John Prepared The Way

INTRODUCTION: The ministry of John the baptist was clearly set apart as direct preparation to introduce the Messiah (the Christ) to the nation of Israel, but also to the whole world. All true prophets are messengers of God, sent by God to bring truth, but John prepared the way for the one who is himself "the way, the truth, and the life!" Though this Levite was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb, John had no scripturally recorded formal ministry related to temple worship, and he apparently came before the public to preach in the wilderness at approximately the same time that Jesus began his own public ministry, within the last three years or so of his life. With God, the fullness of time does not need to be lengthy to be full, but rather having arrived as appointed by the Lord.

NOTE: Bible text is taken from the 1999 American King James Version.


A - Prophecies for the Appearing of a Prophet and a Messenger

"15 The LORD your God will raise up to you a Prophet from the middle of you, of your brothers, like to me; to him you shall listen; 16 According to all that you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. 17 And the LORD said to me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. 18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brothers, like to you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. 19 And it shall come to pass, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 AKJV).

"3 The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it." (Isaiah 40:3-5 AKJV).

"1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness. 4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years. 5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, said the LORD of hosts. 6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed." (Malachi 3:1-6 AKJV).

"1 For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, said the LORD of hosts. 4 Remember you the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4:1-6 AKJV).

COMMENTS: The prophet described in Deuteronomy will be further addressed in the section below from the gospel of John, but beginning with that prophecy, each one listed herein carried an element of judgment and severe penalty for those who do not accept the words of the prophesied messenger. We are told in all four of the gospel accounts that John the baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, but how well would we have been able to match the prophecies with the fulfillment had we lived in those times. Even now there are some elements of those prophecies that may remain somewhat of a mystery until the Lord returns. There is as much dissimilarity as parallels between the life and activities of Elijah and John the baptist. Elijah came to the northern kingdom capital of Samaria (not Jerusalem or Judea) and challenged king Ahab and Jezebel for the way they had led Israel to a prostituted worship of Baal, the god of the Sidonians. Ahab was the son of Omri and Jezebel was the daughter of the gentile king of Sidon. "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." (1 Kings 17:1 AKJV).

There is no information in scripture to trace the ancestry of Elijah to a specific tribe of Israel, whereas we know for certain that John was of the tribe of Levi. Elijah is described in scripture only as being among the inhabitants of Gilead. At the time Elijah lived, the territories of Israel on the east side of the Jordan that included Gilead, were completely absorbed and dominated by other nations. Judah (the southern kingdom) was not unwaveringly more loyal to the LORD, but that kingdom did avoid captivity through God's grace for about a century after the northern kingdom fell on the west side of the Jordan. John performed no miracles nor was central in any spectacular events similar to some in the life of Elijah. The Lord heard Elijah and brought back a young boy from death: "And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." (1 Kings 17:22 AKJV).

Elijah was God's representative in a very striking event used of the Lord to call people of the northern kingdom back to himself. "37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that you are the LORD God, and that you have turned their heart back again. 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is theGod; the LORD, he is the God." (1 Kings 18:37-39 AKJV). The Lord also responded to send down fire to destroy soldiers who would have otherwise taken Elijah by force: "And Elijah answered and said to them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty." (2 Kings 1:12 AKJV).

When Elijah was caught up alive to the Lord before Elisha's eyes, a portion of his spirit fell upon Elisha. "And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him." (2 Kings 2:15 AKJV). So, the fact that Elijah was taken up from the earth alive, and that later prophets said Elijah must come before Messiah, provide interesting detail to consider along with the aspect of the "spirit of Elijah." Apparently the Lord desired to also bestow that "spirit of Elijah" upon John the baptist as he had done with Elisha, who had served with Elijah before he was taken up. So for John to come in the "spirit of Elijah" did not need to equate with John being the literal and bodily return of Elijah. The name Elijah basically means "my God is Jehovah", and there were a few other men recorded in scripture with that name. Even though the name was not unique, the prophet Elijah was very much so, and references to the prophet Elijah (Elias in the KJV New Testament) are always regarding this one man.


B - John Preparing the Way According to the Gospel of Matthew

"1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent you: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. but he that comes 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: 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." (Matthew 3:1-12 AKJV).

COMMENTS: In the wilderness John preached repentance saying "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was verified by the scripture text itself to identify him as the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah that he should cry out in the wilderness, "Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." His appearance and diet were also similar to that of Elijah, with no further comment made about this distinction, though Jesus made this brief statement about his apparel. "But what went you out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses." (Mt 11:8 AKJV).

Many from the regions of Judaea came to him for baptism in the Jordan as they confessed their sins. But he spoke strongly to Pharisees and Sadducees (who should have displayed definite lifestyle signs of their obedience to God because of their leadership position) that they needed to have a true change of heart resulting in fruits of repentance before the warning of the wrath to come would be of any value to them. He compared them with snakes that carry poisonous venom, and dismissed their belief that ancestry through Abraham was enough for them to inherit the kingdom of God. God could bring alive even stones so they could have the life that would truly connect them with the saving faith of Abraham. The axe of judgment will cut to the very root (or ancestry) of any tree (human life) that does not bear good fruit (evidence of the love of God within giving proof of the type of tree) and that unfruitful tree (life) will be cast into fire.

John's message of repentance and water baptism, will be surpassed by one who is far greater than John. The superior one will bring a baptism of the Holy Ghost (for preservation) and of fire that will burn up all chaff (worthless human efforts) as the Lord separates the wheat (true faith and service to God) to bring the purified product into the garner (His eternal kingdom).


