The Ministry of John the Baptist, Part 5
Oct 25, 2013
Luke tells us that John preached about many topics, but it is plain that Luke wanted to let us know that he prophesied specifically about the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:18 says,
18 So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel to the people.
His ministry was largely focused upon exhorting the people to repent and to raise their moral standard to conform to the law. Yet he also “preached the gospel to the people,” that is, the “good news” of the coming Messiah and the baptism of fire that was to come. It should be noted that the coming “unquenchable fire” of the Spirit was not a threat but a promise. In other words, the “chaff” to be burned was the chaff in the lives of the people. The people themselves were grain. The Holy Spirit would help them achieve the level of righteousness that God had set forth in the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2, KJV).
The Scandalous Life of Herod Antipas
Luke then tells us the reaction of King Herod (Antipas) in Luke 3:19, 20,
19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and on account of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20 he added this also to them all, that he locked John up in prison.
The wickedness of Herod Antipas was well known to all the people. When he had visited Rome a few years earlier (26 A.D.), he was a guest in the house of his brother, Philip, and his wife, Herodias. During that visit, he had fallen in love with Philip’s wife. Herod then divorced his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, in order to marry Herodias. She, in turn, divorced Philip and married Herod, creating a quiet scandal among the people.
Furthermore, divorcing Phasaelis sparked a disastrous war with her father, King Aretas, which had to be ended by the threat of Roman troops in 37 A.D. Tiberius died before the threat could be carried out, but two years later, after Herod was accused of conspiracy, his successor, Caligula, exiled Herod and Herodias to Gaul, where they died at unknown dates.
Earlier, in 30 A.D., John was outspoken and denounced Herod’s marriage as unlawful. Herod then cast him in prison but did not dare to put him to death, for he knew that John was considered to be a prophet among the common people. But then they had a party to celebrate Herod’s birthday (Matthew 14:6). Herodias’ daughter, Salome, danced at the party, and Herod “promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked” (Matthew 14:7). After consulting her mother, who hated John for speaking out against her marriage to Herod, she asked for John’s head on a platter (Matthew 14:8).
Herod’s birthday was evidently on or near Passover of 30 A.D., because when John’s disciples told Jesus what had happened, it was shortly after Passover, as I have shown.
John Baptizes Jesus
Luke 3:21, 22 says,
21 Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.”
Luke’s account is very brief. It appears that his main purpose was to show that Jesus was the One of whom John had spoken earlier. Jesus was the One who would baptize others with the Holy Spirit and fire. Hence, readers such as Theophilus are told that Jesus was able to baptize others with the Holy Spirit because He Himself had received that Spirit at His baptism.
Further, the heavenly witness came in the form of a dove, and a voice identified Him as the Son of God. Lightfoot reports that Jewish tradition claimed that Solomon’s scepter was topped by a golden dove:
“If you will believe the Jews, there sat a dove upon the top of Solomon’s sceptre. ‘As Solomon sat in his throne, his sceptre was hung up behind him… at the top of which there was a dove and a golden crown in the mouth of it’.” (Lightfoot, Commentary, Vol. III, p. 52).
If the tradition has merit, then Solomon’s dove may have prophesied of this event at Jesus’ baptism. Solomon was the son of King David, and his name is derived from Shalom, which means “peace.” He is therefore the Prince of Peace, a type of the Messiah who is also given that title prophetically in Isaiah 9:6. The dove represents the Holy Spirit in His peaceful character.
Official Recognition as King
Matthew 3:13-15 records a brief conversation before John would baptize Jesus, telling us that John did not feel worthy to baptize the Messiah. John 1:33 tells us that the Baptizer “did not recognize Him” (NASB) as the Messiah until the time of Jesus’ baptism. Since their mothers knew each other and were cousins, John no doubt was acquainted with Jesus. It is also likely that John often had been told of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, and that he knew from his earliest days that Jesus was to be the Messiah.
How then did he not “recognize Him” until the baptism? I believe we must interpret the idea of “recognition” in a formal, political way, for indeed, John was consecrating the King of Judah and the King of the Earth. In that sense, recognition had to do with a formal introduction, which is normally done when an ambassador presents his credentials to a foreign nation and receives “recognition.” Likewise, when nations “recognize” each other, it means that they accept the integrity of each other’s identity and status as nations.
Because Jesus was both Son of God and Son of Man, He had to receive recognition in both directions. First, Jesus had been born on earth and was being presented to God as the rightful Heir of the throne of David. Hence, the voice from heaven “recognized” Jesus as the King.
Secondly, Jesus had come from heaven and deserved recognition from the earth. John “recognized” Him formally by accepting Him as the King sent to the nation. John did so in his priestly office as the legitimate high priest in Judea. In those days the high priests were installed only if “recognized” by the representatives of Rome. The former manner of installation, established by God in the days of Aaron, was that the high priest’s son would take the office on the death of his father.
