Down through the generations, there's been many teachings on John the Baptist. This is a compilation of what I've gleaned in my years of studying about him. It only scratches the surface of this man's dynamic character, and strength of spirit. In what I've learned of him so far, I can see why Jesus spoke of him in such high regard.
John was a Nazarite from his birth (Luke 1:15, Numbers 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judah lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Mat 3:1-12).
He was the "forerunner of our Lord." He was of priestly descent. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1Chron 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). The mission of John was the subject of prophecy (Mat. 3:3; Is 40:3; Malachi 3:1). His birth, which took place six months before that of Jesus, was foretold by an angel. Zacharias, deprived of the power of speech as a token of God's truth and a reproof of his own incredulity with reference to the birth of his son, had the power of speech restored to him on the occasion of his circumcision (Luke 1:64). After this no more is recorded of him for thirty years than what is mentioned in Luke 1:80.
He came to be a witness:
Joh 1:6-8 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
No one of the old prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament. The priests and Levites said to the Baptist (John 1:25), "Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias?" Paul (Romans 11:2) refers to an incident in his history to illustrate his argument that God had not cast away his people. (James 5:17) finds in him an illustration of the power of prayer. (See also Luke 4:25; 9:54) He was a type of John the Baptist in the sternness and power of his reproofs (Luke 9:8). He was the Elijah that "must first come" (Matt 11:11,14). Even outwardly the Baptist corresponded so closely to the earlier prophet that he might be styled a second Elijah. In him we see "the same connection with a wild and wilderness country; the same long retirement in the desert; the same sudden, startling entrance on his work (1Kings 17:1; Luke 3:2); even the same dress, a hairy garment, and a leathern girdle about the loins (2Kings 1:8; Matt 3:4)." His entire being was a witness against the hypocrisy and corruption of the Pharisees and Sadducees of his day.
John's baptism was the voice of God to Israel, and the believing remnant responded (Matt 3:5). It was an act of righteousness on the part of Him who had become, as to the flesh, an Israelite, to take His place with this believing remnant.
His greatest mission was to usher in the One, whom he said he was not worthy to loose his shoe latchets.
John is a problematic figure in the Bible for many modern preachers today. He has been described as unloving, uncompromising, and rigid. These verses give an example:
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
Mat 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Mat 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Mat 3:3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Mat 3:4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Mat 3:5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
Mat 3:6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Mat 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
Mat 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Mat 3:10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Mat 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
You can imagine the hackles going up the back of the necks of the Pharisees and rulers of the Jews when they heard messages like this that could singe their hair.
If John were here today, I doubt he'd find a church that would take him, he'd have to do what John Wesley and George Whitfield did; preach in the open air, in the fields and street corners.
John the Baptizer
Joh 1:26-27 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Jesus was now to receive His anointing with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:16) to enter His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. In the Levitical order Ex 29:4-7, the high priest was first washed, then anointed. While Christ's priestly work did not begin till He "offered Himself without spot to God" Heb 9:14 and His full manifestation as the King- Priest after the order of Melchizedek awaits the kingdom (See Scofield "Genesis 14:18") yet He was then anointed, once and for all.
It's to be pointed out that John did no miracle or any sign during his ministry:
Joh 10:41 And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true.
Joh 10:42 And many believed on him there. And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed. Then many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.” And many believed in Him there.
John also gave no foretelling prophecies of any future event or person. His calling as a prophet was one of proclamation, rebuke and exhortation. He was called and privileged to baptize Jesus, and usher in his ministry.
Mar 1:6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
Mar 1:7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
Mar 1:8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
Mar 1:9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
Mar 1:10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
Mar 1:11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
After baptizing Jesus, he proclaimed him as the One to come, Jesus-the Son of God:
Joh 3:26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
Joh 3:27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
Joh 3:28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
Joh 3:29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
Joh 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
Joh 3:31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
Joh 3:32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
Joh 3:33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
Joh 3:34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
Joh 3:35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
Joh 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
And many believed in Him there: Despite the influence of the Pharisees who were blind (as shown in John 9) and were bad shepherds (as shown in John 10), many people still came to Jesus. God’s work goes on, despite the opposition of man. David Guzik comm.
John the Troubler
However, John made enemies because of his burning exhortations:
Lu 3:18-20 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
Herod had John beheaded in prison; as he promised Herodias' daughter before she danced for him. He greatly regretted it, but gave her what she wanted, because he feared the people.
Mr 6:21-29 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
Their plots and schemes succeeded in getting rid of this wearisome troublemaker; with his rantings and reproof's.
Dancing for the Devil
It is interesting to note that when John sent messengers to question Jesus if he indeed was the "One who was to come"; Jesus answered him this way:
Lu 7:19-23 And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
Some interesting things to point out concerning John's imprisonment are:
1. John did not ask Jesus to help get him out of prison, and Jesus did not attempt to get him released.
There are appointed times that God allows events to take place, for His eternal purposes.
Gal 4:2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
Gal 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Gal 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
2. Jesus never attempted to go and see him, he continued on in his own ministry.
John was now beginning to live out his own words: He must increase, but I must decrease. Joh 3:30
3. Jesus did not upbraid or rebuke John for his question.
Jesus had this to say of John:
Mat 11:7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
Mat 11:8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
Mat 11:9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
Mat 11:10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Mat 11:11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Mat 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
Mat 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
Mat 11:14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
In the book of Luke, it tells of the people and those who John baptized believing Jesus' report of John, but the Pharisees and lawyers rejected him, and God's counsel against themselves:
Luk 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Luk 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
Luk 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
Luk 7:31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
Luk 7:32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
Luk 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
Luk 7:34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
Luk 7:35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.
"And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John: Those who had repented in preparation for the Messiah by receiving John’s baptism found it easy to receive what Jesus said. But those who would not repent rejected the counsel of God for themselves.
We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep: Jesus points out the hypocrisy of these hardened hearts who criticized both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. “If the message is unwelcome, nothing that the messenger can say or do will be right.” (Maclaren)
Some closing questions and thoughts to ponder:
1. If John were sent to the world today, would he be received any better than he was then?
2. What do you think the church culture would think of him today?
3. What does his life tell us of our own witness for Christ.?
May you find a source of sound spiritual food for your soul and
Jesus Christ is Lord
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise thee,
O LORD, when they hear the words of thy mouth.
I had rather stand against the cannons of the wicked than against the prayers of the righteous.