we consecrate ourselves to God, putting our “all on the altar,” we are filled with the Holy Spirit. John, this baby who leaped in his mother’s womb when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, was specially consecrated from conception. He was a womb-to-tomb Nazirite.25

What is a Nazirite? There is a phrase in the prophecy spoken by Gabriel to Zacharias that requires our special attention: “[He] will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). The clear implication is that this is a lifelong ban, which would put John in a very select company of lifelong Nazirites. In Numbers 6:1-21, the conditions laid out for the Nazirite’s vow of consecration are these:

  • No “wine or strong drink,” and nothing that could be considered a product or by-product of the grapevine (Numbers 6:3-4);
  • No cutting or trimming of the hair (or beard) for the period of the Nazirite vow (6:5);
  • No defilement from touching a dead body, including normal mourning for a close family member’s death (6:6-7ff);
  • Certain sacrificial rituals were to be performed at the end of the vow, whether completely fulfilled (6:13-21) or prematurely terminated due to defilement (6:9-12). This included the complete shaving of the head (vv. 10, 18) and the offering of the hair in the sacrificial fire (v. 18).26

Men or women could specially consecrate themselves to God for a period of time. (Jewish tradition tells us that the period was generally thirty days.27) However, two of the greatest judges of ancient Israel were lifelong Nazirites. The best known is Samson, who was “a Nazirite to God from the womb.” (See Judges 13:1-14, in which Samson’s mother, “Mrs. Manoah,” is twice prohibited — vv. 4, 14 — from drinking anything alcoholic while pregnant, as well as eating or touching anything unclean.) The prophet Samuel, too, was specially dedicated to the Lord by his mother, Hannah: “I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head” (1 Samuel 1:11).

The high priest of Israel was temporarily prohibited from drinking “wine or strong drink” when preparing to enter the tabernacle (Leviticus 10:8-11)28 for the scant few minutes he spent annually inside the Holy of Holies in the presence of Almighty God. By contrast, the Nazirite was prohibited from drinking “wine or strong drink” all during the days of his consecration, the import being that he was continually in God’s presence.

The “bottom line” in a lifelong Nazirite’s vow is summed up in Numbers 6:8— “All the days of his separation, he is holy to the Lord.” So it was with the Nazirite John the Baptist: holy and separated to God all of His life, and filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, as befitting the man chosen by God to be Messiah’s herald.

Inescapable in the Gospels—
and the Book of Acts

We have noted previously that John’s ministry is one of the few events covered in all four Gospels, which is to say that no one, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can tell Jesus’ story without telling John’s story. John’s ministry is covered in the events leading up to Jesus’ water baptism (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3). Jesus then goes forth to face forty days of fasting and testing in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus’ forty days of temptation, He returns to the place where John is baptizing (John 1:29-36). From that point forward, for a time, John’s ministry is contemporaneous with that of Jesus (John 4:2). After John is imprisoned (Matthew 11:1-6ff), there is still com­mu­ni­ca­tion between John and Jesus, and interaction between John’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples. Even the circumstances of John’s martyrdom are important enough to include in the Divine Record (Matthew 14:3-12; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 3:19-20).

But John’s ministry and influence don’t end with his imprisonment and death. Consider how John, his ministry, and message are never far from the preaching of Jesus, Peter, and Paul:

Jesus

Jesus refers to John and his message throughout His earthly ministry. He clearly equates John with Elijah (e.g., Malachi 4:5; Matthew 11:14), and declares him to be even greater than Elijah, or any other prophet (Matthew 11:7-19). Jesus explains and validates John’s ministry (John 5:32-35). In the last week of His earthly life, Jesus is still reminding the people of John and confounding the machinations of His religious enemies by referring to John’s ministry (Matthew 21:23-32). After Jesus’ resurrection and just before His Ascension, He yet again refers to John (Acts 1:4-5).

Peter

Shortly after Jesus’ ascension, and not many days before Pentecost, the Spirit-inspired Apostle Peter leads the Upper Room band of disciples to focus on the essential need to fill the vacancy of the twelfth Apostle (Acts 1:15-26). The most surprising qualification for the office (one frequently overlooked by readers and commentators) fairly leaps off the page, as Peter declares:

21“Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us — 22beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

So one of the key requirements for being one of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb was to have heard and responded to the preaching of John the Baptist. (And probably the requirement extended to having been one of John’s disciples.)

