Voice in the Wilderness

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

Wilderness Photo by Hendrik Cornelissen on Unsplash
All four gospels apply the same passage from
Isaiah to John the Baptist. He was sent to summon all of Israel to repent “for the remission of sins” in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival and the Kingdom of God, and all this was in fulfillment of key messianic promises in the Hebrew Bible - [Wilderness Photo by Hendrik Cornelissen on Unsplash].

The citation from Isaiah identifies John as the forerunner, the one like Elijah who was expected before the “day of Yahweh,” the one who was to call the faithful “to prepare the way of the Lord.”  And John’s activities parallel aspects of the prophetic ministry of 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 was associated with the “wilderness” areas located near the Jordan to the east and north of Jerusalem. At the river, John proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.” A passage in John claims he was baptizing many there because “there was much water.” An ample supply of water was 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” (Strong’s - #G3341). The call was for more than just remorse. The “remission of sins” required a conscious change of mind and direction in life.

Remission.” The Greek word 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 and obligations.

ENTIRE NATION SUMMONED

All Israel was summoned to repent. Matthew adds Pharisees and Sadducees to the mix.  John also includes “priests and Levites.” Representatives from all levels of Jewish society were called to repent, including the religious leaders from Jerusalem. All this was in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah - (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).

River panorama - Photo by Kyle Pearce on Unsplash
[Photo by Kyle Pearce on Unsplash]

His description as being “
clothed with camel hair and a leather belt” echoes the story of Elijah who, likewise, “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. The baptism of John prepared for the arrival of that kingdom and its King.

The Baptist contrasted 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,” that is, Satan. His exorcisms of demons demonstrated his authority over the Devil - (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 assigned to slaves and domestic servants. Thus, John portrayed himself as less than worthy to function even as the lowliest slave of the “Coming One.” Even his baptism in water was preparatory, not final. Both John and Jesus baptized others, but John baptized them in water, while the Messiah “baptizes you in the Holy Spirit.”

BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT

The gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “last days,” the prophesied “promise of the Father,” one of the “blessings of Abraham” and a cornerstone of the 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 your 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.”
  • (Joel 2:28) – “And it will come to pass afterward, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus did not abandon water baptism. However, his baptism added something new and significant - The baptism in the Spirit. His baptism was unique and vastly superior to anything previously experienced or even expected.

Holy Spirit” was a common term among first-century Jews for the Spirit of God. Devout Jews did not utter the name of God. Out of reverence, direct references to Him were avoided by means of circumlocutions like “Holy Spirit” and “the Blessed One.” The term is the functional equivalent to the “Spirit of God.”

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



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