The Ministry of John the Baptist

1“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2


Once again Luke has come through for us to help set the backdrop for our story. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar the word of the Lord comes to the son of Zacharias. Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus became the sole emperor of Rome in the year 14 AD, however, two years prior in 12 AD he became the co-regent with his adopted father Caesar Augustus who was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. If Luke is counting the two years of Tiberius’ co-regency then that would place us at 26 AD. Luke states that Tiberius is “in his fifteenth year” thus he has not finished fifteen years but on the way. Now if we take the date of 26 AD then that would place both John and Jesus at age 30 if the birth dates that have been previously been established are accurate.

Pontius Pilate ruled as the governor of Judea from 26 AD to 36/37 AD. Herod reigned as the tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BC to 39AD while his brother Philip the reigned as the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis from 4 BC to 34 AD. Concerning Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene there is much speculation as to his true identity. History tells of a man named Lysanias who ruled the region was put to death by Mark Antony 36 BC. If this is the case then it is quite possible the one Luke is mentioning was one of his descendant.

Annas was the acting high priest from 6 AD to 15 AD and Caiaphas who was the son-in-law of Annas acted as the high priest from 18 AD to 36 AD. Though Annas was no longer the acting high priest during the time of the ministries of John and Jesus, he had however once held the office. Therefore, Annas would have still carried the rank of high priest much like Bill Clinton still has the rank of “president” though he is not in office. This being said that is why in various times in the Gospels we see both Annas and Caiaphas mentioned as high priests, one is acting the other has already served. Also since Annas was Caiaphas’ father-in-law and former high priest he would have sought him for advice on difficult matters.


Once There Was a Man Named John

2“…the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;” Luke 3:2-3
1“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 3:1-2


After about thirty years of silence, following the birth of the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth there appeared a man out of nowhere. This man came preaching a baptism of repentance and declaring that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This message came out of nowhere. This message was calling the children of Israel to repentance from her sins. The act of full body immersion was required for those seeking to convert to Judaism, thus this message was ultimately calling Jewish men and women to repent and become true Jews (i.e. followers of YHWH as their forefathers). This message would have been incredibly offensive as it was calling people as fake and the same as the pagan gentiles.

4John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:4-5

This man’s name was John and he came wearing a garment made of camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. His diet was that of locusts and wild honey. This man for a period of time dwelled in the wilderness, though we are unsure of how long one thing we do know that it was there that the Word of the Lord came to him.

4“Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” Matthew 3:4-6


 Why is John so important?

Though the primary focus in the Gospels is the life of Jesus the second most mentioned is clearly that of John. The four writers of the Gospels each focus briefly on different aspects of his life; from Luke’s account of John’s birth to Matthew’s account of his beheading each paint a picture of John’s life. If that is not enough Jesus testifies of only one man, that being his beloved cousin John. Surely this must be enough for us to consider and examine this man’s life. Why did the God-man call this one the greatest man born of a woman? What was it about him, his life and his ministry that distinguished with such a title? John the Baptist, the greatest man to ever walk under the Old Covenant. This should cause us to scrutinize John’s life and ask the question “Lord what must I do to be as great, and even greater in Your sight?”

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11


What happened for those thirty years of John’s life?

Following the events of John’s birth and his father’s prophetic utterance the scriptures only give us one verse on John’s life, until the time of his revealing thirty years later in the wilderness. However, we do know from Zacharias’ angelic encounter that John was called to live out the Nazarite vow.

“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:15
“And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” Luke 1:80

For John his life would be one of separation from the things of the world and from the noise of city. It would be one of loneliness forcing him to lean into God for fellowship. For many years John’s life would be thrust into barrenness and silence as he would be left to seek the Lord.

It is widely considered that the reason why John grew up in the deserts or wilderness is that with his parents being advanced in age would most likely have passed away earlier on in his life. This would result with someone else raising John, some would even go on to speculate that he was raised within an Essene community, specifically that of Qumran. However, the Essene’s are not mentioned in the scripture, but the historian Josephus wrote of them as one of the primary Jewish sects along with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The assumption of John being associated with the Essene’s is merely superficial at best. With no evidence to prove this it is merely based on shallow similarities and only endures because of a lack of understanding on the Essene lifestyle and observance. Below is quote from Alfred Edersheim, who being a trustworthy guide on the subject due to his extensive knowledge on the topic.

