John the Baptists personal history has a surprising significance that would dramatically affect his ministry; this significance can be easily overlooked without attributing the proper attention to the matter. His lineage and traditionalistic inheritance play an important role in fulfilling the prophecy of being the Messiahs forerunner. Levite Lineage
John the Baptist was a Levite by lineage due to his father, Zechariah, being a Levitical priest. The Levite lineage began with the twelve tribes of Jacob; Levi, one of the twelve sons, began the line. Levites were raised to read and interpret the Law of God, and their responsibilities were passed down from father to child by way of genealogy. Levi initially had three sons, Gershon, Merari, and Kohath; the latter was the branch of the tribe from which the priests arose. Wenham writes, The Kohathite priests handle the most holy items of the tabernacle . . . but the non-priestly Kohathites are not even to look at them, lest they die. Numbers 3:41 states, And you [Moses] shall take the Levites for me”I am the LORD. The Levites belonged to God and had a revered job which was much more important than fighting; therefore, they were not included in the census of Moses with the other tribes”they were responsible for the tabernacle.
Wenham writes, The Levites task was to ensure Gods continuing presence with Israel. They dismantled, carried, and reassembled the tabernacle . . . they also guarded it from intruders. Any layperson entering the tabernacle could lead to Gods divine wrath being released, causing the death of not only the one Israelite, but many. For this reason, Levites were commanded to kill any person attempting to trespass. The parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both descendants of the tribe of Levi; to clarify, John the Baptist was a Levite by genealogy. Life as a Priest
John the Baptist was a Levite, but he was also given the distinct responsibility of priesthood. Even though he did not fulfill all of his priestly duties, John was preordained for this occupation through traditional lineage. Priests had specific responsibilities outside of the customary requirements of the Levites; they were in charge of guarding the interior of the temple from any intruders trying to enter. All priests came from the line of Aaron; this invites the perplexing concept that all priests are Levites, but not all Levites are priests. Exodus 30:30 asserts, You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. It is understood that exclusively anointing a Levite with oil is what declares him as a priest. This is the same oil that is used on holy elements of the tabernacle, thus declaring all those anointed are holy and set apart for God. Deuteronomy 18 displays that priests also received the holy privilege of eating a portion of the food offerings.
The priests sole responsibility was to represent the mercy that God has for his people. John the Baptist was not a traditional priest, because he had a higher calling of preparing the way for the Messiah. There were, however, characteristics that proved his priesthood throughout his life. Just as a priest was the symbol of Gods mercy, Johns message of repenting in order to attain salvation demonstrated that God had compassion for His sinful people. Another aspect that symbolizes the priesthood of John the Baptist was his unique diet”priests, too, applied a divergent style of eating and drinking to their reverential lifestyle. The two parties only partook in specific types of food and drink. Luke 1:15 proclaims that John must not drink wine or strong drink so he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Johns avoidance of wine proved he was regarded as a Nazarene, though abstinence from wine and strong drink was a command for the Levitical high priests. In viewing Johns devout disposition and unwavering obedience, it is understandable that Jesus would have this man, a priest, as His personal forerunner. Life as a Prophet
John the Baptist was a Levite and priest by lineage, but a prophet by divine appointment. Jesus proclaimed John as a prophet, but also more than that. Park writes, It had not been altogether unusual, in previous periods of Jewish history, for prophets to be chosen from among the priests. Prophets throughout the entirety of the Word were known as divinely chosen orators for His chosen people. The prophets foresaw potential destruction as a result of Israels ostensibly relentless sinful lifestyle. A quintessential aspect of prophets capabilities was the gift of prayer. Prophets were the spokesmen of God; Ortlund affirms them as prophetic guardians, like sentries on a city wall, [who] prayed and watched for the fulfillment of Gods promises. In this same way, John the Baptist was praying and preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. Prophets would also help the people to see the directions in life on which they should embark. As they perceived the wrong actions of Gods chosen people, they would instruct Israel on right actions that should be taken, guiding them to a closer and more obedient relationship with the Lord.
