Who was John the Baptist?
John the Baptist
John the Baptist is the name of a man who lived in the desert country bordering the Jordan river in Palestine during the time of Jesus. He was called John “The Baptist” because the Bible records that he baptized many people.
He is well-known in Bible history as a man who publicly spoke about the soon arrival of the Messiah. The Messiah turned out to be Jesus of Nazareth, John’s own cousin.
John’s unique birth
The story of John’s birth is interesting. The Bible writer Luke, a medical doctor who did a lot of research, wrote about John the Baptist's birth in Luke chapter 1.
- John’s father, Zechariah by name, was a Jewish priest from the bloodline of Aaron. His wife, Elizabeth, was from the same background. The Bible records that “They had no children because Elizabeth could not have any, and she and Zechariah were both very old” (Good News Translation).
- One day, an angel appeared to Zechariah and told him that his wife would have a baby and that they should name the baby John. Zechariah was doubtful this could happen because of their age. So the angel said, “OK, since you don’t believe. You will not be able to speak until after the baby is born.”
- So for nine months, Zechariah could not speak a word. The Bible says that he used a type of sign language: “He made signs to them with his hands” (Luke 1:22). When it came time to name the baby, Zechariah wrote down on a pad, “His name is John.” From that moment on, Zechariah could speak again.
What does the Bible say about John the Baptist?
The angel that announced John the Baptist’s birth told Zechariah, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:15-17.
- The key phrase here is, “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
- Elijah is one of the most famous prophets in biblical history. He is the one who made fire come down from heaven that burned up a water-soaked sacrifice, the altar itself, and even the water in a ditch around the altar. (See 1 Kings 18.)
What did John the Baptist look like?
There were no cameras in those days, but the Bible gives an interesting description of John the Baptist’s appearance. “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). So John even dressed like Elijah.
What did John eat?
John ate locusts and honey because they were available in the desert region where he preached. Some people think “locusts and wild honey” is an expression that means the available local foods. Beehives in trees exist all around the world. Even today, some inhabitants from when John lived get an income by collecting wild honey.
- The word “locusts” in Greek means the actual locust insect. These insects are commonly eaten in the Middle East and other places around the world. The Bible itself says they are permissible to eat. (See Leviticus 11.)
- The word “locusts” can also describe the carob tree, common in that area. The carob tree produces a pod-like fruit that looks like a long string bean that can be made into flour and eaten.
What did John the Baptist preach?
John the Baptist is known as the messenger or preacher who announced the arrival of the Messiah in a public way. Crowds went out to the area by the Jordan river where he was preaching. John was the fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3-5.
Luke writes the following, quoting Isaiah chapter 40, “And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight...And all flesh shall see the salvation of God”’ “ (Luke 3:3-6).
How did John prepare the way of the Lord?
John also baptized people who demonstrated repentance of their sins and wished to join the ranks of those awaiting the Messiah’s appearance . In this way, his preaching and baptizing prepared the way of the Lord. His most noticeable and memorable baptism is when John baptized Jesus Himself, the Messiah. (See Matthew 3:13-17.)
How did John the Baptist die?
Mark chapter 6 tells the story of what happened to John.
- The local king, Herod Antipas, divorced his wife and married Herodias, who had divorced Herod Antipas’ brother named Phillip. John the Baptist denounced this illegal marriage publicly, and so Herod threw John the Baptist in prison.
- Herod was afraid to kill John, “knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him” (Mark 6:20).
- However, on Herod’s birthday, his daughter Salome danced for him, which pleased him. Therefore he made an oath and promised to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. At this moment, “she went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask?” (Mark 6:24). Seeing a golden opportunity, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist.
- King Herod was sorrowful, but because of his promise, he immediately sent an executioner to behead John the Baptist. The head was given to Salome who then gave it to her mother Herodias.
What can we learn from John the Baptist?
- First, he preached and stood up for what the Bible said even though it wasn’t popular and even made some people angry.
- Second, John the Baptist lived to share with those around him the good news that the Messiah was coming soon. We would do well to live in similar fashion.
Finally and most importantly, John the Baptist recognized Jesus even though many around him didn’t. John wasn’t drawn aside by the popular thought that the Messiah would overthrow the Romans with power. Instead he read the Bible and its prophecies and looked for the Messiah based on what the Bible said and not the people around him.
We would do well to take John’s example to heart. The Jews didn’t recognize Jesus at His first coming. How many will recognize Jesus at His second coming? Many will not recognize Jesus because they do not look to the Bible alone instead of the popular theories and beliefs of our day.