“But of one thing we may feel certain: neither John the Baptist, and his Baptism, nor the teaching of Christianity, had any connection with Essenism. It were utterly unhistorical to infer such from a few points of contact – and these only of similarity, not identity – when the differences between them are so fundamental. That an Essene would have preached repentance and the Kingdom of God to multitudes, baptized the uninitiated, and given supreme testimony to One like Jesus, are assertions only less extravagant than this, that One Who mingled with society as Jesus did, and Whose teaching, alike in that respect, and in all its tendencies, was so utterly Non-, and even Anti-Essenic, had derived any part of His doctrine from Essenism. Besides, when we remember the views of the Essenes on purification, and on Sabbath observance, and their denial of the Resurrection, we feel that, whatever points of resemblance critical ingenuity may emphasize, the teaching of Christianity was in a direction opposite from that of Essenism.”[1]

Another thought concerning his upbringing would depend on his age when his parents would have passed away, for if he were still young he would have needed for someone to watch over him meaning they might have taken him to the desert. Though the other side of the coin being if they died when he was of age to live on his own it would be much harder on him to then leave his parents to go to the desert having lived a life with some measure of money given his levitical birthright. With both of John’s parents being levites descended from Aaron it would be clear to others that this one was called to the priesthood. Thus his desire to up and move to the wilderness would be shocking to say the least to those around him.

No matter the case it is clear that from the joyful annunciation of his birth to his barren and age parents; John’s life would be plunged into many years of seeking the Lord in the wilderness until the time of his revealing.

John the Prophet

The Resurgence of Prophetic Language

Many consider John to be the last of the line of O.T. prophets and that which escorts us from the O.T. to the N.T. From Luke’s introduction of how John received the word of the Lord it is much a kin to that of both the O.T. major prophets and minor prophets

1“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2
“In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Isaiah 6:1
“In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zachariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying,” Zechariah 1:1

In each of these we see that the prophet who is receiving the word of the Lord or vision is described in similar fashion. Luke being a learned historian most likely seems to trying to make a point using the same language as seen in the O.T. prophets when describing when and how John received the word of the Lord. No other time in the book of Luke or Acts does Luke use this kind of language which then backs up the idea of him likening John to the O.T. prophets.

The Appearance of a Prophet

As stated briefly earlier John came dressed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt and ate locusts and honey. Though this may seem to be quite odd for a prophet it was not the first time.

“John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.” Mark 1:6

“They answered him, ‘He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’” II Kings 1:8

“Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive;” Zechariah 13:4

Not only did john dress in this manner but it seems that Elijah did as well as Zechariah points out that it was custom for prophets to dress in such a manner.


Those that testified of the prophet of the Most High

Zacharias at the birth of his son prophesies of his son’s destiny as a prophet of the Most High.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;” Luke 1:76

When John was still imprisoned he sent some of his disciples to question Jesus if He was the One. As Jesus responds He makes the point of testifying of John as a prophet, and even more.

“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.” Matthew 11:9

Finally just two days following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Christ’ final week leading up to the cross, some of the priests and religious leaders came up to Jesus seeking to trap Him. The day prior He had just cleared out the temple for the second time of His ministry, the day before that was His triumphal entry and now they are seeking to trap this One who is causing an uproar. However, Jesus in all wisdom turns the tables on them with the question about John the Baptist and his message.

“But shall we say, ‘From men’?’—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet.” Mark 11:32

John’s Prophetic Calling

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1

Through the mouth of His servant Malachi the Lord reveals to us that He would send a messenger before He came. This messenger would prepare the way for the Lord. This promise is much a kin to the one Isaiah had prophesied concerning “A voice is calling.”

“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” Isaiah 40:3

Right before the four hundred years of silence the prophet Malachi declares not only of the coming of the King but also of his herald, the one who would go before Him. Jesus in Matthew 11 ascribes these prophetic words to John as the one who was to come before Him.

“As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about john, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in king’s palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’’” Matthew 11:7-10

The Priest before the Prophet

Before John became the prophet filled with the word of the Lord, he was called as a priest. John was the progeny of two Levite parents who both were descended from Aaron, thus making John born into the priesthood. From the point of his miraculous birth John was destined for that of the priesthood. By birthright John was destined to be one who would stand, serve, minister and burn before the Lord.

