The John the Baptist Experience
Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger
Chapter 5: Squaring John with Elijah
Copyright © 20221
A Question for You
(first book in the series
The John the Baptist Experience)
is now available in paperback and ebook formats.
Matthew 11 relates the story of the imprisoned John sending two of his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the Expected One?” (Matthew 11:2-3) They see some of Jesus’ miracles, receive a prophecy-based word of encouragement for John, and they leave to report back (vv. 3-7a).
Jesus then turns to the crowds and launches into an unfolding of John’s ministry and its importance. Do you remember Jesus’ final statement regarding John in this passage?
- 14“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
- Matthew 11:14-15
In that phrase “Elijah who was to come,” Jesus is referring to the last two verses of the prophet Malachi:
- 5“Behold, 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.”
- Malachi 4:5-6
Reflecting on this prophecy Jesus referred to as fulfilled, let me turn Jesus’ words about John into a question for you to consider: Are you willing to accept that John is the prophesied Elijah? Do you have the spiritual “ears to hear”?
I ask, because I find that many Christians are unclear about this. When they think of Elijah, they think of miracles, a disastrous three-year drought, a mountain-top showdown with 400 idolatrous priests, fire coming down out of heaven (both to consume a sacrifice and to consume men), a man hearing God on Mount Horeb (as Moses had done), and a man parting the waters of the Jordan before he ascended from the earth in a whirlwind. And when they think of John, they’re more likely to think of a scruffy, eccentric desert-hermit preacher unflinchingly blasting his earnest, riverside congregants and baptizing the confessing, repentant sinners into the flowing waters of the Jordan.
In that sort of side-by-side comparison, it’s hard to see the Elijah-John connection, much less the fulfillment of a prophecy for which all Israel waited with bated breath. Besides, didn’t John clearly respond to the question, “Are you Elijah?” with an emphatic, “I am not” (John 1:21)?
How do we square this “Elijah prophecy” in Malachi 4:5 with John’s ministry?
Wrong Focus = Few Parallels
Often folks can’t see the parallels between Elijah and John because they are “majoring on the minors”; and in this case, the “minors” are the miracles! From our days in Sunday School (those of us who were fortunate enough to attend that institution in our childhood), we have learned to put the spotlight on Elijah’s signs and wonders without considering their context, that is, the why of the miracles, their purpose in Elijah’s God-given calling. In other words, being grown-up Bible readers, we have to come to the place where we realize that the more important context is this: What was God’s primary mission for Elijah?
Elijah’s primary mission was not working miracles. Elijah’s primary mission was to call God’s idolatrous people, the northern kingdom known as Israel,2 back to God and His ways. For generations they had largely shunned God’s call to repentance; in fact, they had shunned God’s call for so long that they were nearly stone deaf to normal preaching and prophesying. So God, in His wisdom and severe mercy, decided to use Elijah’s ministry and miracles to “shout” in order to get Israel’s attention — through the three-year-long, life-threatening “natural” disaster of drought and famine. When times are good, when sinners are prosperous and happy, when there are seemingly no consequences for turning one’s back on God and His Laws, life goes on as usual.3
But let’s look beyond the drought, fire from heaven, rain, and Elijah’s whirlwind departure from the earth. How successful was Elijah relative to his divine assignment? We should use a different measuring stick — successful mission completion — and use the same measure against the ministry of John the Baptist. When we do, we’ll see a remarkable comparison and contrast that will lead us to the same conclusion Jesus proffered of John’s ministry: “…among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28).
Comparison and Contrast
From Conception to Appearance
We have no responsibility for what God foresees and says of us before we enter this life. So as we compare Elijah and John on these lines, we merely observe, without praise or blame.
It’s interesting to note that we know nothing of Elijah’s “back story.” Like that mysterious character, Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18ff), Elijah comes on the scene “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life”4 (Hebrews 7:3), so to speak. He just appears in 1 Kings 17:1 fully formed, as though begotten by the proverbial lightning bolt, declaring God’s judgment of drought against Israel. About nine hundred years after Elijah’s ministry, James pulls back the curtain of mystery on some period of Elijah’s life (months? years?) when in James 5:17-18 he reveals the secret of the prophet’s prevailing power with God—
17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
So, we know that he was a man of earnest prayer, but beyond that, we know very little.
About 700 years before the conception and birth of John the Baptist, Isaiah uttered the first prophecy about John. About 300 years later, Malachi prophesied twice about him. At this point John is already prominent on God’s very short “P-List,” that is, the Prophetic List of human beings whose births are foretold. The Scriptures only tell us of seven.5 There is yet one more prophecy concerning John immediately before he is conceived in the womb (Luke 1:5-25), and a final prophecy eight days after his birth during his b’rit milah (circumcision and naming ceremony, Luke 1:57-80).6
With more “P-List” prophecies than anyone except Messiah Himself, is it any wonder that Gabriel should say of John, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15)? The other key fact about John we learn from Gabriel’s angelic prophecy (also in Luke 1:15):
“…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.”
