Saint John the Baptist

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Saint John the Baptist (also called John the Forerunner) is regarded as a prophet by Christianity as well as Islam. According to the Gospel of Luke 1:36 (NRSV)[1], he was a relative of Jesus. That he was a prophet is asserted by the Synoptic Gospels and the Qur'an. Isaiah 40:3-5 is commonly read as a prophecy of John.

Christian view

His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the Daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). John held the priesthood of Aaron, giving him the authority to perform baptisms of God.

His birth took place six months before that of Jesus, and according to the Gospel account was expected by prophecy (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1) and foretold by an angel. Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of John's circumcision (Luke 1:64).

John was a Nazarite from his birth (Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judea lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1 - 12). He led a simple life, wearing rope (gamla) fiber clothing and eating "locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4).

As an adult John started to preach in public, and people from "every quarter" were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and turning away from selfish pursuits. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred interest, bringing people from all parts to see him on the banks of the Jordan River. There he baptized thousands unto repentance.

The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Matt. 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfill all righteousness" (3:15). John's special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a close by his being cast into prison by Herod Antipas, whom he had reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of Machaerus, a fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded at the instigation of Herodias; later tradition also implicates her daughter Salomé. His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave, went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Matt. 14:3-12). John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover of Jesus' ministry.

Jesus himself testified regarding John that he was a "burning and a shining light" (John 5:35). The Eastern Orthodox believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge figure between that period of revelation and Jesus. They also embrace a tradition that, following his death, John descended into Hell and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming.

The Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order of the church year which begins on September 1:

  • February 24 - First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
  • May 25 - Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
  • June 24 - Birth of St. John the Forerunner
  • August 29 - The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner

The Roman Catholic Church remembers St. John the Baptists on two separate feast days:

  • June 24 The Birth of St. John
  • August 29 The Decollation (Beheading) of St. John

John the Baptist was a prophet. He came to the wilderness of people's heart's and revealed a pathway out through a baptism of repentance. He revealed the universal alternative, the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and would say "Follow Me".

Josephus

Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2 records the following:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins only, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when many others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved or pleased by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him. (Whiston Translation) [2]

From the context, it would seem that in Josephus's account John was executed around 36 AD. Divergences between Josephus's presentation and the Biblical account of John include the following:

  • John's Baptism is not for the repentence of sins, as opposed to Mark 1:4.
  • John is executed to prevent "mischief," rather than to please Herod's wife's daughter.
  • Jesus is not mentioned in relation to the Baptist.

Josephus's passage is quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum in the early third century and again by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century.

Islamic view

Muslims, like Christians, revere John the Baptist as a prophet (he is known as Yahya).


Places and things named for John the Baptist

  • Puerto Rico was originally named San Juan Bautista; San Juan is now its capital city.
  • St. John's, Newfoundland
  • Saint John, New Brunswick
  • Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province, was originally called Ile de St. Jean or St. John Island.
  • St. John's Wort is named after St. John because it is traditionally harvested on his feast day, June 24.

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