“My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.” II Chronicles 29:11

For John the context of his ministering to the heart of the Lord would look far more different from what was common for priests of his day. Instead of ministering to the heart of the Lord in the temple among men; John would choose the place of hiddenness in the wilderness. It is in this place that the priest would become more than a priest but a prophet as well, much like Moses (a Levite who became a prophet) and Samuel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel (who each served as a priests but became prophets).

“Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod.”   I Samuel 2:18

“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,” Jeremiah 1:1

“the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar…” Ezekiel 1:3

At the end of John’s life in one of his last recorded words by the Gospel writers, John reveals that it is His joy to stand and hear the voice of God. It would seem that he is not limiting it to just the few times his paths crossed with Jesus, but also all those times in the wilderness as he sought the voice of God and the joy he experienced.

“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.” John 3:29

In the secret place of the wilderness a priest was found ministering to the heart of the Lord and would eventually emerge a prophet filled with the Word of the Lord.

“But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Jeremiah 23:18

“The one who is a voice is first one who hears.”[2]

The End of Silence and the Dawn of the Word of the Lord

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but ratherfor hearing the words of the Lord.’” Amos 8:11

Following the prophet Malachi, the last of the prophets, the land of Israel went into a season barrenness. The words of Amos had born their fruit as Israel entered into four hundred years of silence; a time of famine for the word of the Lord was nowhere to be heard. This land that had grown accustomed to being saturated with the words of God had become starved. For hundreds of years the nation of Israel would see empires rise and fall all around her. They would fall under subjection from one empire to another all the while longing for God to speak to her with words of comfort. The religious leaders would fall into further corruption and puppet kings would be put over her. Somewhere deep down inside the people knew that there was something missing, the word of the Lord. That word that was like bread from heaven.

Suddenly after the four hundred years of famine, a man came preaching in the wilderness. His words were laced with authority unlike anything they have ever experienced. These words cut them straight to the heart, bringing conviction and a renewed hope. The hearts of the people like a dry mouth longed to drink from this well in the wilderness that overflowed with words of hope. No wonder why people left their homes and traveled from all over Judea to hear this man in wilderness. Just as a man starved near to death would travel and do anything for some sort of nourishment, so the people traveled to hear the words of John. These words that gave them hope that a King was coming. If the thirst and hunger were not enough to compel the masses to come to John, the sheer astonishment of the reality that a man has been found that has an anointing on his words. The curiosity of the people to hear that a man in the wilderness seems to resemble those they grew up hearing about like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Malachi.

After many years in the wilderness we know that Word of the Lord came to him. From that point on he began to preach the message of repentance. This message was so impactful to the people who the Jews were “converting to Judaism” through the baptism of repentance. Though another sign of just how impactful this message was is the fact that he did not go to the people but rather the people came out to him. Though John remained in the wilderness by the Jordan River, people from Jerusalem, people from all over Judea and those living near the district of the Jordan River were coming out to be baptized. The Jordan River lies approximately 20 miles to the east of Jerusalem; though this seems like a short distance it is quite the opposite if you are on foot. Multitudes of people were making this trip to go hear a man tell them of coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and how they needed to repent, be baptized and ultimately become true Jews.

The Forerunner

The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness



Concerning John the three synoptic Gospels, they each use the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 to describe John. The minor difference is that Mark adds an introductory phrase which is not actually apart of Isaiah 40 and Luke adds Isaiah 40:4-5 (though the language is a little different). However in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist actually quotes Isaiah 40:3 when asked who he was. John identifies himself as “the voice crying out” that Isaiah had prophesied about.

This title as “the voice crying out” really sets the stage for what his ministry was to look like, one of making way for the coming of the Lord. John, the voice of one crying out stands in the wilderness declaring to the people who there is one coming who is name is the Lord. Even the Hebrew word for Lord being used here is YHWH. John was declaring to the people who God was coming and that they should get ready. Though this message would seem to be treated as merely messianic, but in reality it is so much more. John was not saying that he was just preparing the way for the messiah but for God. He was stating that YHWH was coming. The one who dwelt in the burning bush was on His way. This is why they would be called to repent.

