Voice in the Wilderness

John arrived in Judea to prepare the way for the Messiah and herald the Good News of the Kingdom – Mark 1:4-8. 

All four gospels apply the same passage from the book of Isaiah to John. He was sent to summon all of Israel to repent “for the remission of sins” in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. All this was in fulfillment of key messianic promises in the Hebrew Bible.

The citation from Isaiah identifies John as the forerunner, the one like Elijah who is expected before the “day of Yahweh.” He will call the faithful “to prepare the way of the Lord.”

And many of John’s activities parallel aspects of the prophetic ministry of the prophet Elijah - (Malachi 3:1-3, 4:5, Mark 9:12-13, Luke 1:17):

  • (Isaiah 40:1-5) – “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry to her that accomplished is her warfare, that accepted is her punishment, that she has received at the hand of Yahweh, according to the full measure of all her sins. A voice of one crying, in the desert prepare the way of Yahweh, make smooth in the waste plain a highway for our God: Let every valley be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low, and the steep ground become level, and the chain of hills a plain: Then will be revealed the glory of Yahweh, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken!” – (Mark 1:4-8).

IN THE WILDERNESS

John’s ministry is associated with the “wilderness” areas near the Jordan river valley to the east and north of Jerusalem. At the river, he proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.”

A passage in the gospel of John claims he baptized many there because “there was much water,” and an ample supply of water is necessary to carry out large-scale immersions - (Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-11, John 3:23).

The Greek noun rendered “repentance” denotes a “change of mind” (metanoia, Strong's #G3341).  The call is for more than just remorse. The “remission of sins” requires a deliberate change of mind and direction in one’s life.

The Greek word rendered “remission” means “to release, discharge, liberate; to remit” something - (Strong’s - #G859). Elsewhere in Scripture, it is applied to the “discharge” of debt and “divorce” decrees.

Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent from its dominion and the obligations that it places on the sinner.

ENTIRE NATION SUMMONED

All Israel is summoned to repent. The gospel of Matthew adds Pharisees and Sadducees to the mix, and the gospel of John includes “priests and Levites.” Hence, representatives from all levels of Jewish society are called to repent, including the religious leaders from Jerusalem - (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).

His description as being “clothed with camel hair and a leather belt” echoes the story of Elijah who also “wore a garment of hair with a girdle of leather” - (2 Kings 1:1-8).

John’s preaching and actions point to the coming Messiah, but it is Jesus who brings the good news of the Kingdom. John’s baptism prepares hearts for the arrival of that kingdom and its King.

The Baptist contrasts himself with the “Coming One” in three ways - Might, Worth, and Mode of Baptism. The Greek adjective rendered “mightier” is used later to describe Jesus as the “mighty one” who binds the “strong man,” namely, Satan - (Mark 3:22-30).

I am not worthy to unloose the strap of his sandals.” In first-century society, removing another man’s footwear was a menial task normally assigned to slaves and domestic servants.

BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT

In this way, John portrays himself as less than worthy to be even the lowliest slave of the “Coming One.” Even his baptism in water is preparatory, not final. And John baptizes in water, but the Messiah will “baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

In the Hebrew Bible, the gift of the Spirit is an expectation of the “last days,” the prophesied “promise of the Father” and one of the “blessings of Abraham.” It is the cornerstone of the predicted New Covenant:

  • (Acts 2:38-39) – “And Peter said to them, Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the free-gift of the Holy Spirit; for unto you is the promise, and unto your children, and unto all them who are afar off: as many soever as the Lord our God will call unto him.”
  • (Galatians 2:14) – “In order that, unto the nations, the blessing of Abraham might come about in Jesus Christ, in order that, the promise of the Spirit we might receive through means of the faith.”
  • (Isaiah 44:3) – “Do not fear, O my Servant Jacob, and Jeshurun whom I have chosen; For I will pour water upon the thirsty soil, and floods upon the dry ground, I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring.
  • (Ezekiel 36:26-27) – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, And I will take away the heart of stone of your flesh, And will give you a heart of flesh, And my spirit will I put within you, And will cause that in my statutes you will walk, and my regulations you will observe, and do.”

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus does not abandon water baptism, but his baptism adds something new and significant - The BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT. His baptism is unique and vastly superior to anything previously experienced.

With John’s announcement, the stage is set for the public unveiling of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Herald of the Kingdom, and the one who baptizes his followers in the Spirit.



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