4 “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:4-6 ESV)
One of the principles of proper, biblical interpretation is the maxim Scripture interprets Scripture. Therefore, the other three Gospels provide more information concerning John the Baptist; most notably the Gospel of Luke.
John was the son of the Jewish Priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth, They ministered in the time of Herod the King (Luke 1:5). They were both righteous people who sought to obey all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:6). However, they were old and without children because Elizabeth had not been able to conceive. This was perceived by many in the culture to be a sign of God’s disfavor.
It was at this time that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah when he was in the temple offering incense to the Lord (Luke 1:8-11, 19). The angel told Zachariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son and they were to call him John (Luke 1:12-13). John would be a source of joy and gladness; not only for them but also for the people of God (Luke 1:14).
Gabriel explained, “15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1;15-17 ESV)
Matthew described John as wearing a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt. His diet was locusts and wild honey. Locusts were a permissible food (Lev. 11:22). Living in the wilderness of Judea, John’s clothes were durable and practical; even though they were not fashionable or comfortable.
John attracted quite a crowd. Perhaps the people were curious because John was the next new thing. Or, perhaps they were identifying John as one who would come in the spirit and power of the Prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:1-8). The Jews were expecting a prophet like Elijah before the Day of the Lord (Mal. 3:1; 4:1-6).
John’s ministry centered not only what he preached, but also what he did. He baptized. It was likely that this baptism of repentance had its roots in the Old Testament purification rituals (Lev. 15:13).
“John’s startling declaration of the nearness of God’s kingdom draws even city dwellers out into the wilderness. “Baptize” (Gk. baptizō) means “to plunge, dip, immerse,” and John was immersing people in the river Jordan. When people were baptized by him, going under the water symbolized both the cleansing away of sin and a passing safely through the waters of judgment and death (cf. Gen. 7:6–24; Ex. 14:26–29; Jonah 1:7–16; Rom. 6:1-4; 1 Pet. 3:21),” explains one commentator.
The common people flocked to see and hear John. What about the religious leaders; the Pharisees and the Sadducees? How did they respond and react to John’s message and ministry? That is what we will study when next we meet.
Soli deo Gloria!