John the Baptizer
Lesson 47
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In the previous study, we found several end time parallels in the story of Elijah. I think it is fitting that we examine John the Baptists life after studying Elijah, because John and Elijah had several things in common. For example, when it came time to speak boldly against sin, both men were singularly notorious in their day. Both men challenged an apostate church-state in their day. Both men rose out of obscurity. Both men grew up in the desert wilderness. Both men were not formally educated nor were any of their writings preserved for us to read. Exceptional Holy Spirit power filled both men and God granted both of them the honor of seeing Jesus with their own eyes!

Some people confuse John the Baptist with the apostle John. They are not the same person. John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus and about ten or twelve years older than the apostle John.  The apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, three epistles that bear his name and the Book of Revelation, whereas John the Baptist wrote none of the books found in the Bible.

John’s birth (like that of Isaac) was a miraculous event because his parents were of an advanced age. The bible record indicates that John’s father was a Levite priest named Zechariah and his mother’s name was Elizabeth. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God chose John, gave him a name, and ordained him as a prophet before he was ever born! (Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:13-17) Even more, Jesus selected John to be the forerunner before either of them was born! To stretch your mind even further, Jesus not only chose Mary and Joseph as His parents, but He also chose Zechariah and Elizabeth to be John’s parents. Because Zechariah and Elizabeth were too old to have children, John’s miracle birth gave added credibility to his message when he began his ministry and became known as the Baptizer.  John was born in the hill country if Judea, but he spent most of his life in the solitude of the desert wilderness. Evidently, his elderly parents died when he was a young man. As in the life of Moses, the wilderness prepared John for his difficult mission. John carefully studied the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit led him to understand many prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to the appearing of Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom. John discovered that Messiah would appear at the beginning of the seventieth week, which is mentioned in Daniel 9. Therefore, in the Spring of A.D. 27, at the beginning of the seventieth week of seven years, John began proclaiming the year had come for the Messiah to appear and He would establish His kingdom shortly. (Matthew 3:2,11; Luke 3; also Jesus’ comments in Mark 1:15; Luke 4:18,19) Of course, the Jews ridiculed John for his beliefs, but many of them listened to John and believed his testimony. There is no record of John the Baptist ever performing any miracles, but many people still regarded him as a prophet of God (Matthew 14:5)

The Ritual of Baptism

There is an interesting history behind John’s title, “John the Baptist.” Of course, the title, “the Baptist,” was not part of John’s name at birth nor was he a member of the Baptist Church, as some Christians naively believe. John lived and died as a Jew. He was among the few in Israel who believed Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. When John began his public ministry, he became notorious for doing something considered very strange. John insisted on baptizing Jews in the Jordan River. Typically, Jews were not the ones baptized, because they were the descendants of Abraham by birth. Conversely, they baptized the Gentiles as “a pledge of allegiance” when they wished to become sons of Abraham. (Few Gentiles converted to Judaism in those days, so baptisms by the priests were scarce. (Matthew 23:15)

The Jews regarded a Gentile’s baptism as both a mystical and a practical experience. In a mystical sense, the Jews believed a Gentile’s past was “washed away” when he or she was immersed. Emerging from the water, the person became a new son or daughter of Abraham! Today, baptism, like the marriage ceremony, is a public declaration. In baptism, you demonstrate your allegiance to God and to the principles of His kingdom before witnesses. In marriage, you state your allegiance to your spouse before witnesses. Even though the origin of baptism is uncertain, baptism symbolized to Israel its experience as a nation. When God delivered Israel from Egypt (the old life of slavery), they had to pass through the waters of the Jordan River (immersed in the river) and when the emerged from the water, they inherited the promised land (the birth of a new nation). When the Jews baptized a Gentile, they adopted him into one of the twelve tribes and they entered the date of his baptism into the genealogical records of Israel.

When John began preaching that Messiah was about to appear and set up His kingdom, John insisted that baptism was a necessary pledge of allegiance. In effect, John was preaching that Jews, yes Jews, needed to convert to a new and better religion – a religion centered on the worship of Messiah instead of the slaughter of animals. (The old religion of slaughtering animals was about to disappear.) John understood that salvation from sin required an atonement that animals could not satisfy. When Jesus appeared on the banks of the Jordan River in the fall of A.D. 27 for baptism, the Holy Spirit gave John utterance and he cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, KJV)

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Many people are puzzled that Jesus asked John to baptize Him. Did Jesus need to have His sins washed away? No. Jesus never sinned. (Hebrews 4:15) Did Jesus need to repent of rebellion against His Father in Heaven? No. Jesus and the Father are one in Spirit and truth. (John 10:30) Did Jesus have to be born again? No. Jesus did not have a carnal nature. (Colossians 2:9) Then why did Jesus request to be baptized?

