We must not forget about John, the child born to the priest
Zachariah and Elizabeth his wife, also in a miraculous way. Many
years have now passed, a dozen or more, since the account of
Jesus at the Passover when at the age of twelve. It was now
the appointed time from God for John to fulfil his ministry, for
which he was especially born.
It was in the days when Pontius Pilate was governor of
Judea, and Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (whom was
the Herod in our previous chapters) was ruler over Galilee, that
John did his preaching and teaching in the wilderness of Judea.
He went into the region about Jordan and so fulfilled the
prophecy of Isaiah, "Behold, I send my messenger before your (the
Messiah's) face, who shall prepare your way."
John preached a baptism of repentance, and so became known
as John the baptist.
Luke says, "As it is written in the book of the words of
Isaiah the prophet, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every
valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be
brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the
rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the
salvation of God' " (Isaiah 40: 3-5).
Many prophecies have a dual meaning and fulfilment. As we
look at this prophecy in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, as we
note the whole context before and after, it becomes evident that
this is one of those dual prophecies. It was to have a fulfilment
at the first coming of the Messiah, but it is to have a
fulfilment also at His coming with power and glory, with a strong
hand and when He is to rule and do much work during the time
the book of Revelation calls the 1,000 years (see Isaiah 40: 10,
11 with Rev.20: 1-4).
The things to be made straight, the hills to be brought low,
the rough to be made smooth, and the salvation to be seen, in the
first fulfilment at the time of John and into Jesus' ministry,
was an analogy and typology of spiritual and repentance matters,
being humbled and finding the straight and smooth truths of the
salvation of God.
Matthew records that John wore a garment of camel's hair,
and a leather girdle around his waist, and that a good part of
his diet was wild honey and locusts (Matthew 3: 4).
There are strong indications from what the angel said about
John when announcing his birth to Zachariah and Elizabeth (which
we saw in earlier chapters), that John may have been under a
Nazarite vow (mentioned in Numbers 6) from birth. If so, then his
hair would have never been cut. By the time he started to preach
in the wilderness of Judea, his hair would have been extremely
long, probably reaching half way down his back or even more.
From what Matthew records we may want to jump to the thought
that John looked something like a wild cave-man type person we
often see in school books on the history of mankind.
This thought could be very wrong. Garments of camel's hair
could be spun and made to look quite attractive. It would also be
very warm for him as he faced the cold nights that could come in
the desert of Judea. We today do not think twice about wearing
leather belts around our waist, so a leather band around John's
waist should not cause us to think of him as a wild cave-man
Tens of thousands today eat wild honey in many different
countries around the world as part of their regular diet, so
nothing unusual about that per se. As John was preaching in the
wilderness, his honey eating would have been from the wild bees,
as opposed to those in towns and villages who had bee hives, and
so what we would call "domestic" bees.
To our Western ear the strangest thing might be the fact
that John ate locusts. But, that is mainly because in our Western
nations we have never practiced eating locusts. We do not even
import them to eat as food. God, in giving Israel His food laws
as found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, gave the laws
regarding what insects were fit to eat and which ones were not.
It was all a matter of how He had created them in the "cell" and
"atom" construction to jive with our cell and atom construction.
Some, for health purposes we could eat and some God has never
wanted us to eat.
The locust was within the "good" food laws as given in the
books of Moses. Maybe most of the city dwellers in Palestine,
were not in the habit of eating locusts, hence Matthew records
that John ate locusts. Different maybe, but certainly not outside
of the food laws of the Lord God.
John preached and taught with such power and conviction the
Gospels say that most people from Jerusalem and all Judea with
the region about Jordan, went out to hear him, and most of them
were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their
This was indeed a time of great spiritual revival and humble
repentance before God. John was preparing many hearts for the
coming of the work of the Messiah Jesus.
John was indeed different from most of the religious
preachers of his day. He did not mingle with the established
popular religious leaders of the two main theological
groups or "denominations" as we would call them, the Pharisees
and the Sadducees. John lived in the desert and was certainly
known as an independent preacher of the word of God.
He also knew that much of the teaching and practicing
traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees were way off base from
the truth of God's word. He knew that a great deal of their
theology was founded upon wrong ideas and interpretations of the
Scriptures, as well as man-made customs and traditions that had
crept into their religions over the centuries.
