John Prepares the Way
SEVENTEEN years have passed since Jesus was a child of 12 questioning the teachers in the temple. It is the spring of the year 29 C.E., and everybody, it seems, is talking about Jesus’ cousin John, who is preaching in all the country around the Jordan River.
John is indeed an impressive man, both in appearance and in speech. His clothing is of camel hair, and he wears a leather girdle around his loins. His food is insect locusts and wild honey. And his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”
This message excites his listeners. Many realize their need to repent, that is, to change their attitude and to reject their past course of life as undesirable. So from all the territory around the Jordan, and even from Jerusalem, the people come out to John in great numbers, and he baptizes them, dipping them beneath the waters of the Jordan. Why?
John baptizes people in symbol, or acknowledgment, of their heartfelt repentance for sins against God’s Law covenant. Thus, when some Pharisees and Sadducees come out to the Jordan, John condemns them. “You offspring of vipers,” he says. “Produce fruit that befits repentance; and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘As a father we have Abraham.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Already the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree, then, that does not produce fine fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Because of all the attention John is receiving, the Jews send out priests and Levites to him. These ask: “Who are you?”
“I am not the Christ,” John confesses.
“What, then?” they inquire. “Are you Elijah?”
“I am not,” he answers.
“Are you The Prophet?”
So they become insistent: “Who are you? that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John explains: “I am a voice of someone crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make the way of Jehovah straight,’ just as Isaiah the prophet said.”
“Why, then, do you baptize,” they want to know, “if you yourself are not the Christ or Elijah or The Prophet?”
“I baptize in water,” he answers. “In the midst of you one is standing whom you do not know, the one coming behind me.”
John is preparing the way by getting people in a proper heart condition to accept the Messiah, who will become King. Of this One, John says: “The one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not fit to take off.” In fact, John even says: “The one coming behind me has advanced in front of me, because he existed before me.”
Thus, John’s message, “the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near,” serves as a public notification that the ministry of Jehovah’s appointed King, Jesus Christ, is about to begin. John 1:6-8, 15-28; Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18; Acts 19:4.
▪ What kind of man is John?
▪ Why does John baptize people?
▪ Why can John say that the Kingdom has drawn near?