Now let’s think about when this in utero filling occurred. Let’s first note that it was not at John’s conception. That honor and privilege was accorded to only One, the Lord Jesus, who was conceived when the Holy Spirit came upon his mother, Mary, and “the power of the Most High” overshadowed her (Luke 1:35). Thus having been conceived, the incarnate Christ was “along for the ride” when Mary of Nazareth visited her cousin Elizabeth. And because the Spirit-conceived, embryonic Emmanuel, the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit and fire, is present, the still enwombed John and his mother Elizabeth are filled with the Holy Spirit, as she herself testified (Luke 1:41-44):
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”
I believe this was the moment, and such was the circumstance, of the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy concerning John: “…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”7
All we know of John after his b’rit milah is the summary in Luke 1:80—
And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
John “drops off the radar screen” for nearly thirty years, as obscure as Elijah before God launched the Tishbite’s ministry. We don’t know where John went, what he did, how he supported himself, or what training he received.8 Like Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1, as far as the rest of the world knew, John and his ministry “just appeared” at the God-appointed time, “the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
Comparing Their Persons
Both Elijah and John apparently frequented the same tailor and haberdashery, each showing their indifference to outward appearance.
- [King Ahaziah] said to [his messengers], “What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?”
8They answered him, “He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.”
And [the king] said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
- 2 Kings 1:7-8
“Clothes make the man,” or so says the world. The Armani suits, high-end name-brand apparel, and extravagantly overpriced footwear of prosperity preachers didn’t fit God’s man or his mission in Elijah’s day or in John’s:
- Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
- Matthew 3:4
Neither “the latest fashions” nor clerical attire were for Elijah or John; not even close. Those who judge by “soft clothing” (Matthew 11:8) would have looked elsewhere for spiritual entertainment and titillation. Their desert-prophet-chic brings Paul’s question to mind: “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:7 nkjv)
Men of Passionate Prayer
The Apostle James writes about how Elijah’s psychological make-up is a lot like ours. I have always liked the way the King James translation puts it (James 5:17):
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are….
James goes on to describe, as we have mentioned, Elijah’s prolonged, powerful, prevailing prayer with God, and its success (5:17-18):
…17and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
More of us could wish we had that kind of focused, importunate, impassioned intercession! A life of prayer was the “secret” of Elijah’s power, but we aren’t made privy to this secret until James pulls back the veil.
Less veiled is another “secret” most of us have missed, though the clues have been right under our noses — John, too, was a man of prayer, noted for his prayer life. Oh, no, there’s no John-equivalent to James 5:17-18. But careful, thoughtful readers will recognize the clues once they’re pointed out. For instance:
- It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”
- Luke 11:1
We’re so anxious to move ahead into the words of the “the Lord’s Prayer,” that we miss the passing reference to John’s prayer life. Or what about this reference to what John modeled and taught about the special prayer-discipline of fasting? —
- And they said to [Jesus], “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.”
- Luke 5:339
Both Elijah and John were alone with God, out of the public eye for years, perhaps even decades. In God’s “wilderness discipline,” they learned to hear God’s voice, obey His leading, and (when the time was ripe) to speak the message they had been given. Imagining that period of their lives, I am reminded of a verse from William Longstaff’s wonderful hymn:
Take time to be holy—the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.10
It’s clear that both Elijah and John spent “much time in secret” with God, until they were so thoroughly permeated by His presence that they were of use to be His messengers.
The Downside of Isolation
“God sets the solitary in families,” says the Psalmist (68:6 kjv). God exhorts us to fellowship with one another, “not forsaking our own assembling together… but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). But sometimes our assigned ministry involves a much more lonely reality. So it was with Elijah and John. Thus, despite their spiritual empowerment and fortitude, they were subject to that Achilles’ heel of loners — depression and discouragement.
Within twenty-four hours of his great spiritual triumph, his glorious victory on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Elijah was escaping reality, fearful (1 Kings 19:1-4), sleeping the long sleeps of the depressed (19:5-7), nursing a death-wish (19:4), and so focused on failure that he could see nothing else (19:14).
There are so many things to learn from his sad state!
- The Bible is real, even in its psychological description of its heroes, and “tells it like it is.”
- It’s possible to have a successful ministry and relationship with God and still go through “the dark night of the soul.” This doesn’t indicate failure before God or rejection by God. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Or, as James puts it, we are “subject to like passions.” We’re human. It’s a reality check: Not every period of our spiritual journey is characterized by bouncy, clap-happiness.
- Spiritual attack should be most expected and guarded against in the immediate wake of a wonderful victory. The enemy doesn’t take defeat sitting down. He lashes back at the unwary; and often we seem most unwary, we let our guard down, at spiritual high points.
In comparison, John had been so bold as to continue his ministry fearlessly, even though Roman soldiers were present to keep an eye on him and the crowds around him (Luke 3:14). Nevertheless, John entered into a dark moment in his final days, so plagued with doubt that he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Expected One, or do we look for another?” (Luke 7:20)
Comparing Their Prophetic Assignments
Elijah and John had very similar assignments. In Elijah’s case, the miracles were never meant to be the focus; they were only a means to God’s end. Elijah’s task was to call a nation to come back to God. John’s mission was to prepare a nation — and then the nations — because God was coming to them in the person of Emmanuel.
