Reference: John The Baptist
the "forerunner of our Lord." We have but fragmentary and imperfect accounts of him in the Gospels. He was of priestly descent. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1Ch 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (Lu 1:5). The mission of John was the subject of prophecy (Mt 3:3; Isa 40:3; Mal 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 (Lu 1:64). After this no more is recorded of him for thirty years than what is mentioned in Lu 1:80. John was a Nazarite from his birth (Lu 1:15; Nu 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judah lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Mt 3:1-12).
At length he came forth into public life, and great multitudes from "every quarter" were attracted to him. The sum of his preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Lu 3:8). "As a preacher, John was eminently practical and discriminating. Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder." His doctrine and manner of life roused the entire south of Palestine, and the people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto repentance.
The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Mt 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfil all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). John's special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a close by his being cast into prison by Herod, whom he had reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his brother Philip (Lu 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of Machaerus (q.v.), a fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded. His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave, went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Mt 14:3-12). John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover of our Lord's ministry. Our Lord himself testified regarding him that he was a "burning and a shining light" (Joh 5:35).
Son of Zacharias (of the course of Abijah, 1Ch 24:10) and Elisabeth (of the daughters of Aaron), who both "walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Elisabeth was related to the Virgin Mary; but Scripture does not state the exact relationship; the Greek in Lu 1:36 (sungenees), which our Bible renders "cousin," means any "relation" or "kinswoman," whether by marriage or birth. It is noteworthy that Jesus, of the Melchizedek order of priesthood, was related to but not descended from the Aaronic priests. Zacharias was old, and Elisabeth barren, when, as he was burning incense at the golden altar, Gabriel announced the answer to his prayers (not directly for a son, but, as Israel's representative, for Messiah the Hope of Israel) in the coming birth of a son, the appointed forerunner of Messiah; John (Jehovah's gift) was to he his name, because his supernatural birth was a pledge of the Lord's grace, long looked for, now visiting again His people to their joy (Luke 1).
John was to be "great in the sight of the Lord" (contrast Baruch, Jer 45:5). He should be in himself a pattern of that self denial which accords best with his subject of preaching, legal repentance, "drinking no strong drink, but filled with the Holy Spirit (see the same contrast, Eph 5:18, the minister's enthusiasm ought to be not from artificial stimulant but from the Spirit's unction) from the mother's womb," a Nazarite (Nu 6:1-21). Like the great prophet reformer (compare 1Ki 18:36-37) Elijah in "spirit. and power" of preaching, though not in miracles (Joh 10:41), he should turn the degenerate "children to the Lord and to" their righteous "fathers, and the heart of the fathers to the children," their past mutual alienation being due to the children's apostasy; fulfilling Mal 4:4-6; bringing "Moses' law" to their remembrance, "lest Jehovah at His coming should smite the earth with a curse." Thus John should "make ready a people for the Lord." Zacharias for unbelief in withholding credit without a sign was punished with dumbness as the sign until the event came to pass.
In the hill country, where Elisabeth had retired, her cousin Mary saluted her, and the babe leaped in Elisabeth's womb. His birth was six months before our Lord's. At his circumcision on the eighth day Zacharias gave his name John; and his returning faith was rewarded with returning speech, of which his first use was to pour forth a thanksgiving hymn, in which he makes it his son's chief honour that he should be "prophet of the Highest, going before the Lord's face to prepare His ways" as His harbinger. John had the special honour of being the subject off prophecy ages before, and of being associated in close juxtaposition with Messiah Himself. John "waxed strong in spirit and was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel" (Lu 1:80). Meanwhile God's interposition in the wonders of his birth caused "all the people to be in expectation, musing in their hearts whether he were the Christ" (Lu 3:15). The thinly-populated region adjoining the hill country of Judea was his haunt; there communion alone with God prepared him for his work.
