Voice in the Wilderness

All four gospel accounts apply the same passage from the Book of Isaiah to John the Baptist, the messenger who summoned all Israel to repent “for the remission of sins” in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. That passage identified him as the forerunner who was expected before the “Day of Yahweh,” the one who would call the faithful “to prepare the way of the LORD.”

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[Baptism of Jesus by clipart.christiansunite.com]

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

  • (Isaiah 40:3-5) – “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).

The Baptist’s ministry took place in the “wilderness” areas in and around the Jordan River Valley to the east and north of Jerusalem. There, John proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.” The Greek noun rendered “repentance” denotes a “change of mind.” The call was for more than just remorse over one’s past misdeeds. The “remission of sins” required a deliberate change of mind and a complete reorientation of 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 to “divorce” decrees. Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent from its dominion, obligations, and curse.

John summoned the entire nation to repent. The Gospel of Matthew adds Pharisees and Sadducees to the mix of people who came to hear John preach, and John’s Gospel also includes “priests and Levites” in the crowds. Hence, representatives from all levels of Jewish society were summoned to repent, INCLUDING THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS FROM JERUSALEM - (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).

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

John’s preaching and actions pointed to the coming Messiah, but it was Jesus who brought the Good News of the Kingdom. John’s baptism prepared hearts for the arrival of THAT kingdom and its King.

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

As John said of himself, “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.


In such ways, John portrayed himself as less than worthy to be even the lowest slave of the “Coming One.” Even his baptism in water was preparatory, not final. He baptized repentant sinners in water, but the Messiah would “baptize them in the Holy Spirit.”

In the Hebrew Bible, the Gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “Last Days,” the “Promise of the Father” and one of the “blessings of Abraham.” It would be the cornerstone of the predicted New Covenant - (Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 2:14, Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:26-27).

John declared that the “Coming One” would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In the gospel accounts, Jesus does not abandon water baptism. But his baptism adds something new and significant - The BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT. Thus, his baptism was unique and vastly superior to anything previously experienced, including the baptism in water administered by John.

With John’s announcement and ministry, the stage was set for the public unveiling of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Herald of the Kingdom, and the one who would baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit.




No Middle Ground

Abraham's Seed