The Sad State of Post-Solomonic Israel
When the northern kingdom of Israel broke off from Judah under the divinely inaugurated monarchy of King Jeroboam I (1 Kings 11:26-43; 12:12-24), this new king couldn’t escape the fear that his new subjects, with their Temple-based worship focused in Jerusalem (the capital of Judah), would be his undoing (1 Kings 12:25-27). So, insulting and defying the very God who had given him this new kingdom, he instituted idol worship at Bethel and in Dan (the north and south of his kingdom), erecting golden bull images of the Canaanite god, Ba‘al (12:28-31).11
Jeroboam’s memory must have been very short. The prophet Ahijah had been used of God to launch Jeroboam into his kingdom-splitting career with these words from 1 Kings 11:30-31,33,37-38—
Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him and tore it into twelve pieces. 31He said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes… 33because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh… and Milcom… and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did.…
37“‘I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. 38Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.’ ”
So this kingdom-split was punishment for Judah’s idolatry under Solomon. The divine blessing on Jeroboam’s own new kingdom was predicated on the new king’s obedience to the Lord. Yet Jeroboam saw to it that the whole northern kingdom was built upon a foundation of idolatry. He was not off to a good start.
To make matters worse for the northern kingdom, God’s true priests and Levites felt compelled to abandon their inherited lands in Israel and migrate to Judah (2 Chronicles 11:13-40), because Jeroboam had banned them from serving as priests of the Lord (v. 15). All the God-fearing Israelites seem to have followed the priests (vv. 16-17). Thus the idolatrous situation was compounded and continued to spiral down into further darkness, because those who might have stood for the Lord and His Law had withdrawn from Israel, and thus could have no influence on the northern kingdom.12
By Elijah’s epoch, there had been a few bloody coups d’état resulting in dynasty changes. In this prophet-hero’s time, King Ahab’s marriage-alliance with King Ethba‘al of Sidon (1 Kings 16:31) brought to the queenship the woman whose name is synonymous with the wicked depths of idolatry — Jezebel, the murderous and wholehearted devotee of Ba‘al and Ashtoreth. Her goal was the destruction of anyone who remained true to Jehovah, and her specific targets were His prophets (1 Kings 18:4; 19:2). Merely worshiping the true God was a crime; proclaiming His word was a capital offense.
All of that taken together sets the background to show the life-and-death necessity of Elijah’s intercessory life, how clear his instructions from God had to be, how bold he truly was, why he would flee from the all-too-real threats of this notorious, demon-worshiping woman, and why his ministry had such a limited, temporary effect in the grand scheme of things.
Israel After Centuries of Occupation
Many histories have been written about the political situation in which Judah and Galilee found themselves at the time of John the Baptist. Our survey must needs be much more brief.
- After discovering the hard way that God was deadly serious about punishing the disobedience and idolatry of His people, Judah returned from its seventy years of captivity back to its land, but subject to its Medo-Persian overlords, and suffering from the meddlings and persecutions of neighboring provinces (c. 540-c. 330 b.c.). The ministries of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi occur during this time period, before 400 b.c.
- The land we now call Israel was swallowed quickly as part of Alexander the Great’s lightning conquest of the Persian Empire (332 b.c.). For about 150 years, Palestine was subjugated many times in the ongoing military campaigns generated by the rivalries between the descendants of Alexander’s generals, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids to the north.
- A seven-year Jewish revolt by the Maccabees (167-160 b.c.) led to a period of partial, then full, autonomy through 63 b.c., when the land became a client state of Rome. Following a brief change of power, in which it became a vassal state of the Parthian Empire (40-37 b.c.), its last hopes of independence were snuffed by Roman armies commanded by Mark Antony and Octavian. Rome installed Herod the Idumean (that is, Edomite), otherwise known as “the Great,” as their puppet king.
- The Jewish high priesthood had become a “political plum,” held by the Sadducean party.
Enough history for you? I hope so. It’s at this point that John the Baptist and Jesus enter the world. After five centuries of being under the boot of foreign powers,13 the Jews were ready to hear the message of God’s Kingdom and God’s soon-coming King, even if they misconstrued the way in which both would come. The common man knew that Israel was not living in the promised blessings of God, and that Greek and Roman mores were seeping ever deeper into the fabric of society. They awaited the 400-year-old promise that Elijah would herald the coming of the Messenger of the Covenant, the Messiah.
Despite the political and religious odds stacked against John the Baptist, God had used these 500+ years to prepare the hearts of His people. Thus, the description later used of Jesus could also be applied to John the Baptist: “The common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37).
In our overview of the life-venues of our two heroes, Elijah and John the Baptist, we gain some appreciation for the respective spiritual and political climates in which they ministered, and understand a bit better the challenges they faced. We’ve seen where they fit into and how they responded to the stream of history into which they were dropped. Now let’s see what these two men left to history as we consider their spiritual legacies.
A comparison of the two men’s ministries would not be complete without looking at their legacies. For the sake of time, let’s look at just two aspects: disciples and scope.
Disciples(?) of Elijah
Some speculate about Elijah’s relationship with “the school of the prophets,”14 but Scripture says precious little about Elijah’s interaction with such a group. They appear almost peripherally (followers? fans? wanna-bes? “groupies”?) in 2 Kings 2:3,5,7; but they interact directly only with Elisha, not Elijah. It is not recorded that Elijah ever spoke to them. Much could be said about the relationship of the sons of the prophets with Elisha, but only after Elijah’s departure.15 If Elijah had any previous relationship with other prophets (e.g., with the 100 prophets that Obadiah hid and protected from Jezebel’s vengeance in 1 Kings 18:7-15, especially verse 13), the Bible is remarkably quiet about it.
We only know of two assistants who worked with Elijah.
