John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He is spoken about in the following Scriptures: (Matthew 3: 1-17) (Mark 1: 1-11) (Luke 3: 1-22) (John 1: 15-36). According to Matthew 3: 3, Mark 1: 3, Luke 3: 4 and John 1: 23, John was foretold in Isaiah 40: 3; and according to Mark 1: 2, he was foretold in Malachi 3: 1. In both Old Testament passages John was to do a work among the Jewish people, prophetically described as making straight or ready the path before Him. In Malachi 3: 1, we are not to confound him as the messenger of God preparing the way before Jesus with the title given to our Lord Himself, the “messenger of the covenant.” Both John and Jesus were messengers or representatives, but Jesus was on a far higher scale. He was the Messenger through whom God’s covenant with mankind was to be established – the Messenger or Mediator of the New Covenant, sealed through the precious blood of Jesus, and to become operative to the world in general during the Millennial Age.
Heralding the Messiah
John, a cousin of Jesus, was just six months older than Jesus (Luke 1: 26, 36); and both began their ministries at thirty years of age, so John had been preaching just six months when Jesus came to him for baptism at the opening of His ministry. During those six months John announced himself as the forerunner, or trumpeter, of the great Messiah (Mark 1: 7, 8), and declared that it was necessary that the people should come into a condition of heart-repentance if they would be ready for the Messiah and prepared to enjoy the blessings and favors of God which Messiah would dispense.
John made no claims of being the Messiah himself, but humbly declared that the One who would be shortly made known to Israel as Messiah was so much greater that he (John) would not be worthy to stoop down and loose the fastenings of His shoes. He proclaimed that those who would be ready for Messiah and the Kingdom would not only renounce sin and reform their lives, but would publicly declare the same by symbolizing it by a baptism in water. But he also assured them that this baptism which he performed for them was nothing compared to that greater baptism which Messiah would give to the faithful – a baptism of the holy spirit to the faithful, and a baptism of fire to the unfaithful.
John’s prophetic message was distinctly fulfilled. Those Israelites indeed who received Jesus as the Messiah were, at Pentecost, baptized with the holy spirit from the Father as members of the Body of Christ. That work of seeking out the true wheat was continued with the Jewish nation by the Apostles and other believers until the end of the Jewish Age Harvest in 69 A.D. Then, all the true wheat having been found, the fire of trouble consumed and destroyed their nation (Matthew 3: 10-12) (1 Thessalonians 2: 16), causing indescribable suffering and scattering the remainder of that people throughout the earth.
Last of the Prophets
John the Baptist is described as the last of the prophets (Matthew 11: 11-13) (Luke 16: 16). With him the old dispensation terminated, as with our Lord the new dispensation began. John apparently adopted somewhat the manner and dress of Elijah, his prototype, and was conspicuous among the people because of the simplicity of his dress, which indicated that his entire life was devoted to the special service of the Lord. Great multitudes, especially the humble and lowly went out to hear him, and excitement prevailed among the people – a revival service.
When Jesus came to John and requested baptism, John objected, declaring that our Lord had no sins that He needed to repent of (Matthew 3: 14, 15). He did not explain to John why He was baptized nor what His baptism signified, for that was not due to be understood until after Pentecost. But in the light of the New Testament we see that our Lord’s baptism was a new thing, totally distinct from John’s baptism; that it symbolized or represented a baptism into death – a burial of the will into the will of God, and the beginning of a reckonedly new life, symbolized by the rising from the water.