But the Baptizer’s influence doesn’t stop even after Pentecost. Almost a dozen years after John’s death, while preaching in the home of the Gentile Cornelius, Peter can’t omit mention of the ministry of John the Baptist (Acts 10:37). Shortly thereafter, in defending his visit to that same Gentile home, Peter quotes Jesus mentioning John’s baptism (Acts 11:15-18).

Paul

During his first missionary journey (46-48 a.d.) Paul feels compelled to include John and his ministry in his timeline of Israel’s history leading up to Messiah (Acts 13:14-41, esp. vv. 23-25). Just as important, perhaps, is the fact that Paul can assume that his listeners know of John and his ministry, even though they live over 750 land-travel miles from Jerusalem (a huge distance in those days) and almost twenty years after John the Baptist’s death.

Nearly ten years later, and over a thousand land miles from Jerusalem, Priscilla and Aquila, two of Paul’s co-workers, encounter a highly educated, international teacher from Alexandria, Egypt, named Apollos (Acts 18:23-28). “Instructed in the way of the Lord” and a passionate speaker, Apollos was “teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” — but only so far as he was “acquainted with the baptism of John” (verse 25). Priscilla and Aquila interact with Apollos privately (verse 26), and this man, “mighty in the Scriptures,” this man with a heart prepared for Messiah by the teaching of John the Baptist, becomes an eloquent and powerful Christian teacher and apologist. Not long afterwards, Paul encounters a group of about a dozen faithful followers of John’s teaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). This encounter opens the door to several fruitful and powerful years of ministry in that city.

More Important than You Thought?

Are you seeing John the Baptist in a different light? Consider:

  • He is the subject of no fewer than five separate prophecies.
  • With Nazirite consecration upon him, he is “sent from God” and set apart for the task of being Messiah’s herald.
  • Jesus submits to John’s ministry and often refers to the man and his teaching, even up to and including the days just before His ascension.
  • Judas’ place among the Twelve could only be filled by someone whose spiritual life and spiritual foundation had been laid by John and his teaching.
  • The gospel couldn’t be proclaimed — even through the decades of the Book of Acts — without using John's ministry and teaching as a touchstone.
  • Not one of the Spirit-inspired Gospel writers could tell the story of Jesus without interweaving the person, teaching, and influence of John the Baptist.

We are beginning to see how much importance the Lord places on John the Baptist and his ministry. Let’s move on to consider all of the prophetic words spoken about him and over him. Since we’ve seen what emphasis all four Gospel writers place on the Isaiah “voice in the wilderness” prophecy, in the next chapter we will go straight to Isaiah 40, the better to appreciate the famous oracle in its context.


Endnotes:


  1. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger; copyright © 2022 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. Cover: Detail from Mathias Grünewald's altarpiece Crucifixion-scene painting for a church in Isenheim, France (c. 1515). Courtesy of Wikipedia, but copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. The Latin phrase in the “crook” of John's arm declares, “Illum oportet crescere me autem minui,” the Vulgate reading of John 3:30 — “He must increase, I must decrease.”
  3. The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the three which tell the story of Jesus in more or less the same way, in the same order. Synoptic is derived from the Greek, sunoptikós (sun = together + optik = related to vision or seeing). The Synoptics are in contrast to John’s Gospel, in which the story of Jesus is told in a manner which is both more cosmic and more intimate.
  4. Malachi 3:6
  5. Hebrews 13:8
  6. That is, towards the end of his ministry, after he left the Jordan River valley.
  7. Judges 16:20
  8. The “foundation of repentance” is mentioned in Hebrews 6:1, where the full phrase is “a foundation of repentance from dead works.”
  9. It’s better that God should do it now rather than running the risk described in Matthew 7:13-27, especially verses 24-27.
  10. I say “any other man,” because due diligence requires us to acknowledge the intimation about Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’ mother, in Genesis 3:15 and the more specific prophecy about her in Isaiah 7:14, confirmed in Matthew 1:21-22.
  11. The exception to this is Moses’ Messianic prophecy of “a Prophet like me from among you” in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, which both Stephen (Acts 7:37 ff) and the Apostle Peter (Acts 3:22 ff) clearly state was fulfilled in Jesus the Christ.
  12. Unless otherwise noted, our primarily English Bible translation throughout the book will be the New American Standard 1995 translation, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
  13. We will thoroughly examine the John-Elijah relationship in a later chapter.
  14. This is a direct quote from Malachi 4:6.
  15. Note that Samuel, too, was a lifelong Nazirite, but by the act of his mother’s dedication, not by a divine decree as with Samson and John the Baptist.
  16. Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3
  17. Quoting Isaiah 9:2, which is also quoted in Matthew 4:16 —