C - John Preparing the Way According to the Gospel of Mark

"1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And there went out to him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 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; 7 And preached, saying, There comes one mightier than I after me, the lace of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." (Mark 1:1-8 AKJV).

COMMENTS: Mark's gospel is so direct that the opening sentence tells us this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! That makes it very clear just how important the ministry of John the baptist was, since he was to prepare the way for this marvelous gospel brought by the coming of the Lord, and the display of that preparation is declared by scripture to be in line with prophecy. Mark's gospel specifically states that John did "preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The Greek word translated here as remission is elsewhere translated as forgiveness, deliverance, and liberty. Many were baptized by John as they were confessing their sins, which was a proper preparation to receive deliverance and liberty from the penalty for sin to be brought by the coming of the Lord who baptizes with the Holy Spirit to eternal life. Mark concludes this section with emphasis on the coming of the Lord, to magnify him above John.


D - John Preparing the Way According to the Gospel of Luke

"1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answers and said to them, He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said to him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said to them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said to them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16 John answered, saying to them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I comes, the lace of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he to the people." (Luke 3:1-18 AKJV).

COMMENTS: The account beginning in chapter three of the gospel of Luke identifies some key leadership characters who will be major players with John the baptist and with Jesus of Nazareth. Luke also provides additional portions of Isaiah's prophecy including the important element "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God," allowing inclusion for the gentiles. Luke does not limit John's sharp comments about a "generation of vipers" to specific groups, so we can now see that those comments apply to the "multitude that came forth to be baptized of him." John had said being a descendent of Abraham was not enough, but "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance." Matthew and Mark did not provide the question of the crowd, "What shall we do then?" nor John's response found here in Luke. A former prophet had given a similar list that might constitute examples of "fruits worthy of repentance," and all of these find their basis in the commandments given by the Lord God to Moses on tablets of stone.

"8 And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, 9 Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. 11 But they refused to listen, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. 12 Yes, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts has sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 7:8-12 AKJV).

Luke then uses interesting wording about thoughts in the heart: "And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered," by drawing attention to the one mightier than himself. Luke closes this segment by adding, "And many other things in his exhortation preached he to the people." Luke, then, directs our attention again to the intents of our hearts, more than to the outward words or actions that can deceive men but not God.


E - John Preparing the Way According to the Gospel of John

"6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 18 No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. 19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Are you Elias? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they to him, Who are you? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What say you of yourself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said to him, Why baptize you then, if you be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there stands one among you, whom you know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's lace I am not worthy to unloose. 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." (John 1:6-28 AKJV).

COMMENTS: John's gospel begins with the one who is before all beginnings, and in fact He created all things that exist and nothing that was made did He not make. John agrees with Mark that the purpose of his writing is to give the gospel of Jesus Christ. By verse six, John the baptist is introduced as a man "sent from God," not as the light of men, but to bear witness to that light. Through verse fifteen then the text applies to Christ and concludes that as many as received him by faith, to them he gave power to be born of God. Now John's gospel tells us that the Jews in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John specifically if he was a? the Christ, b) Elijah, or c) that prophet. To each question John said no, so they asked him what he said of himself so they would have an answer to take back to Jerusalem. John answered by quoting from Isaiah. Now John's gospel specifies that those who questioned him were of the Pharisees (a particular Jewish sect), and they asked why he baptized if he was none of the three identities they suggested. This response in John alone prefixes the baptist's answer with "there stands one among you, whom you know not." This clarifies that John is not giving a prophecy of a distant coming of the Lord, but that he is already among them. Also it is interesting to note that many will not truly "know" the Lord through faith in him, even after his ministry surpasses that of John. This segment closes by giving Bethabara beyond Jordan as the location for John's ministry, and the "beyond" may have given some further connection with Elijah if it was indeed on the east side of the Jordan. Bethabera means the house of the ford, and such a location would provide good access to the river for baptisms.

As the spread of the gospel began to be documented in the book of Acts, it becomes evident that the glorified Christ Jesus will return to close history and bring all who believe into the promised eternal kingdom of God. This seems to be part of the prophecy first recorded in Deuteronomy and Malachi. It further seems that Jesus is both Christ (Messiah) and the prophet promised to be raised up from their midst. When Christ returns, the prophecies of both Old and New Testaments will then be harmonized and in complete fulfillment. "20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brothers, like to me; him shall you hear in all things whatever he shall say to you. 23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. 24 Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days." (Acts 3:20-24 AKJV).


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

I am once again Lord, reminded of the consistent biographical data often recorded in scripture, as I consider the examples of Elijah and John the baptist as ones who are outside the circle of the organized religious leaders, and yet are enabled by your Holy Spirit to call the people directly to acknowledge and serve the LORD. Most of the religious and political leaders are highly condemned by prophets and by Jesus, for leading the people astray; and it seems as though that pattern has followed in a wave behind the spread of the gospel for centuries, as the love of many grows cold toward God. The Holy Spirit continues to be the life-giving quality that allows the church to reproduce despite the outward attacks and the inward decay springing from the heart of man. LordI thank you for those faith leaders who are true shepherds to your flock, and for those in civil government you direct even though most of them do not acknowledge your absolute authority. Help me Lord to continually study the scriptures to transform my heart more and more to that which you desire for my life through the power of your Holy Spirit, as I wait expectantly for your kingdom in its fullness. Thank you for this portion of the story of John the baptist that demonstrates how your plans confound the logic of man, and are far above their weak power to disrupt in even the smallest detail. Praise the name of the Lord forever! Amen.

Other Studies in a brief Series on John the Baptist

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Published 26 October 2007