The role of John the Baptist

Scripture Reading

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.

John 1:6-8

John’s family lineage

The birth of John the Baptist coincided around the same time as the birth of Jesus, with both documented in the scriptures. John’s parents are noted only in Luke’s gospel account, known as Zacharias and Elisabeth the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The name of John was ordained and proclaimed to Zacharias by Gabriel, the angel of the Lord. John’s mother Elisabeth was described in the Bible as barren, meaning she had no children and was stricken in years, meaning she was old; likely past typical child bearing years and as a result was considered a reproach among men (Luke 1:25). Both John’s parents came from priestly lineage, Zacharias was a priest himself and Elisabeth was the daughter of Aaron. Luke describes the notable traits of John’s parents in the following passage of scripture, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” [Luke 1:6]

Sent from God

With John’s family lineage in place, we will find that this week’s scripture reading has three key themes to it. They are described by the words – sent, witness and believe. In this section, we will look at the word sent from the passage, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Notice who was first sent to John’s father Zacharias from this scripture reference, “And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.” [Luke 1:19]  This is noteworthy because it demonstrates that John the Baptist was not some random recluse living in the wilderness. Here you have the angel Gabriel who stands in the presence of God and was sent to inform Zacharias, the father of John, over the things that are about to transpire with his expectant wife Elisabeth.

From there, the apostle John highlights in this week’s scripture reading that John the Baptist was also one who was sent from God. John was therefore preordained by God to become the forerunner of Jesus to proclaim a message ultimately echoed by Jesus himself, “…saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matt. 3:2] The Greek word for sent in the scriptures is apostello from which we get the word apostle although this was used also for non-apostolic individuals such as the Pharisees. So here was the same pattern with both Gabriel and John the Baptist, both sent by God, preordained to fulfill the mission of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. John was a beacon in a darkened world where the Jews religion was dominated by hypocritical leaders known as the scribes and the Pharisees.

The angel of the Lord, Gabriel elaborated further about the role of John when he communicated in person with his father Zacharias by saying, “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” [Luke 1:15-17] John the Baptist was indeed a man who was chosen by God, sent from God, set apart for a very distinctive and unique role to bear witness to the light, the Son of God. Let us now look at his role as a witness to the Lord of glory!

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord… and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost

Luke 1:15

Witness of the light

From this week’s scripture reading, John the Baptist’s witnessing of Jesus is mentioned twice to note its importance, “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.” To bear witness means to testify or bear record of something or someone, to give a testimony from a place and position of truth. This quickly became evident with John the Baptist when the apostle Matthew described the witnessing of John by writing, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matt. 3:1-2] This message of repentance was central to John the Baptist’s preaching. His role is documented in all four gospels and the book of Acts with this prefatory message of Jesus that became pivotal in bringing the awareness of Jesus before the Jewish religious leaders and the multitudes.

During the preaching of John, the religious leaders of the Jews no doubt inquired as to who he was by asking him if he was the Christ, or if he was Elias, or if he was that prophet. John affirmed that he was none of these to the inquisitive priests and Levites. When they pressed him further for answers his response likely confused them when he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” [John 1:23] There is a notably correlative scripture passage from Jesus in reference to the straight and narrow way when he said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. [Matt. 7:13-14]

During the Jews questioning of John the Baptist they continued to push him for more answers on who he was and what his mission was all about. This continued with their query on why John baptized people even though he was not the Christ, nor Elias, nor that prophet. John acknowledged that he only baptized with water but there was one coming whom they did not even know and he would baptize people with the Holy Ghost. This was none other than Jesus Christ. The humility of John was illustrated in stating that he was not even worthy to loosen the shoes of Jesus!