At 30, when "the word of God came to" him (Lu 3:2), he went forth, his very appearance a sign of the unworldliness and legal repentance. which he preached; his raiment a camel's hair garment secured with leather girdle (2Ki 1:8) as Elijah's; his food that supplied by the desert, locusts (Le 11:22) and wild honey (Ps 81:16). All classes, Pharisees, Sadducees, the people, publicans, and soldiers, flocked to him from every quarter, Jerusalem, Judea, and the, region round Jordan (Mt 3:5; Luke 3). The leading sects he denounced as a "generation of vipers" (compare Ge 3:15, the serpent's "seed"), warning them that descent from Abraham would not avail with out doing Abraham's works (compare Joh 8:39), and telling all practically and discriminatingly that the repentance needed required a renunciation of their several besetting sins; and that whereas, on their confession, he baptized with water baptism, the Mightier One would come baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11-12). (See BAPTISM.)
When the ecclesiastical authorities sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, Who art thou? John replied, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord" (Joh 1:19-23). The natural wilderness symbolized the moral (Isa 32:15), wherein was no highway for the Lord and for righteousness. The hills of pride and the valleys of degradation must be brought to the one holy level before the Lord (Isaiah 40). John was the forerunner of the reigning Messiah (Mt 3:2; Mal 3:1), but through the nation's rejection of Him that reign was deferred (compare Nu 14:34 with Mt 23:37-39). John baptized Jesus and though knowing Him before as a man and his kinsman, yet then first knew His divine Messiahship by the Spirit's visible descent (Joh 1:30-34). (See JESUS; BAPTISM.) John thence forth witnessed to Jesus, desiring to "decrease that He might increase." By his testimony at Bethany (so oldest manuscripts for Bethabara) beyond Jordan, "Behold the Lamb of God," he led two of his disciples to Him, Andrew and John the apostle and evangelist (Joh 1:35 ff; Joh 3:23-36; 4:1-2; Ac 19:3).
Yet John never formally joined Jesus; for he was one of the greatest among the Old Testament prophets, but not strictly in the New Testament kingdom, the least in which, as to spiritual privileges, was greater than he (Lu 7:28). His standing was the last of Old Testament prophets, preparatory to the gospel. He taught fasting and prayers, rather in the spirit and therefore with the forms of, the old dispensation which the new would supersede, its new spirit creating its appropriate new forms (Lu 5:33-38; 11:1). Herod Antipas beheaded him in the fortress Machaerus E. of the Dead Sea, to gratify Herodias' spite for John's faithfulness in denouncing her adultery, and in slavish adherence to his reckless oath to give Herodias' daughter Salome, for dancing on his birthday, whatever she might ask. (See HEROD ANTIPAS.)
From the prison John had sent two (the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts read Mt 11:2 "by," dia, for duo, two) disciples to Jesus to elicit from Himself a profession of His Messiahship, for their confirmation in the faith. (See JESUS.) Jesus at once confirmed them and comforted John himself (who probably had expected to see Jesus more openly vindicating righteousness, as foretold Mal 3:2-5; 4:1-3), by an appeal to His miracles and preaching, the very credentials promised in Isa 35:5; 61:1. Jesus at the same time attested John's unshaken firmness, appealing to His hearers' own knowledge of him (Matthew 11). No reed shaken by the wind, no courtier in soft raiment, was John. But whether it was the ascetical forerunner, or the social Lord Himself, that preached, that generation was dissatisfied, with John because he was too self denying, with Jesus because He would not commend their self-righteous fastings: "we have piped unto you (unto John) and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you (unto Jesus) and ye have not lamented."
Of John as of Jesus they said, he hath a devil. John fell just before the third Passover of Christ's ministry; his disciples buried him Self denial, humility, wherewith he disclaimed Messiahship and said he was not worthy to unloose His shoes' latchet, zeal for the Lord's honour, and holy faithfulness at all costs, were his prominent graces. (On the "Elias who shall yet come," see ELIJAH, end.) John's ministry extended at its close into Peraea at the S.E. end of the lake of Galilee. When the herald was silenced the Master took up the message (Mr 1:14) in the same quarter. John's labours there so impressed Herod that, "he feared and observed him, and when he heard him did many things, and heard him gladly"; but would not do the one thing needed, give up his adulterous paramour, his brother Philip's wife.
