“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them… Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
The angel Gabriel announced John’s birth to Zachariah saying “He shall be great in the sight of the LORD and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” John would be no ordinary man. Esteemed by God and filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb.
When it was time the Holy Spirit led John into the desert known as the Jordan wilderness. Here, in this arid and harsh environment, John preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. All of Jerusalem, Judaea and the region round about Jordan went out to hear John’s message. Many who heard him repented their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
When Jesus came to be baptized by John the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus as the One. Startled and amazed by Jesus presence John forbade him saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”
With Jesus’ assurance “that all righteousness be fulfilled,” John baptized Him in the Jordan. Something wondrous and miraculous happened when Jesus came up out of the river. The Heavens were opened, The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and God spoke to all who were present, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus departed from John and was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness for forty days where he was tested by satan. When he came out of the desert Jesus heard the news of John’s arrest and immediately returned to Galilee where he began his public ministry, preaching and working miracles. Jesus’ fame spread quickly throughout the region of Galilee. Since John had been in prisoned at Herod’s fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, his disciples were allowed to visit him and during their visits reported to John what they had heard and seen Jesus doing.
Their reports had obviously raised some questions in John’s mind. Why? What did John expect Jesus to do? We must remember that there was a great deal of unrest and violence taking place in Israel under Roman rule and occupation. The two Jewish Tetrarchs, Herod and Phillip were corrupted and indifferent. Pontus Pilot was famous for swift and harsh judgements, willing to kill as many Jews necessary to keep the peace. Many Jewish sects were actively longing for the Messiah to come and deliver them.There were many of expectations and beliefs about the what and who the Messiah was. Here are some of those expectations and beliefs popular at that time concerning the Messiah. He would be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5) and often referred to as the “Son of David.” He would be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He would be a charismatic leader inspiring others to follow his example. He would be a great military leader who won battles for Israel. He would be a great judge, who made righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above he would be a mortal man.
John the baptist would have been familiar with these popular beliefs. What he expect? We get a good idea from his preaching. “The ax is laid at the root of the trees, wherefore every tree that beareth not good fruit will be cast into fire, I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance but he that cometh after me is mightier than I whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Whose fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat into the garner; but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
I believe John expected Jesus mission from the beginning would unleash a world changing apocalypse. The Kingdom of Heaven would come on earth immediately with great power and glory and God’s righteous judgment would commence. Wrath would fall on the wicked but those who repented of their sins would be gathered up and saved. He would begin all this in Jerusalem and lead Israel out of her cosmic and temporal bondage into an age of peace and justice for the Jews and all mankind. I can also imagine that John began to wonder if he would die by Herod’s hand before Jesus acted.
What Jesus was doing seemed at odds with John’s Messianic proclamations. Jesus preaching was no different from John’s in that he was calling for Israel to “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It sounded as though Jesus was still preparing the way. Jesus traveled all through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing all manner of sickness, disease and torments. He cast out devils and healed those with palsy. A great multitude began to follow him.
We can sense Jesus love and concern for John in his response. Jesus quotes Isaiah and Malachi reminding John of miracles, signs and wonders that would accompany Messiah’s advent. The blind will see. The lame will walk. Lepers will be cleansed. The deaf will hear. The mute will speak. The dead will be raised and the Gospel will be preached to the poor. These are the very things Jesus was doing right now.
Remember, John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. As if was for all the prophets who came before John divine revelation was not fully perceived and understood. What had been revealed to John was not fully understood, just as all Old Testament revelation had been with all the other prophets, including Moses.
John could not yet know the full reality of the Jesus’ full nature and identity, nor could John have fully comprehended he signs and wonders when Jesus came up out of the waters of Jordan. No one would begin to fathom the reality of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. No one could have expected the judgement and wrath of God Almighty would fall upon Jesus at his crucifixion. Nothing about Jesus would begin to make sense until after his death, resurrection, and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Jesus declared John the Baptist to be the greatest among those born of women yet the least of these in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than him. Jesus was not diminishing John, rather declaring John’s exalted place with God shows the exalted place every Christian is given through our salvation in Jesus. Furthermore , through the sacrament of Christian baptism we are made the very children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and given the heavenly virtues and all the grace and blessing needed to live a life pleasing to God. We would are ingrafted into the family of God receive the right to call God the Father Almighty our Father, Abba.
I believe John struggled to understand what he saw and heard as he bore witness to the first Advent of Jesus. Like John we will be perplexed by uncertain events and circumstances. Like John we believe in Jesus regardless of our perplexity and uncertainty as we await the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Now we who bear the mark of baptism and are strengthen and renewed buy his Body and Blood live in great hope of the righteous judgement our Lord and Savior Jesus will bring on earth of at HIS second coming. Let us welcome the coming of that day that John saw.
Come Lord Jesus, Come!