    The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.
    — Isaiah 9:2 NIV —

    The people which sat in darkness saw a great light;
    and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death
    light is sprung up.
    — Matthew 4:16 KJV —

  18. In a later chapter we will cover Zecharias’ encounter with the angel Gabriel, resulting in the old priest’s nine-month-long inability to speak.
  19. Literally, covenant of circumcision. This ceremony was held on the eighth day of a male child’s life, the day he received his name. Luke also mentions Jesus’ b’rit milah in Luke 2:21, the day His angelically announced name was formally bestowed upon Him.
  20. A measure of the importance of the Old Testament prophecies quoted above can be seen in how deeply they have penetrated the Jewish psyche and culture over the last 2,500 years. For instance, based on Malachi 4:5, the expectation of the return of Elijah is still present in Jewish ceremonies. We can see it in the traditions surrounding the covenant of circumcision, the b’rit milah. A chair, called Elijah’s Chair, is set aside for the use of Elijah, who, according to tradition, is a witness to every circumcision. Elijah’s prophesied coming is remembered at the Seder (Passover) meal. A wine cup is set aside for him, and the door of the home is opened as part of an invitation for Elijah to come in. And in the lyrics of a hymn sung at the end of havdalah (a ceremony ending the sabbath day), an appeal is made for Elijah’s return “in our day” along with Messiah.
  21. I say chronologically because the last chapter of Malachi is not the last chapter in the Jewish scriptures — what we would call the Old Testament. For them, the Old Testament ends at 2 Chronicles. That’s not to say that they omit the other books which we know. But over the centuries Christians have rearranged the order and categories of Old Testament books.
  22. John’s answer to that question was a clear and unequivocal “No,” something that will be explained in Book 1, Chapter 5: Squaring Elijah with John.
  23. If “it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” then why is the first part of the quote from Malachi? Two reasons may be given:
    • Some Greek manuscripts (from which our English versions are translated) read as the New American Standard (above) — “in Isaiah the prophet.” But other equally old manuscripts read, “in the prophets.”
    • The reader will recall that the ancient Hebrew scriptures were written on scrolls. The scroll of the prophets would have included the writings of all the prophets. Usually the first prophet to appear in the scroll would have been Isaiah. Thus it was common to refer to the scroll of the prophets by the name of its first author, Isaiah.

  24. I say “God-breathed” writing, because “God-breathed” is the literal translation of the Greek theópneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16 — “All scripture is God breathed and is profitable…”.
  25. The term Nazirite comes from the Hebrew word נָזִיר (nāzîr). While it can mean prince (cf., Genesis 49:26, Deuteronomy 33:16, and possibly Lamentations 4:7), we find the primary and usual meaning initiated in Number 6:2 in the phrase נֵדֶר נָזִיר (nēḏēr nāzîr) — the vow of a Nazirite. Connected as it is to the verb נָדַר (nāḏarto make a vow) and the noun נֵדֶר (nēḏer – vow), our word nāzîr is almost always rendered Nazirite (cf., Numbers 6:13, 18-21; Judges 13:5, 7; 16:17; Amos 2:11-12 and, probably, Lamentations 4:7).

    Are you confused to find that there are two English spellings of our word (i.e., Nazirite in modern translations and Nazarite in older translations like the kjv)? The preferred transliteration is Nazirite, following the Hebrew vowel pointing. Besides being closer to the sound of the original word, Nazirite has the additional benefit of being harder to confuse with the word Nazarene.

    There is one other curiosity about our word nāzîr. In Leviticus 25:5 and 11, the word is translated as unpruned or untended vine. That might seem unremarkable until we reflect on the fact that Nazirites were prohibited from partaking of any product of the vine. In addition, the Nazirite’s hair was to remain un-cut (“unpruned” or “untended”) all the days of his vow!

  26. This offering up of the hair is never the experience of the lifelong Nazirite, though it does give one pause in considering the possibility of a deeper significance of John’s unshorn head being offered up in martyrdom (Matthew 14:10; Mark 6:27).
  27. Strange to say, if we have any example of this short-term Nazirite vow in the Scripture, it may be in the life of the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:18) and in the lives of four men Paul was requested to help (Acts 21:24).
  28. Side note: The timing and placement of this prohibition in Scripture is instructive. It comes immediately after Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were slain by the Lord for offering “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1-2), and after Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar (the latter two being Aaron’s remaining sons) are warned not to defile themselves in mourning, because they are in the days of their priestly consecration. The sequence seems to imply that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated at the time of their deadly trespass. This would shed light on God’s comment in verse 3: “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people, I will be glorified.”
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