John the Baptist was assumed to be an incognito Elijah, the returned prophet. Hugenberger asserts, It is likely that this future prophet is identified with Elijah not because Elijah was spared from death . . . but because the future messenger would have a prophetic ministry similar to that of the historical Elijah. Even though he refuted this supposed incarnation, he exhibited characteristics of this pronounced man. John 1:21 reads, And they asked him, What then? Are you Elijah? He said, I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he answered, No. In Malachi 4:4-6, it was prophesied that God would send Elijah the prophet to encourage the people to change their ways so He would not unleash His wrath on them. Therefore, it is understood why the people would relate John the Baptist with Elijah”both men were exceedingly devout to God and fulfilled similar ministries. Hugenberger concludes his argument: . . . it is possible either that he [John] was denying that he was Elijah in person, or that he rejected . . . misguided popular elaborations of this promise based on other notable features in the original Elijahs ministry. Lifestyle
Johns lifestyle is directly influenced by who he is as a prophet and a priest. His unique ways display his humble attitude towards his divine purpose, as well as fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3: A voice cries In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. It is understood that there is hidden meaning and purpose behind John the Baptists unique living situation. His restricted diet, distinct relation to water, and nomadic teaching methods all encompass the true nature of John the Baptist. Living in the Wilderness
The wilderness seems like an unlikely choice of environment for one who is destined for such greatness as John the Baptist. His clothing made of camels hair and his desert-like diet evoked images of prophecies about Elijah. Johns garments were common to nomadic desert dwellers and thus were associated with poorer people. This is not to say that John the Baptist was a poor person; rather, he chose to embrace poverty and live outside of the cities in response to a personal conviction of proving to the people that all one truly needs is God. Unique Diet
Scholars have many different interpretations of John the Baptists unique diet. Kelhoffer claims, The early Christians were fascinated by the diet of John the Baptist. It was not the type of food that was eaten, but the reason behind it which was questioned. Poor people and those living in the wilderness partook in locusts and honey, so the fact that this quality of Johns is emphasized should incline one to delve into its significance: Since locusts could constitute both a treat at royal banquets and a common food for the poor masses, it cannot be assumed to portray John as a poor wilderness-dweller or an ascetic. There are multiple theories for why John would eat like this. Since John could have easily travelled for supplies, this diet is assumed to have been his deliberate choice out of devotion to the Lord. He also could have had previous experiences with the Essene community and was thus influenced by their style of eating. It is also observed that what he ate did not require cultivation or breeding”it could all be naturally found in the wild. Though these are all probable hypotheses, the most likely reason could be that it expressed humiliation before God and symbolized repentance for sin. Although the ultimate reason will never be fully known, the latter theory would coincide with the humble nature of John the Baptist. Distinct Relation to Water
Throughout his ministry, there has been much speculation on the relation between John the Baptist and water. A probable consideration is that he lived in the wildness near the Jordan River; therefore, he used this location to aid his ministry by baptizing and preaching near the water. Wilkins confirms, Baptize means to plunge, dip, immerse, and John was immersing people in the Jordan River. Another possible reason for this relation is that, John [could] have spent some of his youth as a candidate for membership in or as a member of the Essene community of Qumran. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that both John and the members of the Qumran community were ascetics, separatists from mainstream Judaism. Just as John the Baptist baptized people in water as a symbol of repentance and purification, the Qumran community used water [as] the principal method of purification.
Water is pure, clean, and ever flowing; John also reminds us that moving forward may require significant change on our part, through his example of spiritually thriving in the wilderness. Wilkins writes, When people were baptized by him, going under the water symbolized both the cleansing away of sin and a passing safely through the waters of judgment and death. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Johns baptisms are more frequently associated as being a development of the ritual washings of the Essene Community. Hutchison ratifies, The mention of water, fire, and spirit also has a remarkable parallel in the Essene Manual of Discipline . . . . Here one finds water, holy spirit, Spirit of truth, and refining as elements of Gods activity as He purges this community. Johns association to water was undoubtedly a key feature in his ministry, though even he understood that his water baptism [would] be superseded by the baptism associated with the Coming One, the Messiah, for whom he was divinely appointed to prepare the way. Preparing the Way
With the Messiahs coming so close at hand and Johns apocalyptic mindset, the Baptist was a zealous forerunner for the Lord; his message of repentance directly reflects the Coming One. Through living as an example and preparing and training disciples, John was able to effectively prepare the peoples hearts for Jesus Christs arrival. Johns Teachings
John the Baptist was a bold and powerful speaker; he preached with conviction and passion, and he had an almost supernatural determination for fulfilling his mission as the forerunner for the King. His message was made very clear: Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. There are several aspects encompassed in the term repent. Though the usual assumption of the term implies turning away from ones sins, Croteau asserts, The only form of repentance that is required for eternal salvation is a change of mind about Christ. Another interpretation of repentance is found in Crossleys statement, In the Semitic mentality of Jesus the Jew, it [repentance] implied not a change of mind as the metanoia of the Greek Gospels would suggest, but a complete reversal of direction away from sin. This foundation for the term is conveyed by the verb shuv and the noun teshuvah. A distinct interpretation is found in Johnsons clarification: Johns command to repent was a request for Gods earthly people to turn from their sins and toward the One coming after him who was mightier than he.
