Who was John the Baptist? He made quite a stir in his day so much so that the priests and Levites asked John if he was the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet. With each question John answered, "No." So, who was he? Jesus said he was the greatest man ever born of a woman. Why?
For one, John would introduce mankind to the God-man, the Snake-Crusher, the Firstborn of the New Creation. The guy who made all the Creation and is one day going to put every wrong back to right...yeah, John got the privilege (and huge responsibility) of announcing his arrival.
Second, John was the last Old Testament prophet; but he was also the first prophet of the New Covenant. When John came on the scene it had been 400-plus years since the last scripture was recorded by the prophet Malachi. Now new revelation was coming to mankind. This revelation wouldn't be through words on a scroll. This time revelation would come through the Word Made Flesh.
Third, John was great because of his willingness to be eclipsed by Jesus. "He must increase, but I must decrease." John's task was to make the way ready - to prepare people - for the arrival of Christ, and then fade away.
The Baptisms & Baptizers
John baptized and preached repentance in the wilderness of Judea, west of the Dead Sea. He parsed no words with the Pharisees (religious legalists) and the Sadducees (moralistic naturalists) when he said, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3) John was preaching to the ones who already had all the answers. They were self-declared experts on the Law, on religion, on miracles (or their impossibility), but they didn't have true repentance. They weren't prepared for the Good News. So, John was getting them ready.
Notice, John preached repentance. His medium was water. It was a powerful symbol that had been used for Gentile converts to Judaism for some time. But John was calling the Jews to repent and make themselves ready for their coming king. But the Messiah, the greater one, the one who would increase while John would decrease, he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Holy Spirit and fire. What?
Let's dig into Matthew 3 some more. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is deliverance. From death. From sin. From all the fallout of...well, the Fall. The first Adam took everything good, threw it away, and left a mess. The new Adam is taking the ruination, the dead, and making it alive again.
The baptism of fire speaks of judgment. In fact, John goes on and says, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clear his threshing floor; and he will gather up his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." This word picture is lost on us non-agrarians. A winnowing fork was used to throw the grain into the air allowing the chaff to be blown away by the wind. The wheat is delivered; these are believers, those baptized by the Holy Spirit. The chaff is the baptism unto fire, the damned, the unrepentant, those who reject the Good News.
The greatest man
When Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized, John refused. "I need you to baptize me," he said. Jesus told John to permit so that they could fulfill all righteousness. John couldn''t comprehend the need, but again he was willing to trust God even though he didn't understand. So why was Jesus adamant on being baptized?
- Jesus modeled obedience to Father God.
- Jesus the sinless God-man identified himself with all sinful men and women.
- Jesus began his ministry (symbolic of death, burial resurrection) in the same way it would (literally) end.
- Father God then spoke from heaven confirming Jesus' role as Messiah.
What are your thoughts on these two baptizers, "the greatest man born of woman" and the Son of God? Let us know in the comments below.