- The first is an unnamed “servant” who was with him on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:43-44), though apparently not before, as there is no prior mention of him. He disappears from the scene when Elijah leaves him at Beersheba (1 Kings 19:3), as the prophet makes his way to “Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8). Mr. Anonymous is never mentioned again.
- The second, of course, is Elisha (1 Kings 19:16,19-21), subsequently described in 2 Kings 3:11 as “Elisha…who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.” Given Elisha’s large-scale farming operation (“plowing with twelve pair of oxen” — 1 Kings 19:19-21), he does not seem to have come from among the “sons of the prophets.” Rather, he was God’s hand-picked successor (1 Kings 19:16) for Elijah.
For whatever reason, there’s no record that Elijah raised up any other disciples.
Disciples of John the Baptist
John the Baptist and his ministry seem to have embodied the “Great Commission” concepts of “making disciples” and “teaching them to observe whatever I have commanded you” long before Jesus uttered that famous Great Commission mandate (Matthew 28:18-20) prior to His Ascension.16
It’s clear that at least two of Jesus’ eventual Apostles started out as disciples of John the Baptist, namely, Andrew and John (John 1:35-40). It may have been true of the majority (or all) of Jesus’ main followers, based on the requirement Peter specified to fill the Apostolic vacancy left by Judas the traitor. That story is told in Acts 1:15-26, but let me specially emphasize verses 21-23—
“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.” 23So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
As John the Baptist seems to have had many followers, the narrowing down of the potential Apostolic replacement list to only two choices seems to be due to a double restriction. This replacement had to be: a) someone who sat under Jesus’ teaching, who had previously been b) someone who had been John’s disciple.
We encounter John’s disciples in various passages, before his imprisonment, during his imprisonment, and after his death.
- Before his imprisonment: John 1:35-37 (previously mentioned); 3:22-36; Mark 2:18;17 Luke 5:33
- During his imprisonment: Matthew 11:2-7; Luke 7:18-24
- After John’s death:
- Immediately after: Matthew 14:12-13; Mark 6:29
- Long after John’s death: Twenty years after John’s death, Apollos seems to have been noteworthy among John’s disciples (Acts 18:24-26), but probably not the only one. The group of John-the-Baptist disciples that Apollos left in his wake at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) may just be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of those who still adhered to the great Preacher of Repentance. And since bringing up John’s ministry seemed almost obligatory in the preaching of Paul (Acts 13:24-25) and Peter (Acts 10:37 — to Gentiles, no less!), John’s following must have been more extensive than we realize.
Thus in the matter of discipleship, Elijah produced only one man, Elisha, to carry on his ministry and message. By contrast, John the Baptist had many disciples, some of whom became Jesus’ Apostles and disciples; and John’s disciples continued to faithfully pass on his message for decades.
As we close out our examination of the legacies of Elijah and John the Baptist, let’s add a brief word about the scope of the ministry of each.
The Scope of Elijah’s Ministry
Elijah’s ministry was almost exclusively focused on Israel, the northern kingdom. There are a few exceptions. His daily miracles of food-provision and his sole miracle of raising the dead were done while residing with a Gentile woman and her son outside of the borders of Israel (1 Kings 17:9-24; Luke 4:25-26). We know that he sent a stinging prophetic letter to the idolatrous King Jehoram of Judah (2 Chronicles 21:12), though otherwise, he only seems to have passed through Judah going to and coming back from Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:3). And while he was assigned by God to anoint a new ruler in Aram, that is, Syria (1 Kings 19:15), this action was for some reason deferred for years, finally accomplished by proxy through Elisha (2 Kings 8:8-15).
Despite the crowds at the victorious showdown at Mount Carmel, Elijah’s lasting impact in terms of numbers must have been minimal. Speaking with that gloomy perspective of the mortally depressed, he complains twice to God that “I alone am left” (1 Kings 19:10,14). In that special way which only God can do, the Lord both corrects and encourages Elijah with one word of comfort in 1 Kings 19:18—
“Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba‘al and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Seven thousand? Seven thousand men and women who were faithful to the God of their fathers, perhaps in no small part due to Elijah’s praying, prophesying, and miracle-working feats. That must have been of some comfort and encouragement to him. But think about it from another perspective — only 7,000, after three years of drought and famine, and despite a pyrotechnically amazing, miraculous intervention on Mount Carmel? Even after the witnesses’ declarations that “The Lord, He is God!”? Crowds are fickle, and it seems that the impact of miracles is fleeting.18 Plus, starting with his escape from Jezebel, Elijah disappeared from the public eye until just before his earthly departure.19
The Scope of John’s Ministry
We have already alluded to the fact that John’s ministry quickly “went international” and remained so for decades. John’s influence starts locally, focused on the banks of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:5)—
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan…
“All the district around the Jordan” would have encompassed Judea (as Matthew mentions), Samaria, Decapolis, Perea and Galilee (both in the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas), and Gaulanitis (part of the tetrarchy of Philip). His teaching spread, most probably because of the faithful Jews of the Diaspora who would come from the corners of the Roman Empire for the required feasts in Jerusalem. Aquila and Priscilla, sometime inhabitants of Rome, were certainly familiar with John’s teachings. So was Apollos, a Greek-speaking Jew hailing from that cosmopolitan center of learning, Alexandria, Egypt (at least twenty years after John’s death). So were Jews in Cyprus (Acts 13:24-25). Even Gentile Roman soldiers (some of whom may have been among those who kept a watchful eye on John during his preaching and baptizing — Luke 3:14) were familiar with John’s teaching, like Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:37).
