John left his priestly home and went to the wilderness and ” . . . the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3: 2-3).” Here he warned the people of their alienation from God.
“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3: 7-9).”
His message to prepare for the coming of Messiah was clear. When asked how to prepare he preached a message reminiscent of the two great commands – love God, and love your neighbour. Social justice, and not just blind or thoughtless following of the Law was to be in their hearts.
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized.“Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,”he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do? He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:11-14).”
He was not Messiah, but came to bear witness to His coming. Of Messiah he said, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (Luke 3:16).”
John 1:28 tells us that John was on the other side of the Jordan, baptising.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One (John 1:29-34).”
John clearly identifies Jesus as Messiah. And in what follows we see a recognition of Jesus’ majesty and John’s humility.
“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. . . . Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus (John 1:35-37, 40).”
The Baptiser’s two disciples, Andrew and John followed Jesus. They were seekers after spiritual knowledge, and took their master, John’s words about Jesus as the fulfillment of his teaching on the coming of the promised one. John seems to have no problem with their departure, in fact it can be seen as his purpose in thus identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God.
This interpretation of the event seems supported by a further event in John 3: 22f,
“After this, Jesus and his disciples [including John’s previous students Andrew and John – my reference] went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 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. To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 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. He must become greater; I must become less.”
Note John is neither envious or upset by Jesus’ ministry, or by His message. “He must become greater; I must become less.” But this does not diminish John’s example for us, nor the impact of his teaching. We will look at these in the third part of this study.