Jesus submitted Himself to be baptized by John for two reasons. First, Jesus was born “under law” (Galatians 4:4) and He was subject to the Levitical system He was about to end. (Hebrew 7) By His death on the cross, Jesus terminated the entire Levitical system. After His resurrection, Jesus planned to establish a new world order on Earth and a new kingdom based on a new and much better covenant. At just the right time, John appeared in the desert proclaiming the arrival of Messiah and His coming kingdom. John’s call to be baptized was an invitation to be part of the new order; it was a pledge of allegiance. Jesus submitted to John’s baptism to declare His loyalty to the principles of His coming kingdom. This is a profound point about the character of God. The Omniscient Creator of the Universe is subject to His own laws. Jesus is neither arbitrary nor dictatorial. If He were, God would be inconsistent and chaos would fill the universe. God loves order and where there is moral order, there is a rule of law.

Jesus told the timid Nicodemus, “…I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) Some people distort the words of Jesus to mean that unless a person is baptized he or she cannot be saved. This is not so. Many circumstances can prevent a person from being baptized. For instance, the thief on the cross was not baptized in his final moments of life, yet he sincerely surrendered his life to Jesus and the Lord Himself assured him of salvation. Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches that works or rituals do not save us. (Ephesians 2:8,9) We are saved through our faith in Jesus. When a person lives by faith, he or she is willing to go, to be and to do all that God asks, without compromise. A life of faith is demonstrated by the loyal life. However, even if a person is baptized, it does not necessarily guarantee salvation. (Matthew 7:20,23) Baptism – like marriage vows – is a public declaration of loyalty and God requires it for our benefit! Public declarations provide a way to tell others who we are and what we stand for.

For the person who believes in Christ, baptism symbolizes the death and burial of their carnal nature and the resurrection of a new person controlled by a spiritual nature. (John 3 and Matthew 28) Paul elaborates on the beauty of this concept in Roman 6-8. In submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus declared His loyalty to the principles of God’s coming kingdom. God loves order and where there is order, there is law.

Second, Jesus was baptized because He does not ask His followers to do something that He has not done first. He is our example. Remember, Jesus stooped to wash the feet of His disciples and He commanded them to do the same to each other. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent greater that he that sent him.” (John 13:14-16) Jesus chose baptism, not because He had a carnal past to wash away, but to give us an example of stepping out of our inherited religion and joining in His inheritance!  Jesus affirmed with His baptism that everyone – Jew and Gentile alike – must declare allegiance to the kingdom of God. Baptism is a public declaration of one’s loyalty to god and the principles of His kingdom! Baptism is to God’s people what the mark of the beast will be for those who worship the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation.

Just before Jesus returned to Heaven, He told His disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20) In a practical way, baptism is an event that separates yesterday from tomorrow. Baptism declares severance – the old life is over and a new life has begun. Baptism should reflect an inner transformation – from unbeliever to believer – from a carnal person to a spiritual person – from dominion by the sinful nature to dominion by the spiritual nature – from being a part of this world to being a part of the world to come.

King James Translators

Because of his urgent message and his strange insistence that Jews be baptized into the coming kingdom of God, John the Baptist became known in the Greek language as “John, the one who immerses.” The Greek word baptizo means to immerse or dunk At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the meaning of baptizo presented a problem for the translators of the King James version of the Bible. Most Christians did not practice baptism by immersion in the seventeenth century. Instead, the ceremony of baptism came to mean the sprinkling of water, most often, the sprinkling of infants soon after birth.

(Note: The Church of Rome concluded around the third century A.D. that a person could not be saved unless he or she underwent the ritual of baptism. Since infant mortality was very high in those days, the practice of infant baptism became necessary to insure that all children would be saved. Centuries later, many Protestants carried this doctrine with them when they left the Catholic Church.)

The translators realized they could not translate the Greek word baptizo as immersing or dunking without causing a big theological problem for the king, so they chose to transliterate baptizo rather than translate it. By placing the English word “baptize” in the Bible without explaining the meaning as an act of immersing or dunking, everyone could interpret baptism as he thought best. The translators also transliterated John’s title to “John the Baptist” instead of “John, the one who immerses.”

First End Time Parallel

There is some important end time parallels associated with John the Baptist. First, the role of John the Baptist play as the First Advent approached will be the same role the 144,000 will fulfill as the Second Advent approaches. As we continue to examine John’s ministry, please keep this in mind. During the Great Tribulation, God will use 144,000 “baptizing Johns” to announce the timely appearing of the King of kings and Lord of lords and the establishment of His kingdom! The 144,000 will come from every race, language, religion and nation. Assuming there are six billion people on Earth when the Great Tribulation begins, the ratio of God’s servants to the population of Earth will be approximately one per 50,000 people. Assuming God’s servants are evenly distributed over the world during the Great Tribulation, China would have about 29,000 of the 144,000, India would have about 28,000 of the 144,000 and the United States would have about 7,000 servants of God. Of course, God will insure that every nation has enough “baptizing John’s” to accomplish the gospel commission during the Great Tribulation.