So John’s scope was international and cross-cultural, not just limited to the Jewish people; and his influence continued decades after his death.
In terms of numbers of disciples, we have no idea. But tens of thousands quickly accepted the Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection because John prepared God’s way in their hearts. I believe that the missionary successes of the early apostles in the synagogues of the greater Roman world were due in no small part to the fact that John’s heart-preparing message had spread and taken root internationally. Quantifying John’s results is best left to a watcher in heaven, perhaps one of those many angels who rejoice “over one sinner that repents” (Luke 15:10). John’s angelic tabulator must have been beside himself with joy!
In fact, although the crowds in Jesus’ time were right in saying that John never performed a miraculous sign (John 10:41), perhaps, like them, we have missed a miracle so large that it’s invisible, unless we step back to take it in. If you have been involved in Gospel preaching, soul winning, or even counseling, you may have noticed what a rare thing it is to see genuine, deep, Holy Ghost conviction operating on a human heart. Such is our state today. But under John’s ministry, multitudes responded to his uncompromising message of repentance and heart-preparation. A wholesale, deep-hearted, Spirit-birthed conviction swept over and through God’s people. That was a revival of the first order! No, John may not have “worked a miracle” like Elijah, but he was God’s spearpoint in a miraculous move of God’s Spirit.
Let’s review what we’ve observed. The scope of Elijah’s ministry was limited (more or less) to a single backslidden nation, winning back 7000 souls to the true God, and (through Elisha) reaching out to one additional generation. John’s ministry probably touched any nation (inside or outside the Roman Empire) where a Jewish synagogue could be found, reached across cultural lines, and it continued for decades to prepare hearts for the arrival of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
“The God Who Answers by Fire”
One surprising similarity between the preaching of Elijah and John is in the matter of fire.
Elijah’s Fiery Challenge
Once Elijah has gathered the multitudes to Mount Carmel for a showdown with the priests of Ba‘al (1 Kings 18:20), he challenges them to make a choice between their idol, Ba‘al, and the true God, Jehovah (v. 21). The people don’t respond until Elijah proposes a miracle contest in which two sacrifices are prepared, each on its own separate altar. One sacrificial ox will be prepared and offered to Ba‘al, and the other to Jehovah. But rather than this being a typical sacrifice, there is a stipulation: neither the 450 priests of Ba‘al nor Elijah are allowed to “put a fire under” the prepared sacrifice. Instead, prayer would be made to the respective gods, appealing to each for fire to come from the sky. As Elijah framed the contest (1 Kings 18:24):
“Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.”
In the collective cultural memory of the people gathered on the mountain were the stories of Jehovah showing His pleasure and power by consuming a sacrifice in this way. By sending fire from heaven (or from the person of the Angel of the Lord, in a few instances), the Lord had indicated His acceptance and approval of the offerings of Aaron (Leviticus 9:24), Gideon (Judges 6:21), Manoah (Judges 13:19-20), and David (1 Chronicles 21:26), as well as Solomon’s sacrifice at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1).20
Ba‘al was the purported god of rain, and thunder, and lightning. Frankly, he had failed pretty miserably as the “rain god” for the last three and a half years.21 Surely he could muster a lightning bolt or two, right? But no. No amount of prayer, dancing, leaping, or blood-letting on the part of the false god’s deluded devotees could produce so much as a slight darkening of the mercilessly sunny skies.
In stark contrast, once Elijah’s offering was prepared, the results came nearly as quickly as the prophet could get to the “Amen” of his prayer:
36At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
Like most miracles, the effect was electric and immediate on the people; but also like most miracles, the overall result wasn’t long lasting. The spiritual condition of Israel didn’t change much. History tells us that the nation continued its spiraling, idolatrous descent which ended in foreign captivity less than 200 years later. But the immediate, temporary effect was a short victory for truth and for the Lord.
In any event, John the Baptist doesn’t have any fiery equivalent from the days of his ministry, right?
The Threefold Fire of John’s Preaching
You might exclaim, “Wrong?! But I thought ‘John did no miracles’!”22
No flashy, showy miracles like the fire of Mount Carmel, no. As bombastic and mind-blowing as that pyrotechnic event had been, it was over in a few moments, and the results seem to have made a lasting change in the hearts of only a relative few.
No, John’s ministry presents a different kind of fire. The nascent priesthood of Israel was warned that, once they received fire-from-heaven for the altar of God (Leviticus 9:24), they were never to allow it to be extinguished (Leviticus 6:12-13). And the fire John preached would never be extinguished, either.
The subject of John’s ministry, preaching, and teaching we are reserving for book two of this series.23 But to complete our comparison of Elijah and John, we must jump ahead just a bit to look at John and his threefold fire.
Whether or not he ever mentioned the book of Malachi publicly, John was no doubt aware of the prophecies it contained and of its imagery of fire. Malachi 4:1 in particular seems to have influenced him:
“For behold, the day [of the Lord] is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
Listen to how Malachi’s language enters John’s preaching as the latter proclaims the first type of fire (Matthew 3:8,10):
8“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance… 10The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
John laid out the first fire quite clearly: There would be the fire of judgment that would consume the “dead wood” of His unrepentant people, those who did not produce the fruit of repentance.
What about the second type of fire? For that we move on to what John says in Matthew 3:12—
“[Messiah’s] winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The second fire is the fiery judgment that would extend outwards beyond his people to the “chaff” of all evildoers.24
But I mentioned that John preached a threefold fire. Does he say nothing of the fire from heaven by which God shows His pleasure with the offering and the offerer, as with those Old Testament saints we mentioned? Yes, he does, and I want you to see what a wonderful prophetic message John is giving us through this third, glorious fire he preaches in Matthew 3:11—
As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Do you see it? Jesus offered Himself up to God as the most perfect, acceptable sacrifice in the history of the universe. How did God the Father respond with fire to show His infinite pleasure with the priceless worth of this sacrifice? He sent the Holy Spirit, the flaming Purity of the Godhead, upon the earth into willing hearts. Listen to Peter’s description on Pentecost of how and why the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2:32-36):
32“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.… 36Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost was proof that:
- Jesus really had risen, ascended back to God, and was seated at the Father’s right hand; and that
- God had accepted the Ultimate Sacrifice (the One John the Baptist twice called “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”); and to prove His pleasure and acceptance, He sent the Fire from Heaven on the Day of Pentecost. That Fire, the Blessèd Spirit, still falls on everyone who believes on Jesus and His atoning sacrifice — for those who surrender their entire being to God, that same fiery, heavenly acceptance descends, as John and Jesus promised.
Did John call down fire from Heaven on a sacrifice? No. But he did point the way to a far more wonderful Sacrifice. In fact, he pointed to the One who was the fulfillment of all Old Testament tabernacle types. He pointed to Jesus, God’s High Priest, His spotless Sacrificial Lamb. Succeeding in His mission beyond all understanding, the Messiah received for God’s people the blessing and approval of Heaven-Sent Fire.
With Elijah on Mount Carmel, what was the people’s proof that the Lord was the true God? Fire! “The God who answers by fire, let Him be God.”
Jesus testified that “John himself is Elijah who was to come” (Matthew 11:14), so no wonder John came with the same Elijah message about fire! But with John’s ministry it wasn’t merely a one-time explosion on a mountaintop. Packed inside of his most famous words, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” is the transcendent fulfillment of the Elijah challenge: “The God who answers by fire, let Him be God.” God answered, showing on the Day of Pentecost His acceptance of Christ’s message and sacrifice. And He still answers by fire; whereas Elijah’s fire fell nearly 2,800 years ago, any believer today can experience the very same fire that John preached.
Elijah’s “fire miracle” was a one-time thing; the threefold fire John proclaimed still burns!
The Grand and Grander Finales
Elijah’s life had a grand finale. John, I would argue, had a grander finale. Let me explain.
Even a Sunday School child is familiar with Elijah’s exit from this world, if a bit hazy on the details of the story in 2 Kings 2:1-14. I say “a bit hazy” because the usual (mis)understanding is that he was caught up in a flaming chariot. But a careful reading of 2 Kings 2:11 shows that the flaming chariot was that object which separated Elijah from Elisha at the last moment.25 The text is quite clear — even in English — “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”26 And this was God’s stated purpose in 2 Kings 2:1, at the beginning of the “grand finale story”:
And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
How we can confuse such a plainly spoken word is strange. But flaming chariot or whirlwind, and even a subsequent three-day search for the body which was taken up by the whirlwind (2 Kings 2:15-18)27 — no one can gainsay that Elijah’s exit was a grand finale, as well as a memorable one!
In transitioning our gaze from Elijah to John in this last contrast and comparison of “grand finales,” let me point out (without criticism) that there might have been no “whirlwind departure” for Elijah had he stood his ground before Jezebel. The patron-queen of demon gods might have succeeded in her lethal designs against him. Or God might have eliminated her in the standoff. We will never know.28
In contrast, John’s departure came about precisely because he did stand his ground against his “Jezebel” and her “Ahab”! But would that I could persuade you that John’s departure was even more glorious and grand, by the way of martyrdom. Here in the West, martyrdom is very far from our minds and experience. But to Christian believers elsewhere — North Korea, Muslim and Hindu countries, Communist nations — the threat of martyrdom is part of “counting the cost” of following Jesus.
Romans 5:7 is an example of what the New Testament has to say about the subject:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
If this verse is read in context, this act of giving one’s life for another is set in the context of God’s love shown for us in His sending His Son — “Christ died for us” (v. 8). And there are times (which will no doubt increase as His return draws near) when He will ask us to die for Him, as with the Christians of Smyrna in Revelation 2:10-11—
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
Call to mind the great scene of the assembled martyrs in heaven in Revelation 6:9-11—
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
When Jesus told His disciples to “take up your cross,” they were under no illusions. The cross always meant the laying down of one’s physical life. Death. A surrender of the thing most precious to most human beings. And for this reason, the early Church was unstoppable. How does the Enemy defeat a foe who is unafraid of death? This is the truth that unlocks Revelation 12:11, the secret of the power of the Christians:
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
What motivates men and women to such lengths? Love. More specifically, love for God and the love of God within. It’s one thing to love truth, another to proclaim truth, but to die for it? Jesus calls that “greater love” in John 15:13-14—
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
Do you see why the departure of “latter-day Elijah” is a grander finale than the whirlwind exit of the first? John refused to run or hide from his “Jezebel.” He refused to compromise God’s truth. The one who proclaimed the arrival of God’s Sacrificial Lamb (“Behold, the Lamb of God!”) willingly chose to sacrifice his own life. The King who came to die had to have a herald equally willing to share his Master’s fate.
So now we come to an end of the comparison and contrast of our “two Elijahs.” Put side by side in the ways we have just seen, Elijah and John square up remarkably well, and we can better understand the second Malachi prophecy — “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).
No, John the Baptist wasn’t a “return” or “reincarnation” of the first Elijah, the man sent to call backslidden Israel to repentance, back to its original covenant with God. That’s why John could say, “No, I am not Elijah” (John 1:21); he was John, son of Zacharias. But as we have seen in this chapter, there are many parallels to Elijah in John’s ministry, and in nearly every aspect — from his fetal infilling with the Holy Spirit, the scope of his ministry, the number of people reached and won back to the true God and His way, his “grander finale,” his unflinching stand against enemy threats, and, especially in the “God who answers by fire” test — John exceeded Elijah. No, John was “not Elijah.” He was something different, something more, something deeper, namely, the herald who would precede Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Now, where have we heard that phrase before? Well, in this book, we haven’t; at least, not yet. It comes from the prophecy of a powerful angel. And that reminds us that we have two remaining prophecies concerning John the Baptist to investigate, both of which occur in the Gospel According to Luke. Let’s turn there now.
- This is from the 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 ↩
- Distinct from His southern kingdom, Judah ↩
- America and “the West,” take heed: Learn what God means in the cryptic phrase “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked” (Deuteronomy 32:15). ↩
- I know that one popular opinion about Melchizedek is that he was actually a Christophany, that is, a pre-incarnate appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity. I used to think that, too. But two things changed my mind. The first thing is many years of study in and teaching through the Epistle to the Hebrews. The second factor has been my explorations of theophanies and Christophanies in my work Who Was the Angel of the Lord?
I have regard for those who believe as I once did. But to me, when the writer to the Hebrews uses this phrase about Melchizedek, he is merely saying that we know nothing of the King of Salem’s back story — his genealogy, his parentage, the kings who preceded him — or his offspring, or the conclusion of his life. I’m just pointing out that we also know precious little about Elijah. Who were his parents? How old was he when his ministry began? Scholars and commentators don’t even agree about what God did with him after his ascension in the whirlwind, so in that sense, we don’t even know about his “end of life.” ↩
- The world speaks of “A-Lists,” that is, the lists of the rich, the famous, the “glitterati,” the “somebodies” who get invited to all the “in” events. God seems to have a “P-List,” a very short prophetic list of human beings whose roles are foretold before birth. God’s short “P-List” starts and ends with Messiah (too many references to list here, starting in Genesis 3:15 and culminating in Luke 1:26-38). It also includes Isaac (Genesis 17:9; Genesis 21:12; echoed in Romans 9:7 and Hebrews 11:17-18); Samson (Judges 13:3-7); King Josiah (1 Kings 13:1-7, about 340 years before his birth); Mary of Nazareth (Isaiah 7:14, with the barest of hints given in Genesis 3:15); and the Persian overlord Cyrus (Isaiah 44:18 – 45:6). To those six P-Listers, we add John the Baptist, whose four prenatal prophecies hold a very distant “second place” to the many prophetic words related to Messiah. ↩
- We will deal with these two final prophecies in chapter 6, The Angel and the Speechless Priest Prophesy. ↩
- Imagine bearing a prenatal testimony of having been filled with the Holy Spirit! No wonder it could be given to John alone to announce, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”! ↩
- Yes, I know that in some scholarly circles there’s an abundance of academic guesswork about John’s “probable” associations with (depending on who is doing the speculating) the Essenes or the Qûmran community. Frankly, those what-ifs and might-haves and must-haves can claim no solid scriptural basis. ↩
- This is paralleled in Matthew 9:14 and Mark 2:18. ↩
- You can read all four verses of Longstaff’s lyrics here: Take Time to Be Holy. ↩
- Bible readers will recall that Jeroboam spent his political exile in Egypt (1 Kings 11:40; 12:2-3) to escape the retribution of Solomon. It would be easy to say that it was there that Jeroboam was first introduced to the worship of the bull-god, Apis, Egypt’s equivalent to Ba‘al. After all, the Bible tells us that the Jehovah-freed Israelite slaves of the Exodus turned to Apis, Egypt’s bull god, shortly after leaving Egypt. (The choice of the “golden calf” idol in Exodus 32 wasn’t accidental or random.)
Sadly, though, Jeroboam may have first encountered Ba‘al or Apis in Judah itself, under Solomon’s reign, brought by some Egyptian princess or Canaanite concubine into God’s land. Although neither Ba‘al nor Apis is mentioned specifically, apparently all the gods his royal harem imported into Judah seem to have received special attention from Solomon, who “turned his heart away after other gods” (1 Kings 11:3,4). He “went after” other gods (v. 5) and “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 6). How bitterly ironic it was that the builder of God’s holy temple should also be the builder of unholy high places for demon-gods (1 Kings 11:7-8)—
Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh… and for Molech…. 8Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
Because Solomon’s “heart was turned away from the Lord,” God tore most of the kingdom away from his dynastic descendants (11:9-43). ↩
- We don’t condemn these folks; they were endeavoring to be loyal to God’s laws. ↩
- This long history of subjugation makes the Jews’ statement in John 8:33 especially ironic — “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone….” Ezra the scribe, shortly after traveling to Judah from the heart of the Medo-Persian Empire in the Fifth Century b.c., acknowledges the Jews’ political reality in a prayer: “For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). ↩
- That phrase “school of the prophets,” by the way, does not appear in Scripture, as a quick concordance search will show. The Hebrew phrase is merely sons of the prophets. ↩
- The sons of the prophets are consistently part of the story line of Elisha. Read 2 Kings 2,4,5, and 6. ↩
- We have a concrete example of this, often overlooked, in Luke 11:1 — John taught his disciples how to pray, as we saw previously. ↩
- No doubt this fasting would have continued during John’s imprisonment, and immediately after his death during the period of mourning. ↩
- One thinks of the unimaginable change of public sentiment from Jesus’ “triumphal entry” to His crucifixion just a few days later. ↩
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Elijah’s final encounter with King Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard after the royal family had killed Naboth the Jezreelite and his heirs in order to take possession of the property. (See 1 Kings 21. We don’t learn that Jezebel also eliminated Naboth’s sons until Jehu mentions it in 2 Kings 9:25-26; and the Scriptures are silent about where and how this was done.) But this confrontation and accompanying prophecy seem to have been of a private, rather than a public, nature. ↩
- This fire-from-God idea may also be at the heart of the stories of Abel’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-4) and Abram’s covenant sacrifice (Genesis 15, especially verse 17). Perhaps David is hinting at the same idea in Psalm 20:3 —
May He remember all your meal offerings
And find your burnt offering acceptable!
- Was the drought three years long or “three years and six months,” as we’re told in James 5:17? Viewing the event from our perspective, it’s easy to see how both are true.
- Elijah himself doesn’t seem to have known how long the drought would last. As a result of his intercession for Israel (James 5:17), he received a word from God and spoke it out (1 Kings 17:1). But nothing in the 1 Kings narrative indicates he knew how long the drought would last. He doesn’t specify a duration in his initial announcement (v. 1), nor can he enlighten the widow of Zarephath with any specific time table (v. 14). Elijah must wait on the Lord for His perfect timing. This “unknown duration” factor is critical, if we think about it. Had Elijah announced a “three-year drought” in advance, people’s hope would have been put on “holding out” until the famine had finished. But with no end-date specified, all hope might eventually be abandoned. It is only “after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year… ‘I will send rain upon the earth’” (1 Kings 18:1).
- So sometime “in the third year” God sends rain. It helps to know something of the normal rain cycle in Israel. That can be quickly summarized for a Bible reader in the phrase “former rain and latter rain” (Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23). Without putting too fine of a point on it, these two “rains” represent the spring rains of planting and the fall rains just before harvest — essentially a rain-every-six-months cycle. If a full three-year period is indicated, then three “former rains” and three “latter rains” were missed. The next time rain was due in the cycle was in — you guessed it — six months. Thus our approximation of “three years” for this drought during Elijah’s time can be true, along with James’ more accurate “three years and six months.”
- So the King James reads in John 10:41. ↩
- The John the Baptist Experience, Book 2: The Extraordinary Message ↩
- There’s insight to be gained by anyone who does a study on chaff and its association with the wicked in the Old Testament. ↩
- There are those who might protest this plain reading of 2 Kings 2:11 because of Elisha’s exclamation, “My father! My father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” (2 Kings 2:12) There are only two occurrences of this phrase in the Bible. Careful, thorough Bible readers will remember that the same phrase occurs later, at the deathbed of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:14. These words of lament are spoken by King Joash of Israel about Elisha. There are no “flaming chariots” sweeping into the bedchamber and no whirlwinds.
What does the phrase mean? It’s a Hebraism, that is, a Hebrew idiom, a phrase with deeper import than the obvious meaning of the words. It’s a phrase about effective, lifelong spiritual warfare. Elijah had been God’s instrument against the spiritual “invading forces” of Jezebel’s Ba‘al worship and nationwide devotion to Ba‘al’s consort, Ashtoreth. As such, his prayer-life and public ministry had resisted the tide of darkness. Elisha, during his long ministry, had been the catalyst of many deliverances on the battlefield in the ongoing war with the Syrians. Expositor John Gill probably sums it up best with his notes on 2 Kings 2:12 when he points out that an old Targum (a Jewish interpretation in Aramaic of the Hebrew Bible) says of this verse: “My master, my master, who was better to Israel by his prayers than chariots and horsemen!” ↩
- As to what that phrase “went into heaven” means, we are unclear, primarily because of the words of Jesus 700 years later: “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). ↩
- Why the search party? Because of being taken up in the whirlwind! Perhaps the “sons of the prophets” had seen from a distant vantage point Elijah’s whirlwind departure. Or they learned of it from Elisha’s first-hand account. So however misguided their search efforts might have been, they knew that what tornadoes and whirlwinds pick up, they generally deposit elsewhere. ↩
- But still, I wonder. Is there more behind God’s twice-asked question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 and 13) Is this merely a simple question that permits Elijah to speak directly to God? Or is it freighted with a deeper question, like “Why didn’t you stand your ground and win a greater victory?” or “Why didn’t you stand your ground and gain a martyr’s crown?” I don’t sense any criticism from God in the matter; but perhaps we may never know. ↩