He especially had insight into the heart and mind of most of
the teachers of those two religious parties. He knew they did not
want to know the pure truths of the Lord, that they were quite
content to maintain their religious positions with its "status
quo" - keep it as it had been for centuries. He knew they were
not of a humble, teachable, repentant mindset, willing to be
corrected and to change when shown and proven to be wrong in
their teachings, beliefs, and practices.
John had become very popular with the masses of the people,
they thronged to go out and hear him speak the word of God. All
this of course was noticed by the religious leaders of the two
One day many of them as a group looked at each other and
said, "This man John is causing quite a commotion of sorts. The
people are flocking to hear him. Many are being baptized by him.
We as a group of theological leaders need to go and see this man
in action, so we can first-hand get a better plan as to how to
combat him and safe-guard our positions that we have held with
the people for so long a time."
So, off they went into the desert by the river Jordan to
hear John preach, but it sure was not because they wanted to
repent of their wrong teachings and practices. Some were even
willing to be baptized by him in order to try and gain his
respect for them, and to fool the people into believing they were
really humble repentant fellows.
Matthew records that John knew some of them were willing to
go as far as being baptized by him, but he knowing their hearts,
seeing them come, looked upon them with righteous anger, and
lifting up his voice with power and clarity, said to them in
front of all the crowds around about, " You brood of snakes! Who
warned you to flee God's coming judgment? Prove by the way you
live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to
God. Don't just say, 'We're safe - we're the descendants of
Abraham.' That proves absolutely nothing of and by itself. God
can change the stones here into children of Abraham. Being
physical flesh of anyone, even Abraham, does not automatically
mean you are the children of God in the spiritual sense."
Looking upon them with further discontent, John went on to
say, " Even now the axe of God's judgment is poised, ready to
sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good
fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire."
Most of the crowd hearing these words were sincerely struck
in the heart and wanted to know from John, in specific ways, what
they needed to do to be on the Lord's side and to have His love
and mercy and favor.
John answered them by saying, " If you have two coats, give
one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are
John was telling them that real true Godliness, wanting to
walk with the Lord and to do His will and way of life, contained
a very practical aspect. You had to not only be religious in
beliefs and attending church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting
at times, but you had to serve others in a down-to-earth manner.
It meant giving to people in tangible ways, some of the physical
blessings that God had given you. A willingness to share with
others less fortunate than yourself, some of the physical goods
Some of the corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized of
John, asking him what they needed to do to get their lives in
order with God. John told them, "Be honest, show your honesty in
how you collect taxes for the Roman government. Do not collect
more taxes than is required by the Roman authorities."
Some you see, collected more taxes than required, so they
could line their own pockets with extra money, above that which
the Roman government paid them for collecting taxes.
Even soldiers employed by Rome, came to John asking what
they should do to be in favor with God. His rely to them was, "
Rob no one by violence or by false accusation."
It would have been relatively easy with the authority and
the physical skills and weapons they had as soldiers, to rob
people in a forceful and violent manner, as well as by false
accusation of alleged wrongs (people fearing what would happen to
them, and so paying the soldiers money) they could bring to
higher government leaders, which could have led to imprisonment
and even death. This would be termed "bribery" today. The
soldiers would say to people that they would report them as
having done this or that evil (when not having done so) unless
the person gave them a certain amount of money.
John also told the soldiers to be content with their wages.
It is probably very easy when employed by the National Government
in work that is dangerous and could cost you your life, such as
those employed as soldiers and police and firemen, to moan and
groan and complain that you should be paid a wage twice or three
times more than what you are receiving. While people with
dangerous jobs should be well paid, it is just a fact of economic
life that governments just do not have a never ending wealth of
money to pay astronomical wages to such persons in dangerous
government occupations. Hence John told them there comes a time
when such people must learn to be content with their wages.
Luke in his third chapter records that many people were in
expectation of the coming of the promised Messiah. They knew the
time was near from what God had written in the prophets of old,
that the Messiah would appear. Some were questioning in their
minds if this promised Messiah was not in fact having its
fulfilment in this very unusual man who was preaching and
teaching the word of God with such power and conviction, in the
desert. Many were thinking that John was indeed the Christ, the
anointed one to come.
