Monday, December 27

Prophecy and John the Baptist

Though Prophecy makes up approximately 30% of the Bible, in the past, many teachers and pastors have chosen to ignore it due to what they claim as being "too hard to interpret." This is not the case with all, as people seem to be paying more and more attention to prophecy in the last hundred years alone. Jesus says in Luke 10:21, ", Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." Many believe the Bible is so easy to understand, that even a child can understand it. (Photo  Credit to: Visual Bible International, "The Gospel of John," 2003, starring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, Scott Handy as John the Baptist, narrated by Christopher Plummer)

In this entry, we will be taking a look at a major historical figure: John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about John nearly 700 years before his birth. Isaiah 40:3-5, "A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." 

Now, we find that John the Baptist is in all four Gospels. Matthew gives us a good description of John in Matthew 3:1-6. "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, 'Repent for the king of heaven has come near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

"John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized in the Jordan River." John says in Matthew 3:11, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Mark 1:1-4 reiterates this passage, which says, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, as it written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way' - 'a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

Mark mentions two different prophecies: one is in Isaiah, and one is in Malachi. Let us examine the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, which says, "'I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the Lord Almighty." Thus far, we have determined that John the Baptist was to be a messenger, someone who would prepare the way for the Lord.

After John's birth, Zechariah, his father, prophesied about him in Luke 1:76-79, which says, "And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Luke 1:80 concludes, "And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel." From what we have read, it appears as if John fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and Malachi. John the beloved disciple wrote about John the Baptist when he said, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light." (John 1:6-8)

John again writes about the Baptist in John 1:19-28, which reads, "Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Messiah.' They asked him, 'Then who are? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' Finally they said, 'Who are you? Give us n answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?'"

"John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' 'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing."

John himself stated that he was not the Messiah. The return of Elijah was also prophesied in Malachi, and in the gospels, John was often equated to the prophet Elijah. We have determined that John the Baptist, at the least, believed himself to be the forerunner of the Messiah: and fulfilled the prophecies concerning himself. 
(From: The Gospel of John, 2003)

He proclaimed that the Messiah was coming soon, claimed himself as "the messenger," the forerunner, and when he finally met Jesus - the Messiah, he baptized him, and saw the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove, and understood that he truly was the Son of God. Once Jesus was baptized, God said from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34)

Now, what became of this man who fulfilled prophecy? The 1st Century Historian (though skeptics argue against this) Flavius Josephus, has the following account of John the Baptist: "Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness."

"Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him." (From: The Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2)

John was beheaded by Herod, which is how he met his end. But John the Baptist was faithful and true to the end, he remained adamant in his proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, in baptizing, and, having baptized the Messiah, fulfilled prophecy that was made about him several hundreds of years before he was even conceived. John came to herald the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, and is God himself. 

So John, whose birth was heralded by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah who in turn conveyed this truth to his mother, Elizabeth, who was the relative of Mary: mother of Jesus, was the prophesied forerunner. Walter Wink, Oxford Companion to the Bible, recorded the following: "Judaism had never encountered anything quite like this, yet virtually everything recorded of John had parallels in Isaiah. These parallels include the following: an eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 32:15; Mark 1:8) associated with the wilderness (Isa. 35:1-10, 40:3, 41:18-19, 43:19-20; Mark 1:3, 8, 10); a spirit-endowed one to come who will act as judge (Isa. 11:2-5, 42:1-4, 61:1; Mark 1:7-8); Israelites as children of Abraham (Isa. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2, 63:16, Matt. 3:9);"
"[continued] unfaithful Israel portrayed as a brood of vipers (Isa. 59:5, 1:4; Matt. 3:7) or as trees that God will hew down with an axe (Isa. 6:13; 10:15-19, 33-34; 14:8; Matt. 3:10); wind/breath/spirit (Hebr. ruah), and fire compared to a river in which one is immersed (Isa. 30:27-28, 33; 43:2; Matt. 3:12); Israel as the threshed and winnowed one (Isa. 21:10; Matt. 3:12); Israel washed clean (Isa. 1:16; 4:4; 52:11; Mark 1:4); and works of righteousness mandated subsequent to washing (Isa. 1:16-17; Matt. 3:18; Luke 3:10-14)." (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, pg. 372

As we have determined, from not only the above passage but from the four Gospels, John the Baptist not only fulfilled the prophecies found in Isaiah and Malachi, but had many parallels to other prophecies found in Isaiah, and certainly was a historical figure. John came to testify about the light, about Jesus. Jesus, the Creator (John 8:56; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Revelation 22:13; etc) entered into his creation to "[bear] the sin of many, and [make] intercession for the transgressors," (Isaiah 53:12) so that we may live.

Troy Hillman

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