Q: #524. Who was John the Baptist?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Following is most of what we know about John the Baptist from the Bible:
- Name: John means "the Lord is gracious."
- Hometown: Born in Judea
- Occupation: A prophet (Lk 1:76)(Mt 11:9)(Mt 14:5)(Mt 21:26)(Lk 7:26), and messenger. He was the first "prophet" of God since Malachi of the Old Testament (some 400 years earlier).
(Jn 1:7) says this of John: "The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe" (also see: Jn 1:15,19).
(Lk 16:16) also tells us this, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it."
- The time that John was alive aligns fairly closely with the time Jesus was on earth (minus 1-2 years), which I speak of here.
Only in the book of Luke do we learn anything about the the early life of John.
- Parents: Father - Zacharias ("a priest of the division of Abijah" - Lk 1:5)
Mother - Elizabeth ("of the daughters of Aaron" - Lk 1:5)
- When Zacharias and Elizabeth were "well advanced in years" and "had no child" (Lk 1:6-7), the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and said that he and Elizabeth would have a child (Lk 1:11-23). That child was John.
- We see in (Lk 1:36) that Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Therefore, John and Jesus were also related in some way. We also see that John would have been born about 6 months before Jesus.
- Before he was even born, John was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lk 1:15,41).
- As was Jewish custom, after John was born, he was circumcised on the eighth day. He was also given his name John at this time (Lk 1:59-60).
- After John's birth, we learn nothing else about him except that "he grew and became strong in spirit," and that at some point he chose to live in the desert (Lk 1:80). He is not mentioned again until around the time that Jesus was to begin His public ministry.
- Before John was born, he was placed under a Nazarite vow (Lk 1:15)(see: Lk 7:33-34, Mt 11:18-19). The description of what this was can be found here.
- While living in the desert, John ate locusts and wild honey for food, and His clothing was made of camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist (Mt 3:4)(Mk 1:6). (This was the type of clothing some Old Testament prophets wore: Zech 13:4, 2 Kin 1:8.)
- The desert where John lived was in Judea (Mt 3:1). Where exactly he was is unknown. However, evidence points to somewhere in the mountains, between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, likely near where the Jordan River (Mt 3:6)(Jn 1:28) flows into the Dead Sea.
- The whole purpose of John's life was to point to, and prepare the way for Jesus. Old Testament prophecy spoke of John:
(Isa 40:3-5) The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye 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 hath spoken it.
(Mal 3:1) Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
See: (Lk 3:4-6)(Mt 3:3)(Mk 1:2-3)(Jn 1:23) = Isaiah and (Mt 11:10)(Lk 7:27) = Malachi for proof that these were speaking of John.
- Prior to the appearance of Jesus, John was preparing the way for Jesus by "preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Lk 3:3)(Mt 3:6,11)(Mk 1:4)(Acts 13:24)(Acts 19:1-7).
- Many were confused about who John was. Some believed he was "the Christ" (Lk 3:15-17). Some believed he was Elijah (Jn 1:21). He denied he was Christ (Jn 1:20)(Jn 3:28)(also see: Jn 1:8), or Elijah (Jn 1:21).
- Based upon (Mal 4:4-5), some believed that Elijah would precede the coming of Christ. However, these verses are speaking of Christ's Second Coming, not His first, and it may not even be speaking of Elijah personally. Jesus clarified this in (Mt 17:10-13). (John was a "type" of Elijah.)
***Note: After John the Baptist was killed, some believed that Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated (Mt 16:13-14)(Mk 6:14,16)(Mk 8:27-28)(Lk 9:7-9,18-19).
- When Jesus made His first appearance to John, coming to him at the Jordan River from Galilee, He asked John to baptize Him (Mt 3:13-15)(Mk 1:9). John was hesitant to do this, but Jesus asked him to do it "to fulfill all righteousness." After John baptized Him, "the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mt 4:16-17)(Mk 1:10-11)(Lk 3:21-22)(Jn 1:32-34).
- Later, we see John and his disciples baptizing people, and the disciples of Jesus doing so as well (Jn 3:22 - Jn 4:3). In these verses, John again clarifies his ministry. His ministry is coming to a close (he will soon be murdered), and the ministry of Christ is beginning and increasing. (Also see: Acts 13:25)
- Sometime after this (Jn 3:24), John was arrested by King Herod and thrown into jail for condemning Herod, because he had married the wife (Herodias) of his brother Philip (Lk 3:18-20)(Mk 6:17-20)(Mt 4:12)(Mk 1:14).
- Showing that even the greatest men of God can sometimes have their faith shaken, John sent word to Jesus from prison asking if He was indeed the Messiah (Lk 7:17-21)(Mt 11:2-3). Jesus sent back word pointing to His miracles as proof that He was (Mt 11:4-7)(Lk 7:22-23).
- At some point after this, a great birthday celebration was thrown for King Herod. The daughter of Herodias (Josephus says her name was Salome -Philip's daughter) danced before the king and his guests. The king was so pleased with her dance that he offered to give her anything she wished. After consulting with her mother (Herodias), she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. While this saddened the king, he granted her request, and had John beheaded (Mt 14:1-12)(Mk 6:21-29).
***Note: (Mt 14:12)(Mk 6:29) tell us that the disciples of John came and took away the body of John and buried it (Mark says "in a tomb"). Since the head was given to Herodias (Mt 14:11)(Mk 6:28), it is believed by many that his head may not have been buried with his body. Tradition says that the body was buried in one place, and his head in another.
- Jesus said this of John: "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt 11:11)(Lk 7:28).
- John had disciples, just as Jesus did (Mt 9:14)(Mt 11:2)(Jn 1:35). After Jesus appeared, two of them left John to follow Jesus. One was named Andrew, and the other is unnamed (Jn 1:35-40).
***Note: Many think the unknown disciple may have been John. "The tenth hour" (Jn 1:39) gives the appearance the writer had firsthand knowledge.
- Among the things that John taught his disciples was to pray (Lk 11:1), and to fast (Mt 9:14)(Mk 2:18)(Lk 5:33).
- John never performed any miracles (Jn 10:41).