The coming of John the Baptist was an important part of the beginning of the New Testament age. It was John who set the scene and prepared the people for the coming of the Lord. Although there is not a lot spoken of John in the New Testament, his role was crucial to prepare the people. In these scriptures we see how his coming was announced to his parents and the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies.
His parents were both of the tribe of Levi who were the tribe of the priests under the Old Covenant. His father Zechariah was of the division of Abijah and he was a priest, and his wife, Elizabeth was descended from Aaron who was the first of the priests and the brother of Moses.
While serving in the temple Zechariah was burning incense in accordance with the requirements of the priesthood, and while doing so he saw the angel of the Lord standing beside the altar of incense. Zechariah was greatly troubled and fearful, but the angel said to him not to fear. He said, “Do not be afraid, Zechari’ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Verse 13) In this way the birth of John was announced.
Now the coming of John was necessary for the work he was to do was to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. His role was, “… he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli’jah, 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.” (Verses 16-17) The preparation work he would do was to turn the people back to the Lord. His message would be to repent and return to the Lord God.
Repentance means to change and turn around your life. The literal meaning of the word translated as repent in the Greek (metanoeo) is to “think differently.” That is, top think differently to the way the world thinks and to think differently to the way you used to think. This is a first indication that the message of the New Covenant would be different to the Old Covenant.
The Old Covenant dealt with the things of the body and the flesh as the writer of Hebrews showed when speaking of the law, “…According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:9-10)
The Old Covenant dealt with the matters pertaining to this life in the flesh. But the New Covenant deals with the spirit and matters of the spirit. As the writer in Hebrews indicates, the law “…cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper…” and we see also in the meaning of the word “repent” that it too deals with thought processes, which are of the spirit. We need to change the way we think and to think differently.
The work of John the Baptist was to turn people around and to begin to change their way of thinking so they would be prepared to accept the new teaching the Lord was to bring where people could find the way to “…perfect the conscience…” which the law could not do.
Jesus said of John that amongst those born of mankind none was greater than John (Matthew 11:11) The announcement of his coming and the way he was born testify to the greatness of this servant of God. Both his parents were well advanced in years and childless, like Abraham and Sarah. Yet with God all things are possible and he caused Elizabeth to be able to bear a child and thus John was born and named by God as the angel instructed. Truly a remarkable beginning to someone who would lead a remarkable life as a servant of the Lord.