Elijah was translated in a chariot of fire; but John died a felon's death, for the forerunner was to be as his Lord. The worthless Ahab reappears in Herod with similar germs of good struggling with evil. Herodias answers to the cruel Jezebel. As Ahab
The single narrative of John's birth and circumcision (Lu 1) states that, as the child of promise (Lu 1:13), he was born in 'a city of Judah' (Lu 1:39), when his parents were old (Lu 1:7). They were both of priestly descent (Lu 1:5), and his mother was a kinswoman of the mother of Jesus (Lu 1:36). John was a Nazirite from his birth (Lu 1:15); he developed self-reliance in his lonely home, and learnt the secret of spiritual strength as he communed with God in the solitudes of the desert (Lu 1:80). In the Jud
Son of Zacharias, priest of the order of Abia, or Abijah (1Ch 24:10), and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron, born when they were both old. The conception was foretold by the angel Gabriel, who announced that John was to be a Nazarite, and should be filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth. His mission was also foretold: in the spirit and power of Elias he would be the forerunner of Christ, and would call the people to repentance, according to the prophecy in Isa 40:3. All that is recorded of his early life is "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel." Lu 1:80.
When he began his ministry he is described as having on "raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey." He preached in the wilderness, calling on the people to repent, for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The people went out to him, and were baptised of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. Mt 3:1-6. A godly remnant morally apart from the nation was thus prepared in spirit for the Lord. With these (the excellent in the earth, Ps. 16) the Lord Jesus identified Himself.
To the Pharisees and the Sadducees he was especially severe, calling them a 'generation of vipers' (Mt 3:7), but in Luke the multitude are so designated, for all must flee from the wrath to come, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The axe was laid to the root of the tree. There was One coming with the winnowing fan, who would divide the wheat from the chaff.
When the religious authorities at Jerusalem sent to John to ask who he was, he declared that he was not the Christ, nor Elias, nor 'that prophet.' De 18:15,18. He was "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord," as Isaiah had prophesied. Joh 1:19-23. The Lord, in speaking of John, said, "Elias is indeed come," Mr 9:13, which seems to clash with Joh 1:21; another passage however explains it: "If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come." Mt 11:14. He had come in the spirit and power of Elias, as foretold by Gabriel; and he was Elias to those who received him and who afterwards followed the Lord, as Andrew and another in Joh 1:40.
So far we have considered John's official place as the forerunner of Christ, but in John's gospel the Baptist's testimony is given to the Lamb of God. He also adds, "I knew him not," but he had been told that He upon whom he saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain was the Baptiser with the Holy Ghost; and he adds, "I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." He may have known Jesus in a natural way, but his knowing Him as Son of God was by a divinely-given testimony. John proclaimed Jesus as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world;" and in the hearing of two of his own disciples he said, "Behold the Lamb of God." Jesus was to be the object of their hearts, and they followed Him. Afterwards, when John was told that Jesus was baptising, and that all the people were going to Him, he gave a remarkable answer: "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. He must increase, but I must decrease." John was the friend of the bridegroom. The Lord said that among those born of women no one was greater than John; but the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he, because the latter was in a new dispensation, John being connected with the law and the prophets of the old dispensation. Mt 11:11-13.
While in prison John's faith or patience seems in measure to have failed him, and he sent two of his disciples to the Lord with the question, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" He evidently had not apprehended the humiliation and rejection of the Messiah, and expected to have been delivered from prison by the power which he knew had been exercised in grace by the Lord. The Lord wrought various miracles while John's disciples were there, and bade them tell him what they had seen and heard, adding, "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." Lu 7:19-23.
It was because of John's faithfulness in reproving the sins of Herod Antipas that he had been by him cast into prison. This led to his death through Salome and her guilty mother. John's work was done; he was faithful unto death. Mr 6:14-29.
was of the priestly race by both parents, for his father, Zacharias, was himself a priest of the course of Abia or Abijah,
and Elisabeth was of the daughters of Aaron.
