“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:19-28).
Who was the greatest prophet in the Bible? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Ezekiel? What about Daniel? Neither of these men, as significant as they were in biblical history and the revelation of God, are regarded by Jesus Christ as the greatest prophet? Rather, Jesus Himself testified that the greatest prophet who ever lived was John the Baptist.
Luke 7:24-28 says, “When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater (prophet) than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, is an important individual in each of the Four Gospels. He is identified with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and understood as the forerunner to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Reference to John is the first point of unity among the Four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all give a somewhat similar account of John’s person, preaching, and activity, though varying in some details.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John the Baptist is arrested and imprisoned before Jesus’ public ministry begins (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). In John’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry before John’s arrest (John 3:23-24). John the Baptist underscored his acknowledgment of one greater than himself who was to come baptizing not with water but with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17; John 1:26-27).
John the Baptist certainly demonstrates the attitude of humility. He pointed people to Jesus Christ and not to himself.
John was born into a priestly family and belonged to the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). His father was the priest Zacharias and his mother was Elizabeth, a relative of Mary (Luke 1:35-38), the mother of Jesus. He began his ministry in the Jordan Valley when he was approximately 29 or 30 years old (Luke 1:26; 3:21-23), and boldly proclaimed the need for spiritual repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah and served as his prophetic forerunner (Matt. 3:3; Luke 1:5–25, 36).
The Gospels portray John as a prophet who came out of the desert to proclaim the advent of the Kingdom of God and issue a call to repentance (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-8; Luke 3:1-20). Matthew and Mark describe John’s appearance and diet: he wore a camel-hair cloak with a waist belt made of leather and he dined on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6).
John baptized those who repented of their sins and at the same time announced the coming of one after him who would be greater than he and would baptize with the Spirit. Thus, John is cast into a role like Elijah’s (Matthew 11:7-15; 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13; Malachi 4:5-6), as one who prepares for and announces the advent of the Messiah (John 1:6-8, 19-36).
John was beheaded by Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9). When he was informed of Jesus’ ministry, Herod thought it was John the Baptist come back to life.
One commentator writes, “Further attestation to the effectiveness of the ministry of John the Baptist is found in Acts, where on two occasions Christians encounter disciples of John who, after being further instructed, are received into the church (Priscilla and Aquila meet Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, and Paul meets twelve such disciples, perhaps associated with Apollos, in Acts 19:1-7). Thus, the prominence of John’s ministry is attested by the care with which the Gospel writers compose their accounts of him, the fact that Herod deemed it necessary to have him killed (the historian Josephus also reports, with somewhat different details, that John was executed by Herod in the fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea), and the fact that some years after Jesus’ death Christians still encountered people (in Asia Minor!) who knew only ‘the baptism of John.”
John’s appearance and attitude reflected his humility as a servant of the Lord. It occurs to me that humility is a characteristic of leadership sorely lacking in the church today. When others accuse someone else of lacking humility, or being proud, they themselves are demonstrating the very pride, or lack of humility, they accuse others of respectively having or not having. I must be careful in writing what I just wrote, lest I fall into the same category of prideful accusation.
I encourage us all to read and meditate upon Philippians 2:1-4. May we all be a little more like John the Baptist, who was very Christ-like.
Soli deo Gloria!