John himself answered them by saying, " I baptize with
water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am - so
much greater that I am not worthy to untie His sandals. He will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to
separate the chaff from the grain with His winnowing fork. Then
He will clean up the threshing area, storing the grain into His
barn but burning up the chaff with fire that cannot be put out."
It is said that John used many such warnings and analogies
as he prepared the way for the Messiah to come.
In the analogy above John was saying what the twentieth
chapter of Revelation and other passages of Scripture (such as
Malachi 4; Psalm 37; 2 Peter 3) tell us. Namely, that God will in
His plan give everyone a chance to know the truth, to repent, to
accept Jesus as the saving Messiah, and to enter the Kingdom of
God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. All that will refuse
shall be destroyed in a worldwide fire that shall burn them and
this earth up, that cannot be put out by humans hands, at the end
of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Then shall come the
new heavens and new earth and all that is foretold in Revelation
21 and 22.
Luke also tells us that John was bold enough to publicly
criticize and denounce Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, for
taking Herodias, his brother's wife, and for many other wrongs he
had done. Herod finally put John in prison, but had no intention
of executing him, for he feared the people would rise up in armed
revolt against himself, as they held John with such admiration.
It was through some trickery that Herod gave command to execute
John. How that came about we shall see later.
As to the story behind John's denouncing Herod Antipas for
his taking of his brother's wife, it goes like this.
Herod's brother was called Philip, and his wife was named
Herodias. They had a daughter called Salome. Josephus the Jewish
historian of the first century, says that this marriage of herod
Antipas with Herodias took place while he was on a journey to
Rome. He stopped at his brother's; fell in love with his wife;
agreed to put away his own wife, and Herodias agreed to leave her
own husband, and live with him.
There was no Roman or Biblical law from God that allowed
them to do such a thing. This was pure lusting after another
man's wife, which in the first century A.D. even Roman law
frowned upon men taking another man's wife through covertness.
Then adding to all this, Herodias was grand-daughter of
Herod the Great, who was the father of Herod Antipas. This
relationship would have been classified as "incest" and not
allowed under God's law. Close relatives were not permitted to
marry under the laws of the Lord. As Herod was governor of a part
of Palestine, and so was also upholding Jewish laws, allowing
them freedom of religious faith and proclamation of it, John
would have felt quite at liberty to denounce Herod for this and
other wrong conduct in his life.
JESUS IS BAPTIZED BY JOHN
Going back again to the time John was living and preaching
in the wilderness by the river Jordan, one day Jesus came to him
to be baptized. John was shocked at such a request from Christ
the Messiah, and with amazement said to Him, "It is I that need
to be baptized by you. Why on earth do you request to be baptized
by me? No, this should not be Lord. I do not understand why you
Jesus, with a soft tone of voice and an understanding heart
as to why John would think this way, replied, "Let it be as I
request, for it is right and proper for me to fulfil all that is
the righteousness of God."
John then understood when Jesus put it this way. For baptism
was something that John knew God had ordained for the New
Covenant age, as a part of the very perfection and righteousness
of Himself. John knew that Jesus wanted to set the full and
perfect example of doing all that was the will and the plan and
the righteousness of God. Although Jesus had never sinned, had
nothing to repent of, and so had no need to be baptized for the
remission of sins, John now knew Jesus wanted to set the perfect
example of doing God's will, and so consented to baptize Him in
the river Jordan.
Jesus, after being baptized, went up out of the river
Jordan, and the heavens were opened, and John saw the Spirit of
God descend like a dove upon Him. All three Gospel writers
(Matthew, Mark, and Luke) relate that a voice came from heaven
saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Jesus had continued to grow in favor and in grace with the
Father in heaven during all of His life. His Father in heaven,
the one who can be our heavenly Father, was well pleased with all
that Jesus put His hand to do, especially as He now prepared
Himself to fulfil the reason as to why He had been born as a
The time had come for the Christ Messiah to fight one more
final battle against Satan the Devil, and then to march on into
His ministry of proclaiming salvation and the Kingdom of God to
those living in Palestine.
Written December 2000