His birth was foretold by an angel sent from God, and is related at length in Luke 1. The birth of John preceded by six months that of our Lord. John was ordained to be a Nazarite from his birth.
Dwelling by himself in the wild and thinly-peopled region westward of the Dead Sea, he prepared himself for the wonderful office to which he had been divinely called. His dress was that of the old prophets --a garment woven of camel's hair,
attached to the body by a leathern girdle. His food was such as the desert afforded --locusts,
and wild honey.
And now the long-secluded hermit came forth to the discharge of his office. His supernatural birth, his life, and the general expectation that some great one was about to appear, were sufficient to attract to him a great multitude from "every quarter."
Many of every class pressed forward to confess their sins and to be baptized. Jesus himself came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John. [JESUS] From incidental notices we learn that John and his disciples continued to baptize some time after our Lord entered upon his ministry. See
See Jesus Christ
Joh 3:23; 4:1; Ac 19:3
We gather also that John instructed his disciples in certain moral and religious duties, as fasting,
Mt 9:14; Lu 5:33
But shortly after he had given his testimony to the Messiah, John's public ministry was brought to a close. In daring disregard of the divine laws, Herod Antipas had taken to himself Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; and when John reproved him for this, as well as for other sins,
Herod cast him into prison. (March, A.D. 28.) The place of his confinement was the castle of Machaerus, a fortress on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. It was here that reports reached him of the miracles which our Lord was working in Judea. Nothing but the death of the Baptist would satisfy the resentment of Herodias. A court festival was kept at Machaerus in honor of the king's birthday. After supper the daughter of Herodias came in and danced the king by her grace that he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. Salome, prompted by her abandoned mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist. Herod gave instructions to an officer of his guard, who went and executed John in the prison, and his head was brought to feast the eyes of the adulteress whose sins he had denounced. His death is supposed to have occurred just before the third passover, in the course of the Lord's ministry. (March, A.D. 29.)
JOHN THE BAPTIST, the forerunner of the Messiah, was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and was born about six months before our Saviour. His birth was foretold by an angel, sent purposely to deliver this joyful message, when his mother Elizabeth was barren, and both his parents far advanced in years. The same divine messenger foretold that he should be great in the sight of the Lord: that he should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb; that he should prepare the way of the Lord by turning many of the Jews to the knowledge of God; and that he should be the greatest of all the prophets, Lu 1:5-15. Of the early part of the Baptist's life we have but little information. It is only observed that "he grew and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel," Lu 1:80. Though consecrated from the womb to the ministerial office, John did not enter upon it in the heat of youth, but after several years spent in solitude and a course of self-denial.
The prophetical descriptions of the Baptist in the Old Testament are various and striking. That by Isaiah is: "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. Malachi has the following prediction: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse," Mal 4:5. That this was meant of the Baptist, we have the testimony of our Lord himself, who declared, "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias who was to come," Mt 11:14. The appearance and manners of the Baptist, when he first came out into the world, excited general attention. His clothing was of camel's hair, bound round him with a leathern girdle, and his food consisted of locusts and wild honey, Mt 3:4. The message which he declared was authoritative: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" and the impression produced by his faithful reproofs and admonitions was powerful and extensive, and in a great number of instances lasting. Most of the first followers of our Lord appear to have been awakened to seriousness and religious inquiry by John's ministry. His character was so eminent, that many of the Jews thought him to be the Messiah; but he plainly declared that he was not that honoured person. Nevertheless, he was at first unacquainted with the person of Jesus Christ; only the Holy Ghost had told him that he on whom he should see the Holy Spirit descend and rest was the Messiah. When Jesus Christ presented himself to receive baptism from him, this sign was vouchsafed; and from that time he bore his testimony to Jesus, as the Christ.