Since Christ was coming to fulfill the Law as the ultimate sacrifice, John the Baptist preached to everyone, including the Pharisees and high priests, about the importance of a faith-based salvation. Wilkins writes, John calls for the people to remove the obstacles from their lives that might hinder their reception of the Messiah and his kingdom. It would be blasphemous to claim that the Son of God would need a forerunner. However, Allison testifies, We may underestimate the extent of Jesus debt to His predecessor. Due to his nature and physical characteristics, John the Baptist was presumed to be Elijah incarnate by laypersons. These people assumed he was Elijah due to the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi. Wilkins writes, Before Johns birth, he was designated as the one who would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . thereby fulfilling Malachis prophecy. The people were foretold about Elijah; therefore, they assumed John the Baptist, this enthusiastic prophet, was Elijah, who never died . . . [and] was expected to return in the end times . . . to restore all things. Though he had many similarities to Elijah, John the Baptist also related with Jesus Christ in many things. Similarities between John and Jesus
The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus have a vast array of similarities. One of these similarities is both of their arrivals and purposes were prophesied about. In Isaiah 53, Jesus is clearly and distinctively described being crucified for the sins of the world, just as John was described in Isaiah 40:3 as a voice that cries from the wilderness and prepares a way for the coming of the Lord. Another similarity demonstrated is the opposition they both encountered from the Pharisees and Sadduccees. King writes, Matthean account shows him [John the Baptist] in conflict with the Pharisees and Sadduccees . . . these will also oppose Jesus. Another aspect was the preaching message of both Jesus and John the Baptist. They taught the people to attain salvation through faith rather than assuming they inherited it through Abrahamic heritage. Allison writes, . . . he [John the Baptist] denied the hope, held by some, that those born of Abraham could for that reason alone hope to pass the final judgment. Jesus talks about pursuing the kingdom of God with the mindset of a child. The audience would assume Jesus profound statement meant striving to have humility and trusting in Him as a child would a father.
However, Allison interprets it as this: when he urged people to become children, he was . . . telling them to start their religious lives over, telling them to go back to the beginning. Both Jesus and John emphasized starting from scratch rather than relying on an assumed patriarchal birthright. John has a distinct relation to water as already discussed, but so does Jesus Christ. Since their message entailed repentance, they seemingly spent the majority of their time near water due the inevitable baptisms that would take place. Taylor and Adinolfi call attention to the presence of water in the book of Mark; Jesus surrounds Himself by water, such as the Sea of Galilee. He also portrays water as a symbol of Himself, or spiritual living water, that eternally quenches ones thirst. Taylor and Adinolfi also mention that John the Baptist has an association to water, illustrating how he baptized people in, lived near, and taught around water.
