The Story of John The Baptist and Jesus
John the Baptist is probably one of the most important people in the New Testament. But who was he? What did he do? How did his life intersect with the ministry of Jesus?
In this article, we’ll go over all of that and more.
Who was John the Baptist
John the Baptist wasn’t just another person in the Bible. His life was intertwined with the life of Jesus. In fact, they were cousins.
But they were so much more than just cousins.
John the Baptist, who was born before Jesus, also had a miracle birth. He preached the Gospel, did good works, and was killed for his goodness. You could say that he mirrored the life of Jesus, preparing people to accept Jesus himself.
But before we get into the rest of the story, let’s start with his birth that can be found in the first chapter of Luke.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.
7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,
9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.
22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.
24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.
25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
(Luke 1 as found in the NIV)
So just like Jesus, John the Baptist’s birth would be a miracle. It wouldn’t have been a virgin birth, but considering the age of his parents, it would be miraculous nonetheless. So much so that John’s father didn’t even believe an angel when the angel told him about the birth.
But nonetheless, when God speaks, his word is fulfilled. And the fulfillment of the prophecy of John’s birth would not only bless Zechariah and Elizabeth’s life, but the lives of many, many others.
Here’s part of the prophecy about the life of John the Baptist that we can read in the first chapter of Luke.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1 as found in the NIV)
How have you ever experienced a miracle in your life? Do you ever feel like your life was somehow touched by God?
The Similarities of John the Baptist and Jesus
John the Baptist did what many leaders did in the Bible. He preached of Jesus, taught people what it meant to be a good person, and helped people start their personal journeys so they could become better people. Part of this journey included baptism.
But he didn’t do these things to have people join the Church of John the Baptist. He did them so people would be prepared to follow Jesus, who John knew would come after him.
Here’s an excerpt from the book of Matthew where John tells people about Jesus.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
(Matthew 3 as found in the NIV)
Not only did John do good things and encouraged others to do better too, but he recognized that whatever goodness he put into the world through his actions would absolutely pale in comparison to the good Jesus would do.
John the Baptist was humble, he was diligent, and he wanted to prepare people for the coming of Jesus.
In fact, when Jesus began preaching, according to the third chapter of John, John the Baptist explicitly stated that it was time for him to preach differently.
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.
23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized.
24 (This was before John was put in prison.)
25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.
26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.
28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’
29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
(John 3 as found in the NIV)
How inspiring is it to recognize the greatness of Jesus to the point where you’re willing and able to make parts of yourself less so he can become greater? What bad habits and poor attitudes come naturally to each of us that we should try to lessen so Jesus can grow great in our lives?
John the Baptist models that very behavior for us all.
One of the most important stories about both Jesus and John the Baptist can be found in the third chapter of Matthew. This story is about the baptism of Jesus himself.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3 as found in the NIV)
John did a lifetime of good. He taught people. Baptized people. Prepared people to follow Jesus. He was born miraculously and lived righteously. John the Baptist changed his life to make himself small so Jesus could become bigger. He did everything he could to prepare the world for the life and ministry of his beloved cousin, Jesus.
But he also recognized that no amount of goodness he performed in this life would amount to the goodness Jesus would do.
And this explains why he was so taken aback when Jesus asked John to baptize him.
Can you imagine? Being face-to-face with Jesus and having him ask you to baptize him?
And while John hesitated at first, Jesus’s words of encouragement were enough to help John realize that he needed to do this for Jesus.
Jesus showed us the path people need to walk. And John showed people how to prepare to walk that path.
Their stories overlap often in the four Gospels. They shared a mission.
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