The role of John the Baptist produced many profound truths about Jesus during his preaching ministry. He stated that Jesus was not only preferred before him but that he was before him, meaning he existed before him. This statement was reiterated also by Jesus and it confounded the Jewish religious leader to learn that Jesus existed even before Abraham (John 8:58)! John also proclaimed a key point about the earthly ministry of Jesus in that it was based upon grace. John the Baptist stated this in this scripture passage as recorded by the apostle John, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” {John 1:17] This represented a fundamental shift in being righteous before God through grace and not the Mosaic law that was built around endless commandments which no one could consistently keep. Grace later became understood to mean the grace of God’s mercy and not something we could ever do to impute righteousness in ourselves.

Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matt. 3:1

Believe in the light

As time progressed in John’s ministry of repentance and baptism by water, it was now time for John to fulfill his commitment made before the Jews when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] This started to occur when John saw Jesus coming towards him and he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29] Here was the remarkable proclamation from John The Baptist that presented Jesus to the known world as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world! For any Jew knowledgeable in his or her religion this statement would have had profound implications for them. They would have known that God required unblemished lambs as a sacrifice to atone for their sins based on the Mosaic law from the Old Testament. Now, here was one standing before them whom a prophet named John the Baptist was proclaiming was the lamb as the sin bearer for all of humanity!

John the Baptist then proceeds to expound more extensively in his message to the Jews about Jesus. He does this three ways by linking Jesus to the Spirit of God, that Jesus will baptize people with the Holy Ghost and that Jesus is the Son of God. This is documented in this passage of scripture, “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 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 1:32-34] At one time, people thought John may have been the Christ [Luke 3:15] but he only baptized them with water and not the Holy Ghost. John was indeed the forerunner of Jesus after the law and the prophets (Luke 16:16).

“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.

John 3:36

Believing on the Son

John’s pronouncements of Jesus continued before the multitudes as he stated that Jesus, who was sent by God speaks the words of God for God gives Jesus the Spirit in unlimited measure. Further to this was the statement that the Father loves the Son and has given everything into his hands. As with all notable individuals in the Bible, they tend to leave with us some of the most memorable proclamations from which the Christian faith is built upon. In the case of John the Baptist, his profound statement is found in this passage of scripture, leaving something to ponder for seekers of faith when he said, “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.” [John 3:36]

In that statement from the role of John the Baptist, people are left with one of two choices. Believe in the Son and have an everlasting life. Or believe not in the Son and not see life; life in this passage means spiritual, eternal life. Notably, far worse is the second decision in having the wrath of God abiding upon you and not seeing life. This is clearly consequential preaching from John. It is either believe or not believe, it is either life or not see life. John did not plead, beg or grovel with people to make a decision for Christ, here merely stated the facts and pointed people in the direction of eternal life in Christ. It could not be presented more simply and yet people who read this will have different responses and reactions. Here are just three possible responses from people, “it’s not for me.” (John 6:66) “maybe another day.” (Acts 20:28). “what will my friends and family think?” (John 12:43)

But consider that the Bible says that now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2) for after death it will be too late. Mankind is then faced with the judgment of God (Heb. 9:27) and consequences that are irreversible before God (Luke 16:25). Why not make this decision for the Lord Jesus Christ today, come to him in simple faith, repent of your sins and believe in him for his atoning work on the cross for your sins? John the Baptist not only pointed the way for people of that time but also for all of humanity today by stating once again from above, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:” Everlasting life is truly for eternity and to make that decision now you can have assurance from God that eternal life will be yours in Christ today!

Bible Study Questions

  1. The role of John the Baptist was premised around a visit by the angel of Gabriel and his father Zacharias, true or false?
  2. Why is it important to learn that both parents of John the Baptist came from priestly family lineage?
  3. For additional learning consider reading this Bible Study on both Mary and John the Baptist’s role.
  4. What does it tell you about John the Baptist when you read that he was sent from God?
  5. Can you name the the three key themes of John the Baptist’s ministry before Jesus? Hint, they start with S, B, W.
  6. Why do you think some people will not believe in the gospel of grace from the Lord Jesus Christ despite hearing about it?
  7. As an added inspiration for your faith, consider memorizing the verse from John 3:36 from the role of John the Baptist.

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