They write, Healthy people who were repentant would still have needed water baptism. Jesus and John had a great number of things in common with each other, including minor aspects that coerced some people to even think they were one in the same. Bermejo-Rubio writes, Both were charismatic men leading reform movements. Both were teachers who gathered a group of disciples around them, and both taught out-of-doors. Even Herod feared that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead: Herod the Tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him. Though these two individuals had much in common with one another, both had a specific distinctive ministry assigned to him for his time on the earth. Ministry
Though John the Baptists ministry was short lived, he accomplished much for the Kingdom. He had the honor of baptizing the One he was preparing the way for, and he led a plethora of people into becoming followers of Christ. Discipleship
Though John the Baptist was not a part of Jesus selected twelve disciples, he impacted and led many disciples of his own. He trained many to attain his same apocalyptic mindset, so they could continue his mission after he had passed on. Johns Disciples
Though frequently overlooked, John had disciples even before Jesus did. These disciples followed Johns teachings and helped him baptize a number of converts. These zealous followers were very committed to their teacher, and in accordance with Kelhoffer, Johns disciples practiced fasting, as mentioned in Matthew 9:14: Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast? It is possible this portrays their primary allegiance to John the Baptist. King affirms this when he writes, There were disciples of the Baptist who placed their allegiance to him rather than Jesus. John the Baptists teachings were apocalyptic and his disciples beliefs were no different. Burnett writes, Johns disciples may have seen themselves as the true Israel of the last days.
One could assume that this portrayal of end times gave them the inclination and desire to convert people at a much swifter pace. Even though John the Baptist baptized Jesus, John did not know for sure if he believed that Jesus was the coming Messiah that he had been preaching about. Bermejo-Rubio boldly claims that John, did affirm Jesus ministry and even recognized Jesus as his superior, but he did not acknowledge him as the Messiah. King elucidates, . . . [John] sen[t] his disciples to clarify Jesus identity. Matthew 3:11-12 explains that John the Baptist thought Jesus would have a winnowing pitch fork that would clear out all who came against Him while baptizing His believers in fire. Since John the Baptist taught his disciples about the great things that the Messiah was going do, they were also confused when they saw this man, who was much different than what they had imagined. However, whether or not they believed in Jesus Christ specifically as the Messiah, Johns disciples fervently labored for the Lords work and collectively taught repentance to the people, continu[ing] [Johns] mission after his execution. John”The Last Prophet
Jesus saw John the Baptist as one of the greatest people born of a woman, as explained in Matthew 11:11. John the Baptist is also assumed to be the last prophet; this is not because he was the last prophetic person to ever walk the earth”it is because he was the last prophet to foretell the coming of the Christ before the event actually took place. Wilkins indicates, John the Baptist was the last of a long history of OT prophets that looked forward to the coming of Christ. There was a long line of prophets that had prophesied about the coming of Jesus; because John the Baptist had the privilege of seeing the prophecy fulfilled, he is called the last prophet. John 1:21 is a peculiar verse in which John the Baptist denies being Jesus, Elijah or the Prophet. Henry writes, John disowns himself to be the Christ, who was now expected and waited for. He came in the spirit and power of [Elijah], but he was not the person of [Elijah]. This confirms that John the Baptists only mission was to make way for the King. Mission
Appropriately named, John the Baptist immersed, or baptized, those who repented and chose to purify themselves of their sins. Through divine selection, he was also given the privilege to baptize the sinless One whom he proclaimed. Jesus Baptism
John the Baptist was the one chosen by God to tell people about the coming of Jesus. He also received the privilege of baptizing Him. This honor was initiated when Jesus came to John to receive baptism. Even though John the Baptist was baptizing people as a symbolism for the repentance of sin, Jesus was not and has never been a sinner. King further explains by writing, [the] baptism of Jesus is primarily a revelatory episode: [the Gospel of] John does not connect the baptismal practice of John (the Baptist) with the remission of sins . . . At the thought of Jesus wanting to be baptized by him, John immediately tells Jesus in Matthew 3:14, . . . I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me? One may be inclined to inquire why Jesus was even baptized. Baptism was possibly seen as a rite of passage to enter an elect group. Nir expounds, baptism served as a rite of initiation into the sect”an act transforming the persons status from ordinary Jew to member of an elect group”and that John thus established a sect for which baptism was a condition of initiation. An additional aspect could be to fulfill Jesus righteousness.
