“Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” John’s ministry was very short, however. A public ministry was not begun, under the Law, until the age of 30; and as John was six months older than Jesus, he was preaching for only six months before Jesus began His ministry. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease”; and before Jesus’ first tour of Galilee John was imprisoned which resulted later in his being beheaded by Herod. His birth (not according to the ordinary laws of nature, but, through the interposition of Almighty power), character, and office, was foretold by the angel Gabriel. Previous to this there had been no prophecy or angelic ministry given to this people for about 400 years. But now, Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, is about to come, and they must be prepared for that kingdom of God which was at hand. And as Christ was to be born of a virgin, so incidents connected with His coming must also be miraculous.
John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest. His mother, Elisabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. Their home was in Hebron, in the hill country, where most of the priests lived (Luke 1:39; Joshua 21:11). They were a righteous couple, upright and holy in their conduct, and conscientious in their religious duties.
Zacharias was astounded and hardly believed the announcement made by the angel. But all things are possible with God, and nothing can hinder when His purpose is de-clared. God should be believed on His Word alone. Zacharias suffered nine months of silence for one questioning speech; and many others, by using the language of unbelief, have lost the language of praise and thanksgiving for months, if not years! John was born “in the days of Herod the king.” For the first time in Israel’s history, Judah’s throne was filled by a Gentile. The present king was appointed by the Roman government. Judah had lost the sceptre (Genesis 49: 10), and they should have looked for the King from Bethlehem, Who was to rule and feed the people of Israel (Micah 5:1‑4). John was to come in the “spirit and power” of Elijah. He was to resemble that prophet in his manner of life, it is true; but more than that, he was to come in the same power, authority, and zeal for the truth as Elijah, even reproving princes for their crimes. He wore a coarse or rough covering which, it seems, was common to prophets (Zechariah 13:4; II Kings 1:8). His food was locusts and wild honey. Locusts were of the grasshopper species, considered clean under the Mosaic Law, and commonly used for food (Leviticus 11:22).
John came as a forerunner of Christ, preparing the way before Him; and as a herald, proclaiming a matter of great importance to men. A herald is one who carries a message in the streets and fields so that he may be heard by many. Kings of those days, when on journeys, sent a group ahead of them, as heralds, and as forerunners to clear the way. This was a very necessary precaution when there were no public roads. The Holy Spirit taught John, revealing the doctrine Of salvation to him while he was in the wilderness alone with God, and the people who heard him later were suddenly aware that they were exposed to the judgments of the Lord, and sought an escape. No one but God gave John his commission. He first appealed to the great masses of people, teaching them their duty one to another. He told them not to expect mercy from the hand of God if they acted towards others in a contrary manner. He instructed the tax‑gatherers as to their duty. That office was detested by the Jews. But John does not condemn it; he speaks only against the abuse of it. Often the tax‑gatherer exacted more from the people than the government authorized, pocketing the surplus.
He then instructed the soldiers. They were not to extort money by force, or to accuse anyone falsely in order to create a good impression before their superiors.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised also. The Pharisees posed as a religious people, more holy and pious than others. They were very numerous among the Jews. In the beginning they were probably a pure and holy people, acquiring their name from the fact that they separated themselves from the polluted national worship. The name means “separatists,” but they had degenerated, lost God’s Spirit, and had only a form of godliness left, as we read in Matthew 15:9, “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” They observed the rules — but the Spirit was gone.
The Sadducees denied the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead. They were like Modernists of today.
…to be continuing