When Solomon replaced Abiathar in 1 Kings 2:35, it was an extraordinary event brought about by the corruption of Eli and his sons three generations earlier. This change was prophesied and authorized by God in 1 Samuel 2:30, 35. Unfortunately, later kings took Solomon’s action as a precedent, allowing them to replace high priests according to their own carnal will. And so by the time of John’s ministry, the old custom had long ceased, and high priests were installed and removed at the whim of the kings’ representatives.
In the days of John and Jesus, Joseph Caiaphas was the high priest recognized by Rome. Josephus tells us how he and those before him came to obtain the high priesthood:
“He [Tiberius] was now the third emperor; and he sent Valerius Gratus to be procurator of Judea, and to succeed Annius Rufus. This man deprived Ananus [the father of Theophilus] of the high priesthood and appointed Ismael, the son of Phabi, to be high priest. He also deprived him in a little time, and ordained Eleazar, the son of Ananus, who had been high priest before, to be high priest; which office, when he had held for a year, Gratus deprived him of it and gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and when he had possessed that dignity no longer than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor.”
Gratus, the procurator of Judea before Pontius Pilate, deposed Ananus (the biblical Annas) in 16 A.D. and replaced him with Ismael. Gratus soon replaced him with Eleazar, one of the sons of Ananus. But a year later Gratus deposed him and appointed Simon. A year later, Gratus deposed him and appointed Caiaphas, who held the position for about 18 years and was the high priest who condemned Jesus.
The point is that high priests are not legitimate unless God ordains them. Neither Gratus nor any other representative of the Roman Empire had the divine right to appoint high priests of God. Since the days of Julius Caesar the Roman emperors held the title of Pontifex Maximum, Latin for High Priest. Hence, when they appointed high priests in Jerusalem, those priests remained under the authority of the pagan Roman high priests, who were king-priest counterfeits and usurpers of the Melchizedek Order.
The Legitimate Office
I believe that John’s ministry established a legitimate high priesthood that was recognized by God Himself. The problem was that John died childless, and so his office passed to his nearest relative, his first-cousin, Jesus.
This also marked the transition from the Aaronic priesthood to that of Melchizedek, for Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, not Levi. It is likely that John’s mother, Elizabeth, had been born in the tribe of Judah, but had married a Levite, and so her tribal affiliation changed to Levi, as the law commanded.
While John was yet ministering, Jesus was unable to take His place as the High Priest, even though He was the first in line of succession. John was childless and apparently unmarried. When John was cast into prison, Jesus took John’s place and began to preach the gospel of repentance. But it was only when John died that Jesus fully became the Inheritor of the office of high priest under the Order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:12-15).
When Jesus was baptized, He was recognized as such by the voice of God. Even so, at the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus protested, saying, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). What did He mean, except that John was not yet finished with his work as the forerunner?
The Signs in John
Perhaps most significantly, the gospel of John arranges the eight miracle-signs of Jesus in such a way that the middle signs occur at the time of John’s death and the transition into Jesus’ full installment as the High Priest. John died shortly before Jesus fed the 5,000, for we read in Matthew 14:12, 13,
12 And his [John’s] disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.
After healing the sick and preaching to them, He fed them with five barley loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:19), taking up afterward twelve baskets of leftovers. This story is repeated in John 6, where we learn that it occurred near the time of Passover (John 6:4).
More important, feeding the 5,000 was the fourth miracle-sign, and that same night Jesus walked on the water to perform the fifth miracle-sign.
These are the middle signs in the Hebrew Parallelism that characterizes the book of John. The eight signs are meant to prophesy of the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles. And so these middle signs prophetically reveal the importance of the middle of the feast. In John’s commentary of this in the next chapter, we learn that Jesus appeared in the middle of the feast (John 7:2, 14). I believe this prophesies of the second coming of Christ in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles of some unknown year.
Obviously, in John 7 Jesus was not recognized as King, because in His first coming, He was foreordained to be rejected and to die on the cross. Nonetheless, when we see how John’s death was associated with the middle signs of Tabernacles, it suggests that Jesus will ultimately come in the middle of the feast and there be recognized as King.
In my view, as I have taught elsewhere, the overcomers will be brought to birth on the first day of Tabernacles, being changed from water to wine, so to speak, as the first sign reveals to us (the wedding feast of Cana). The fifth sign, where He comes to the disciples walking on the water, is where Peter goes out to meet Him, and this speaks of the second coming of Christ. His coming unites the Head with the Body of the New Creation Man.
On the eighth day of Tabernacles, the New Creation Man will be “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and presented to God in the temple in heaven. The New Creation Man will then receive his eighth-day heart circumcision according to the law in Exodus 22:29, 30 before returning to the earth to be presented to the people as the manifested sons of God (Romans 8:19, KJV).
This is part 5 of a mini-series titled "The Ministry of John the Baptist." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 9 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones