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The Bible identifies John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah — the prophet who precedes and announces His coming. John the Baptist’s purpose was to prepare the hearts of the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah and introduce Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. John’s ministry fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah saying, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa 40:3 KJV).

Daryl Cox/January 22, 2013

The last inspired author of the Old Testament was Malachi, a prophet who ministered to the Jews returning from exile in Babylon. His prophecy foretold the coming of John the Baptist prior to the Messiah’s appearing (Mal 3:1). This last inspired message from God would stand for over four centuries. The next great prophet to appear would be the one who reveals the coming of Jehovah as the Messiah to save His people. The preaching of John the Baptist broke the centuries of silence with the words “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, according to Mark 1:1-4.

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John’s Maturity and Strength

John was the son of Zacharias a priest and Elizabeth, cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus. He was from the tribe of Levi just as his parents. The angel Gabriel announced His birth to Zacharias in a vision during his tenure of ministry in Jerusalem. Gabriel told Zacharias that Elizabeth would produce a child that would prepare the people to receive the promised Messiah by turning their hearts to Him. Zacharias did not believe the word spoken in the vision due to the ages of both he and his wife and her inability to conceive. The angel therefore removed Zacharias’ ability to speak until after the birth of the child. Upon the day of the child’s presentation at the temple for circumcision, the angel restored Zacharias’ voice amidst a conflict over what to call the child’s name. According to the word of God spoken by the angel, he was named John. The Scripture characterizes the rest of John’s youth as one of growth and strengthening of spirit in preparation for what God had called him to do. Second Peter 3:18 teaches that grace and knowledge produces the character needed to be effective workers in the Kingdom of God. Maturity and strength will be the essential elements of ministry needed to reach our world just as they were for John to reach his.

John’s Ministry in the Wilderness

John began his ministry in the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River. When the word of God came to him in revelation, he went forth with confidence and power. He preached a baptism of repentance, and water baptized all who responded to his message. The Jordan River, which ran through the wilderness of Judea, was the place where his baptizing took place. This fulfills the Scripture that he would be a voice in the wilderness. Repentance would be the key to Israel recognizing and receiving Jesus as the Messiah. So powerful was John’s preaching that people from all walks of life throughout the region gladly received his message and considered him to be a prophet while many of the religious leaders began asking if he were the Messiah. John denied being the Messiah, but confessed that he was announcing his appearing. Submitting themselves to his teachings and baptism with hearts of repentance prepared them to receive Christ and the gift He had to offer, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33-34). Just prior to the start of his ministry, Christ submits Himself for baptism and John identifies Him to the people as the Lamb of God. The allusion is to the offerings commanded by the Law of Moses. By this expression, John is saying Jesus is the man chosen of God to die for sins of the whole world. His death would forever remove the sin and guilt of all men who believe and obey the Gospel. John acknowledges his unworthiness to baptize Jesus and the need of his baptism, but Jesus showed John that submission to God’s will exceeds status even though He is the Messiah.

John’s Baptism

According to Luke 3:3, John returned to the country by way of the Jordan river and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.– John’s baptism was for the remission of sins. Zacharias, prophesied that John was to give knowledge of the Lord’s salvation by the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of God (Luke 1:76-78). God allowed the sins of the repentant to be mercifully removed through John’s baptism. This act revealed the essence of the New Covenant salvation provided by the Messiah’s death and resurrection. The taking away of the sin of the world is the key feature of New Testament. Without it, there could be no inheriting of all spiritual blessings, restoration and fulfillment of the covenants. His baptism looked forward to the Messiah’s blood that would be shed in death. The mercy of God granted in both the Old and New Testament eras is made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason Paul commanded the disciples of John to be re baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:4-5). Christian water baptism must be based on the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 3:20-21). This gives it the ability to wash away our sins in the name of Jesus Christ and establish us in union with him. Our submission to baptism in the name of Jesus allows us to experience the cleansing power of the blood that takes away the sin of the world (Acts 2:38; 10:43 and Heb 9:23). John’s baptism was ordained of God (Luke 7:29-30). Jesus practiced it during His ministry. Men became disciples of Christ through John’s baptism; however, John’s baptism looked forward to both New Testament water baptism based on God’s revelation in Christ along with his sufferings and the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

John’s Preaching

John’s preaching touched all who heard him. He had a great following by the time Jesus began to manifest Himself in ministry. He addresses many of the issues that troubled the society of his day, and his response was for them to repent. Failure to repent can hinder us from receiving God’s best for our lives. It is the first step to correcting the relationships and issues that trouble us. Repentance allows God to grant mercy and life to the sinner. Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, was not pleased with John, for he reproved him of all his evil doings as ruler and for his inappropriate relationship with Herodias, his brother Phillip’s wife. Rather than repent, he cast John into prison after Jesus began His ministry. While in prison John became discouraged, and his disciples began reporting to him the astounding miracles of Christ. John sends two of his disciples to Christ asking if He was the one to come or should they look for someone else. Jesus gave no immediate response, but according to Luke, in an hour’s time they witnessed a series of miracles that once again confirmed the identity of Jesus with the words “blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Luke 7:23). John was encouraged to hold fast to his faith even under the trial of imprisonment. The pressure of life’s opposition has caused many to turn away from Christ and ministry, but the Lord has ordained blessing for those servants who will stand.