Elijah-type People

Notice the words of Malachi: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5,6) The prophet Malachi gave this prophecy about 350 years before the birth of Jesus. Jewish leaders during the time of Christ were not certain of the meaning, but they did know two things. First, they knew that God took Elijah to Heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2). Second, they knew that the great and dreadful day of the Lord was still in the future. (Joel 2, Obadiah 1, Isaiah 13 and Ezekiel 30) The Jews in Christ’s day believed that the great and dreadful day of the Lord came in a two-part installment. The great part would be their exaltation as a nation and the dreadful part would be the destruction of their enemies – which by inference were God’s enemies. This was the egocentric mindset of the Jewish leaders regarding Malachi 4 when John the Baptist began to preach in the desert.

Many people were drawn to t he wilderness to hear John’s compelling message because he spoke with unusual clarity and penetrating power. His preaching brought hope, but it also caused fear. When he preached about the imminent appearing of the Messiah, John’s careful explanation of the prophecies brought hope to the hopeless. When he preached about God’s love and His willingness to save sinners, there was joy. However, when he preached about God’s wrath toward sin, John’s sobering words caused people to reflect seriously on their lives. This often caused fear to fill the hearts of the people present. They listened and asked, “Who was worthy to receive God’s salvation?” The Holy Spirit’s presence and power gave John’s words depth and scorching relevance. All people who listened to John felt the unseen, but obvious presence of the Holy Spirit – it could be compared with the experience of standing in an authoritative presence of Elijah on Mount Carmel.  With this compelling power and the evidence of Scripture to back the words, John warned men and women to repent or be destroyed. The options are simple. John insisted upon heartfelt repentance, full restitution and baptism for everyone. They could be no love for sin in the coming kingdom of God.

One day, after preaching to a large crowd, John began to answer questions. Notice his answers:

“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. ‘What should we do then? ‘ The crowd asked. John answered, ‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’” (Luke 3:9-14) John taught that God’s kingdom would coexist with a world of evil kingdoms for a time. Eventually, there would be a purified Earth. I can think of at least three reasons why John’s message was believable. First, it was based on the Scriptures. Second, John’s message was timely. He showed from the prophecies that the time had come for the appearing of the Messiah. Third, the Holy Spirit gave John’s words great power, clarity and effectiveness. If a person listened, he or she could not help but be moved – either into submission or rejection. One day, some scribes and Pharisees came, presented themselves before John and asked him to baptize them – just in case John’s predictions might come true. Of course, they had no intention of humbling themselves to do what John was proclaiming and be right in God’s sight. The Holy Spirit enabled John to see their pretense and his response was harsh, “…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath [of God]?” (Matthew 3:7, insertion mine)

God’s Timing

Let there be no mistake – the appearing of John the Baptist was a prophetic fulfillment. His single purpose – assigned before birth – was to prepare people for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The appearing of John the Baptist should have put the priests on notice that Messiah was not far behind! For centuries, the Jews had discussed the promise of a Deliverer and in John’s day, the promise was so old that many people had begun to question its truthfulness, as if God had forgotten! At the time of John, the nation of Israel was in trouble because Rome had removed Archelaus; the son of the wicked Herod, and many Jews had died during the revolt. The iron hand of Rome rested heavy upon the neck of Israel. The Romans occupied Jerusalem and the occupation provoked their mutual hatred of each other. This tiny tribal Jewish nation, within the vast Roman Empire, desperately needed a Savior.

Then came John. Imagine the interest he aroused when he began to preach about the imminent appearing of the Savior. The Bible says, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15) At this moment in history, people were filled with expectancy. This expectancy soared as John explained Daniel 9 to his audiences. Daniel 9 predicted that the Messiah would appear in the 484th year after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. (Daniel 9:25) John explained how 69 weeks had expired since the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem (457 B.C.). Therefore the actual year for the appearing of Messiah had come and God would establish His kingdom soon afterwards. Many Jews began seriously to consider the possibility of John being the Messiah.

The number of people visiting the wilderness to see John continued to escalate. Concerned, the Sanhedrin sent a deputation of priests to investigate this mysterious man and his message. Note their words: Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah? He said, ‘I am not.’ Are you the Prophet [predicted by Moses]?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those that sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words if Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:19-23, insertion mine) Did you notice the order of their questions? What they believed about Malachi’s prophecy prompted their questions.

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