Voice in the Wilderness

John arrived in Judea to prepare the way of the Messiah and herald the Good News of the Kingdom, as predicted in Isaiah – Mark 1:4-8

River Rainier - Photo by Daniel Bosse on Unsplash
All four gospel accounts apply the same prophecy from 
Isaiah to John the Baptist. His summons for all Israel to repent “for the remission of sins” prepared the way for the promised Messiah and the arrival of the Kingdom of God. This work by John was in fulfillment of key messianic promises from the Hebrew Bible - [Photo by Daniel Bosse on Unsplash].

The citation from Isaiah identifies John as the prophesied forerunner, the one like Elijah who would arrive before the “day of Yahweh” and cry out in the "wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.”  The description of John parallels aspects of the 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) - “John the Baptist came in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; and there were going out to him all the Judea country and all they of Jerusalem, and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s-hair and a leathern girdle about his loins and was eating locusts and wild honey; and he proclaimed, saying: He that is mightier than I comes after me, of whom I am not worthy to stoop and unloose the strap of his sandals: I, indeed, have baptized you with water, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In the wilderness.” His ministry was associated with the “wilderness” areas near the Jordan River to the east and north of Jerusalem. At the river, John proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.” A passage in John claims that he baptized in this region because “there was much water there.” An ample supply of water would be necessary to carry out large-scale baptisms by immersion - (Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-11, John 3:23).

The Greek noun rendered “repentance” denotes a “change of mind” (metanoia). 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 noun means “to release, discharge, liberate; to remit” something - (Strong’s - #G859). Elsewhere, it is applied to the “discharge” of debt, as well as to “divorce” decrees. Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent from its dominion.

All Israel was summoned to repent. Matthew adds Pharisees and Sadducees into the mix. The gospel of 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).

The description of John as “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. His baptism served to prepare for the arrival of the kingdom and its King.

John 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 bound the “strong man,” 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, but John baptized in water, while the Messiah “baptized in the Holy 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 - (Isaiah 44:1-4, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 10:44-48).
  • (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.”
  • (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 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.”

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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