John, God’s Messenger

John began his ministry in the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. The word of God had come to him in revelation giving him a powerful witness for Christ. With confidence and power, he preached a baptism of repentance, and water baptized all who responded to his message. The Jordan River, which ran through the wilderness of Judea, was the place where most of his baptizing took place. This fulfilled the Scripture that he would be a voice in the wilderness. Repentance would be the key to Israel recognizing and receiving Jesus as the Messiah. So powerful was John’s preaching that both the people and the religious leaders began asking if he were the Messiah. John denied being the Messiah but confessed that he was announcing his appearing and that Christ would baptize them with the Holy Ghost and fire. Submitting themselves to his teachings and baptism with hearts of repentance prepared them to receive Christ and the gift He had to offer. “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33-34). Just prior to the start of his ministry, Christ submits Himself for baptism and John identifies Him to the people as the Lamb of God. The allusion is to the offerings commanded by the Law of Moses. John is saying Jesus is the man chosen of God to die for sins of the whole world. His death would forever remove the sin and guilt of all men who believe and obey the Gospel. John acknowledges his unworthiness to baptize Jesus and the need of his baptism, but Jesus showed John that submission to God’s will exceeds status even though He is the Messiah.

Greatness in the Kingdom

After declaring the greatness of John the Baptist before the people, Jesus makes an astounding statement in Luke 7:28 that he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John! According to the John 3, entrance into God’s kingdom is by the New Birth of water and Spirit. To be in the Kingdom is to be a son of God in Christ. We are now a new creature. Under the New Covenant, we are made partakers of Christ’s status and calling as the Son of God and His riches. The expression “in Christ” speaks of our calling in the Kingdom of God and our union with Him. Through Christ’s death and resurrection God grants the honor of sonship by the baptism of the Holy Ghost to all who believe the Gospel. This new status is greater than what was given under the Old Covenant and characterized in John the Baptist. Luke records the words of Gabriel in 1:15, saying John will be great in the sight of the Lord. The New Covenant people of God have a greater in status. Greatness characterizes the life of the people of God. Excellence flows from us as we grow in the grace and knowledge Jesus Christ. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened to Him. Out came the Spirit of God followed by his affirmation of Jesus. The New Birth places the people of God under an open heaven. We have a royal status with access to both God and the riches of His glory in Christ both now and in the world to come.

Israel’s Failure to Receive John and Jesus

Israel’s failure to receive both the ministries of John and Jesus brought the stinging rebuke of Christ and woe to all those cities which had seen His mighty works. John’s coming death would mean not just the death of another prophet in the history of Israel, but the unofficial rejection of Jesus as Messiah. This rejection would be the catalyst for a change in Christ’s public ministry. The religious leaders would serve as a continual source of conflict and a stumbling block that would influence the nation to ultimately reject him. Jesus would continue to minister to those who sought Him out, but His message would be hidden in parables to those who would not receive Him. In that culture, to kill a king’s representative meant to reject the king and his government. John’s death was a prelude to the Messiah’s coming crucifixion, an event that would temporarily cause the loss of the messianic kingdom to Israel and make men and women of all nations the sons of God.

Closing

Finally, John, though beheaded by Herod, was the greatest born of women. Born to a priest and mother who was cousin to the mother of Jesus, John was the scriptural fulfillment of the prophet who would prepare the people to receive the Messiah. John was accepted as a prophet by the people, but Herod’s arrest and execution of him marked an unofficial rejection of Christ. This act along with the religious leaders’ rejection would result in Christ ministering to the Gentiles following His death and resurrection. Woe was pronounced against the cities that witnessed His mighty acts, but those who continued to seek Him out were blessed. John the Baptist teaches us the importance of repentance and water baptism, the importance of character and anointing in the service of God and the importance of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Since Israel rejected both John and Christ, the kingdom promised by the prophets was temporarily revoked from them as a nation. Now men and women of all Gentile nations along with Jewish believers in Christ are becoming partakers of the greatest move of God in the history of man, the formation of the New Testament church through the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Pastor Daryl Cox

All Rights Reserved, All Nations Leadership Institute, 2013

Photo Credit: uvoc.org