Wilkins writes, Jesus baptism inaugurates his ministry and fulfills Gods saving activity prophesied throughout the OT, culminating with his death on the cross. By doing this, Jesus righteousness was fully proclaimed and prophecies were being fulfilled. Wilkins continues this thought by asserting, Jesus identifies with the sinful people he came to save through his substitutionary life and death. Johns mission was also revered by Jesus Christ, and going to him for baptism could have been attributing merit to Johns work. Bermejo-Rubio writes, Throughout his ministry, Jesus continued to look upon Johns baptism”and therefore Johns whole mission”as divinely inspired. A final thought is that in a direct reflection of Isaiah 43:2-3, the water is a reminder that God is with his chosen people. As Gods people pass through the waters, God reminds them He is with them and will never forsake them. When Jesus was baptized, the Heavens physically opened up and God reaffirmed that this was His son with whom He was pleased. Zee asserts writes, Baptism always carries with it that element of deliverance from the chaos and destruction of sin, a rebirth through water with all its dangers and possibilities. Just as that element represents so much in the life of Jesus, baptism means much more for the follower of Jesus. Believers Baptism
Believers baptism can be best defined as, witness[ing] to the inextricable union of water and Spirit in the redemptive plan, signaling the reality of new life. This baptism was not only a spiritual symbol, but a strong suggestion for all those who have repented. There was process when one received salvation; the first step was repenting from the sins that have been committed, and the second was to be baptized. Mark 16:16 declares, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. This ensured that one was no longer defined as Jew, Gentile, sinner, or unclean, but that one was a follower of Jesus. Nir emphasizes, Baptism will bring about ritual purification of the body only if the soul has already been purified by righteousness; that is, only if baptism has been preceded by repentance on the part of the candidate. John the Baptist assures the people when the Messiah comes, He will baptize them with a holy fire.
Again, Wilkins clarifies, Johns water baptism will be superseded by the baptism associated with the Coming One. Those who repent and trust in him will receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit. One could interpret this as understanding Johns water baptism as being an important symbol, but the vital aspect of salvation is receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit by fire. Jesus commanded all who are saved to be baptized into the body of Christ as a whole. Baugh writes, One baptism here, however, may refer to the baptism of all believers into one body . . . which is the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This signifies that the believer is not only changed and renewed, but that he/she is a part of Jesus Christs family and the metaphorical body of Christ. Martyrdom
Though the Baptists life appears to be cut short and the event of his death slightly discounted, he accomplished his divinely appointed purpose within the years he had. He was imprisoned and martyred as a result of his boldness in the message of repentance due to others negligence, pride, and lack of conviction. Johns Imprisonment and Execution
The final chapter in John the Baptists life has a bitter ending. He was imprisoned for unclear reasons, but one theory entails that his baptisms in the Jordan, a frequently visited area, was rallying too much attention and political excitement. Roberts mentions, Johns baptism enacted a retaking of the land. Although we generally overlook the political ramifications of Johns ministry, they did not go unnoticed by the Roman occupiers, and this may explain, in part, why he was imprisoned and beheaded. John the Baptist was later martyred for speaking up against something that did not coincide with the Truth. King writes, He has offended Herodias, and more specifically, criticized her marriage to Herod when she had previously been married to his brother Philip. Because of this, John took a stand against the king and new queen as told in Matthew 14:4: because John had been saying to him, It is not lawful for you to have her, and though he [Herod] wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him [John] to be a prophet. This martyrdom is actually seen as something that should not have been allowed to happen.
King writes, There is an irony here: Herod . . . is portrayed as an object of ridicule by the way in which the two women manipulate him. Strictly they should not be involved in the political realm. Matthew 14:12 explains the rest of the story describing how on King Herodias birthday, he became drunk with wine and his daughter danced for him. Out of drunken perversion, he agreed to do anything that his daughter asked for out of approval of the dance. Being na¯ve and unsure what to ask for, she questioned her mother, Herodias, about the request. Herodias seized the opportunity for vengeance and commanded her daughter to ask for John the Baptists head on a plate. With one fell swoop, this woman ended the Baptists life out of jealous revenge. King states, In his [Matthews] account, the death of the Baptist is not preceded by the Mission of the Twelve, but by the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. Matthew relates both Jesus and Johns rejection to utilization as examples of the death that all followers should be willing to encounter”martyrdom. Conclusion
It is clear that John the Baptist did not comply with the typical customs of the time periods Intertestamental Jews. He referred to his own moral compass when deciphering the depth of devotion he was to embrace. Though he was technically not a disciple in terms of being one of the twelve, John the Baptist promoted and prepared the way for Jesus Christ throughout his life in his own way, glorifying God even to the very moment of his execution.
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