John the baptist’s ministry, in 𝘑𝘰𝘩𝘯.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 January 2024

John 1.6-8, 15, 19-28.

In Matthew and Luke’s gospels, John the baptist comes across as—shall we say—hostile towards the religious folks who come to check him out.

Luke 3.7-9 Message
7 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. 8 And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. 9 What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

To be fair, John was dealing with nationalists, people who presume they’re part of a righteous nation (or wanna make that nation “great again”) and that’s why God’s gonna bless and save them. They figured they were saved by virtue of being Abraham’s descendants. Lk 3.8 They figured they had nothing to repent of—and John’s baptism is all about repentance. It’s all about being good, not just looking good.

Hence John called ’em snakes. (Aramaic ܐܟ݂ܶܕ݂ܢܶܐ/akedna, Greek ἐχιδνῶν/ehidnón, “[poisonous] snakes”; KJV “vipers.”) It’s intentionally meant to remind people of Satan. Nationalists figure they’re righteous, but regularly act devilish, because nationalism is usually racist and definitely devilish. The Judeans who came to John felt they had nothing to repent of—and John’s baptism is entirely about repentance.

But that’s the other two gospels. In John’s gospel, he comes across quite different. No it’s not a discrepancy. Real-life people aren’t two-dimensional! Sometimes we behave differently, depending on circumstances. Maybe this happened way earlier in John’s ministry, before he became jaded by myriads of hypocrites who accepted his baptism but never got any better. Maybe because these Pharisees, unlike the other Pharisees, actually weren’t hypocrites and legitimately wanted to know what John was about. Maybe they caught him on a really good day, when he’d found plenty of bugs and honey to eat, and the camelhair clothes finally stopped being itchy. I dunno.

In any event here’s how John says John the baptist greeted the folks sent to investigate him.

John 1.19-28 KWL
19 And this is John’s testimony,
when the Judeans of Jerusalem send priests and Levites out to him
so they could ask him, “Who are you?”
20 John is in agreement with them,
and does not resist them,
and agrees with them: “I’m not Messiah.”
21 They ask John, “So… what, are you Elijah?”
He says, “I’m not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 So they say, “Who are you?—
so we can give an answer to those who sent us.
What do you say about yourself?”
23 John is saying, “I’m
‘a voice crying out in the wilderness:
Straighten the Master’s path!’ Is 40.3
like the prophet Isaiah said.”
 
24 Those who’d been sent were Pharisees,
25 and questioned John, and told him,
“So why do you baptize,
if you’re not Messiah nor Elijah nor the Prophet?”
26 John answers them, saying, “I baptize in water.
In your midst, one has stood among you.
You’ve not known him.
27 [He is] the one coming after me,
[who has got in front of me].
I’m not worthy to loose his sandal strap.”
28 These events happen in Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan,
where John is baptizing.

In my previous article I discussed the three guys from the Pharisees’ End Times timeline whom John said he wasn’t—Messiah, Elijah, and the Prophet—and how Jesus himself later confirmed John actually is Elijah. Mt 17.10-13 Not literally; John’s a prophet like Elijah, and he fulfills every single End Times prophecy about Elijah—and if any present-day End Times prognosticator claims Elijah is yet to come, they evidently don’t respect what Jesus says on the matter. Only Jesus has yet to return. Elijah already has.

The forerunner of Messiah.

The Pharisees came to John to determine if he was somebody relevant to their End Times timeline, or at least to make sure he was no raving heretic. While the Roman Empire guaranteed a degree of freedom of religion, the Judean government could at least make it uncomfortable for John, even though he did stay out of town. And they no doubt wanted to make sure John wasn’t teaching anything which might get ’em in trouble with Rome. But nope; John was consistent with the scriptures, and didn’t really care about the temporal kingdoms of the day. Taxmen shouldn’t overcharge and soldiers shouldn’t rob the public, Lk 3.12-14 but that’s not a political statement… unless of course a politician is doing just that, and his supporters don’t care about morals and defend him regardless.

In John’s gospel, John the baptist is primarily introduced as the guy who bears witness to the light of the world, i.e. the word of God, i.e. Jesus.

John 1.6-8 KWL
6 A person came who’d been sent by God;
his name is John.
7 This person came as a witness,
so he might witness about the light,
so through him, everyone might believe.
8 This person isn’t the light,
but he came so he might witness about the light.
 
John 1.15 KWL
John witnesses about the word,
and has called out, saying,
“This is the one of whom I say,
The one coming after me has got in front of me,’
because he’s before me.”

John’s job was to witness about Jesus—to know who he is, to identify him to others, and to tell people what he’s up to. And certainly know who he is far better than the Pharisees’ theories about what Messiah would do. To many Judeans’ minds—as seen in the writings of Pharisees and Qumranis—Messiah would overthrow the Romans, overthrow the Sadducees, take over the world by force (though divine force), and be king of the new Judean Empire.

More than a few American Christians are kinda expecting all these things to likewise happen at his second coming—that Jesus will overthrow the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union, yet somehow not the United States and not their favorite political party. Once Jesus actually does return, I guarantee you these same Americans are gonna insist that can’t really be Jesus, solely because of his skin color. There have always been wild and wacky End Times theories… and there have always been people wholly wedded to them, so much so they’re gonna miss the real thing. Exactly the same as Pharisees did in Jesus’s first coming.

John was necessary because so many people had been led astray by popular End Times theories. Somebody needed to get the people’s attention, and remind them who God is, what he really cares about, and what kind of Messiah he’d be sending them. And like John said in the other gospels, God cares about personal integrity. It’s not enough to be a Semite; you gotta love your neighbors! It’s not enough to pledge allegiance to Messiah; you gotta obey Messiah! Not that obedience saves us; we’re saved by grace not works. But disobedience proves we have no real relationship with God, and therefore likely aren’t as saved from sin and death as we presume.

And if we’re gonna follow Jesus correctly, we gotta agree with John the baptist. Because I grew up dispensationalist, I heard a lot of sermons which claimed John was from an old dispensation—a different system of salvation, in which people were saved by good works back in bible times, but God did away with that system because Jesus inaugurated a dispensation of grace. So if John’s from an old dispensation, we can safely ignore him; he’s out of date, and his prophecies are void. But since when is God’s word void? What kind of heresy is that? John’s always been valid. If you wanna be saved, repent and turn to God! Don’t presume salvation because you live in a Christian nation; don’t presume salvation because you’re part of a Christian family; don’t even presume salvation because you said a sinner’s prayer. Follow Jesus. The same Jesus whom John testified about.