John the Baptist 1
February 19, 2019
by Barry Fike
One of the most influential personages that led to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was a man titled “John the Baptist”. What we know of him is brief but important. Luke is the primary gospel writer that gives us a glimpse into his beginnings and ministry.
He begins in chapter 1:5 talking about the birth of John being foretold to a priest by the name of Zecharias who married to a woman named Elizabeth also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in God’s sight and observed all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations without blame. Their only problem was that they were barren and had no child which in that society was looked upon as a curse. While Zechariah was on duty in the Temple, near the altar of incense (which was located before the curtains behind which was the Holy of Holies which previously had housed the Ark of the Covenant), an angel appeared to him declaring that he and Elizabeth would be blessed with a child who was to be called John. He would be great in the sight of the Lord but would never drink wine or any other fermented drink because the only spirit to fill him would be the Holy Spirit from birth. He would, by means of his ministry and leading, bring back many people to the Lord their God. His message was so bold and straightforward that many wondered if he himself was the Messiah (Matt. 3:1-12).
There was an unsettled nature among the Israelites in the first century. Many thought the time was ripe for their savior to arrive and drive out the hated Romans. When a man having the similitude of Elijah came preaching in the wilderness the baptism of repentance many flocked to him? Why?
In the 1940’s when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, we also discovered the community of Qumran from which the scrolls were developed. They were out in the wilderness not a few miles from where John was preaching at the River Jordan. The Qumran community was established on the basis of a misunderstanding of Isaiah 40:3 which states: “A voice of one calling; “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” We know that this scripture was the pivotal verse for the community for when they unrolled the massive Isaiah scroll and noticed the opening of this scripture the ink stains from the hands that held it open were found on both sides of the scroll. They were found nowhere else this prominently. Their community was founded in the region of the Dead Sea hoping they were preparing a way in the wilderness for the Messiah. They were a separatist’s kind of people calling themselves the “Sons of light” and everyone else the “Sons of darkness”. Thousands must have joined this order persuaded that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
From the archaeological digs we’ve found numerous mikvahs (ritual immersion pools) used possibly daily for ritual, and spiritual cleansings. Some scholars believe that John was a part of this sect and left for ideological reasons. While John would have agreed with them on the concept of baptism he offered all members of Israel the possibility of accepting the rite of immersion without changing their social status. (Luke 3:10-14) This would not happen in Qumran as you had to be a member of this society to accept the baptism that they practiced.
John would use this scripture from Isaiah to designate who he was. When he was asked in John 1:19-23 he replied: “I am not the Christ…Are you Elijah?...I am not…Are you the Prophet?...No…Who are you…I am the voice of one calling the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord.” Instead of being a separatists John brought about a reform out of a feeling of love for Israel. No one seeking to influence Jews in any matter concerning religion would introduce something entirely new and unfounded. If John could not support his ideas either from Scripture, or from the interpretations of recognized rabbis, he would not gain a hearing. Yet, we see Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the regions round about the Jordan going out to him at the river Jordan to be baptized of him, confessing their sins. (Matt. 3:5) Therefore, the reasonable conclusion is that John’s baptism is not something new. It was something that grew out of the Jewish ritual immersion in the miqua’ot (ritual immersion pools) and had a great deal to do with preparing the way for the Messiah. Next week we’ll look at Micah 2:13 in relation to this concept.