Who was John the Baptist?

(Matthew 11:7-15)

Jesus described John the Baptist saying, “…among those born of women there has risen no-one greater than John the Baptist.” (Vs. 11) This is high praise indeed coming from the Son of God, especially when we consider what John must have appeared like to the common man.

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and not in the towns or cities. He wore rough clothes made of camel hair and he ate nothing but locusts and wild honey and drank only water. A sparse and rather unusual diet indeed. Had he lived today he would have been called an eccentric, or possibly a nutter given what his appearance looked like and his way of life. And yet Jesus said of this rather rough and wild looking man that there was no-one greater than he amongst all of mankind.

In spite of his obvious eccentricities John the Baptist had a message that he preached and that message was from God. He taught the people about the ways of repentance and to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. And the people went out into the wilderness to hear what he had to say and to be baptised for repentance in the Jordan. The people recognised that the power of God was with John and so they went out of their way to go to him and hear the words of God. Even the Pharisees came to him to hear and be baptised, and John showed up their hypocrisy as Jesus later did too.

The message of John the Baptist about repentance is as important today as it was then. All who come to God must be repentant as this is the very first step of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Repentance from sins is one of the six key foundation teachings of the New Covenant as defined in Hebrews 6:1-2. It is by repenting that we are made ready to receive the truth of the New Covenant and to accept Jesus. Jesus said of John that, “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'” (Vs. 10) The words John spoke to the people about repentance and baptism were to prepare them for the coming of Jesus and the ministry that was to follow.

Jesus also asked the people why they went out into the wilderness. Was it just to see the sights? That is, did they go to see, “A reed shaken by the wind?” (Vs. 7) No, they went to see and hear the words of John the Baptist. Now as mentioned already, he must have looked a rather odd person, and so the insight we can gain from that is that the word of God can come from anyone or anywhere. When Jesus said in verse 8, “Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses,” what he was showing here is that it is not necessary to wear fancy suits and to dress to the nines to get or to receive the word of God. In fact those who “dress to impress” are not doing so for the Lord but for man or for vanity.

Fancy clothes, fine jewellery and so on do not impress God and neither should we be. God is concerned only with the condition of our heart and our faith in his son Jesus Christ. Just because a minister dresses well does not guarantee that his teachings will be any better than one who does not. Ultimately we must look past the man and listen to the words, for this is what God does and what we must do too.

Finally we see that Jesus said in verse 13, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John…” In this statement Jesus is defining the end of a period of time. He said, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” and thus he showed that the end of the Old Covenant period ended with John. From that point on when Jesus began his ministry we saw the coming of the new age of the New Covenant period. And it came violently and with violence, for the New Covenant did not come into force until the violent death of Jesus Christ when he was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification.

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