Herod Antipas, having married his brother Philip's wife while Philip was still living, occasioned great scandal. John the Baptist, with his usual liberty and vigour, reproved Herod to his face; and told him that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife, while his brother was yet alive. Herod, incensed at this freedom, ordered him into custody, in the castle of Machoerus; and he was ultimately put to death. (See Antipas.) Thus fell this honoured prophet, a martyr to ministerial faithfulness. Other prophets testified of Christ; he pointed to him as already come. Others saw him afar off; he beheld the advancing glories of his ministry eclipsing his own, and rejoiced to "decrease" while his Master "increased." His ministry stands as a type of the true character of evangelical repentance: it goes before Christ and prepares his way; it is humbling, but not despairing; for it points to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." The Jews had such an opinion of this prophet's sanctity, that they ascribed the overthrow of Herod's army, which he had sent against his father-in- law, Aretas, to the just judgment of God for putting John the Baptist to death. The death of John the Baptist happened, as is believed, about the end of the thirty-first year of the vulgar era, or in the beginning of the thirty-second.
The baptism of John was much more perfect than that of the Jews, but less perfect than that of Jesus Christ. "It was," says St. Chrysostom, "as it were, a bridge, which, from the baptism of the Jews, made a way to that of our Saviour, and was more exalted than the first, but inferior to the second. That of St. John promised what that of Jesus Christ executed. Notwithstanding St. John did not enjoin his disciples to continue the baptism of repentance, which was of his institution, after his death, because, after the manifestation of the Messiah, and the establishment of the Holy Ghost, it became of no use; yet there were many of his followers who still administered it, and several years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, did not so much as know that there was any other baptism than that of John. Of this number was Apollos, a learned and zealous man, who was of Alexandria, and came to Ephesus twenty years after the resurrection of our Saviour, Ac 18:25. And when St. Paul came after Apollos to the same city, there were still many Ephesians who had received no other baptism, and were not yet informed that the Holy Ghost was received by baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, Ac 19:1. The Jews are said by the Apostle Paul to have been "baptized unto Moses," at the time when they followed him through the Red Sea, as the servant of God sent to be their leader. Those who went out to John "were baptized unto John's baptism;" that is, into the expectation of the person whom John announced, and into repentance of those sins which John condemned. Christians are "baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," because in this expression is implied that whole system of truth which the disciples of Christ believe; into the name of the Father, the one true and living God whom Christians profess to serve; of the Son, that divine person revealed in the New Testament whom the Father sent to be the Saviour of the world; of the Holy Ghost, the divine person also revealed there as the Comforter, the Sanctifier, and the Guide of Christians.
JOHN THE EVANGELIST was a native of Bethsaida, in Galilee, son of Zebedee and Salome, by profession a fisherman. Some have thought that he was a disciple of John the Baptist before he attended Jesus Christ. He was brother to James the greater. It is believed that St. John was the youngest of the Apostles. Tillemont is of opinion that he was twenty-five or twenty-six years of age when he began to follow Jesus. Our Saviour had a particular friendship for him; and he describes himself by the name of "that disciple whom Jesus loved." St. John was one of the four Apostles to whom our Lord delivered his predictions relative to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the approaching calamities of the Jewish nation, Mr 13:3. St. Peter, St. James, and St. John were chosen to accompany our Saviour on several occasions, when the other Apostles were not permitted to be present. When Christ restored the daughter of Jairus to life, Mr 5:37; Lu 8:51; when he was transfigured on the mount, Mt 17:1-2; Mr 9:2; Lu 9:28; and when he endured his agony in the garden, Mt 26:36-37; Mr 14:32-33; St. Peter, St. James, and St. John were his only attendants. That St. John was treated by Christ with greater familiarity than the other Apostles, is evident from St. Peter desiring him to ask Christ who should betray him, when he himself did not dare to propose the question, Joh 13:24. He seems to have been the only Apostle present at the crucifixion, and to him Jesus, just as he was expiring upon the cross, gave the strongest proof of his confidence and regard, by consigning to him the care of his mother, Joh 19:26-27. As St. John had been witness to the death of our Saviour, by seeing the blood and water issue from his side, which a soldier had pierced, Joh 19:34-35, so he was one of the first made acquainted with his resurrection. Without any hesitation, he believed this great event, though "as