The Message of the Voice Crying Out

3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;” Luke 3:3

1“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 3:1-2

The message of John was a call to repentance as he declared the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was unto preparing the way of the One who was to come. The language of the “Kingdom of Heaven” would only appear to be referenced in the book of Daniel, specifically in chapter two. It is in Daniel chapter two that Nebuchadnezzar has his dream of the statue and the rock that destroys it. Daniel prophecies of a kingdom established by the God of heaven and this kingdom will destroy all of the other kingdoms and it will never be destroyed. This prophecy is connected to the Messianic prophecies for it is the Messiah who was to bring forth this Kingdom made by the God of Heaven.

44In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 

Though John is not recorded of quoting from the book of Daniel, it would be safe to say that he is probably preaching with the prophecy of Daniel chapter two in mind. Thus, when John preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand he was declaring that the Messiah was on the way. This message would have brought courage and hope to those hearing as they longed to be free from the Romans. This message would have brought conviction to their hearts as no one would want to miss out on the coming Messiah. Their mindset of the Messiah was one who would be like a second David, which would make him a warrior king who would usher the people into a golden age, and no one would want to be found sinful or even miss this. The people were looking for the lion but John came to proclaim of the lamb (John 1:29).

“…Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John 1:29

As stated earlier the message of repentance through baptism called the people to be converted into true Judaism. Thus once more become converted into Judaism before the Messiah comes, sets up the Kingdom of Heaven and you get swept away.

In summary John came to prepare the people for YHWH’s coming by calling them to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was warning the people, that the ‘Stone’ that Daniel had prophesied was coming to destroy the nations. This why he declared to them Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The people knew that the “Stone’ or Kingdom of Heaven would be ruled by the Messiah. However, what they seemed to not get was that the Messiah and YHWH would be united in one man, the one who was to come after him, Jesus.

7And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:7-8

A Day in the Life of John

John begins to address the people
 7So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

As John preached in the wilderness many were coming out to him to receive the baptism of repentance, even the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance.” Matthew 3:11 

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Matthew 3:7

As John saw the masses coming out to him to be baptized he began to call the people and the religious leaders a brood of vipers, those bound in sin. He continues to ask them who even warned them to flee from the destruction that was coming their way? No matter the case he calls them all to walk out their repentance by bearing the fruit of repentance; for their ethnicity will not spare them from the path of hell. Even if all the children of Abraham on the earth were to fall down the path of destruction and there were none left on the earth, then the Lord would raise up children of Abraham to replace them from the stones. Destruction was at the door step of all the children of Israel if they do not begin to bear the fruit of repentance. The axe was now at the root ready to chop down every tree that does not turn into the merciful heart of God lest they become fuel for the fire of His justice.

The People Ask How to Bear the Fruit of their Repentance

“And the crowds were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ 11And he would answer and say to them, ‘The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.’ 12And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ 13And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’ 14Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.’” Luke 3:10-14

The people begin to question John how to walk their repentance out. John’s response in short is preview of a message that would be preached by the One to come after him, the Sermon on the Mount. In summary he tells them to love others by sharing with them, by not stealing from them, nor lying about them.

John’s personal compare and contrast with the One to come after him

“Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” Luke 3:15-17

The people begin to question whether if John was the Messiah and most likely through the spirit of prophecy knew this, and told them that he was not but the One who comes after him is of a higher rank than him, or rather the One who comes after him is the Messiah. The One to arise after John was so much greater than him that he was not worthy to untie his sandals. This says much as kings and emperors will even have the lowest of slaves washing their feet. The One who was come not only was greater than John but also has existed before him.

“John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”  John 1:15

Two Baptisms

John he came to call the people to repentance so to be ready for the One who came after him, this was the point of his baptism. The One who was to come after would baptize with more than just mere water but with the power of the Holy Spirit (and all that comes with this salvation, fellowship with God and power). The One was to come next was coming to separate the righteous from the wicked. He will gather the righteous wheat into His house and reward them. However, the wicked chaff will be thrown into the fire of His justice. The Gospel of Matthew calls the wheat as ‘His’ thus belonging to Him.

“…He will gather His wheat into the barn…” Matthew 7:12

John would continue to preach the Gospel many other times to the people until John rebuked Herod the tetrarch of his sins, which led to John’s beheading.

18So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. 19But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison. Luke 3:7-20

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), p225.

[2]  Stephen Venable, Life of Christ in the Gospels: Session 05- Emergence, p9


Posted on May 20, 2012, in On the Life of Christ and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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