The Forerunner: The Life of John the Baptist

This week I decided to learn more about the life of John the Baptist.

JOHN THE BAPTIST


Six months before Christ was born, Elizabeth had her son who was named John.



 He was the forerunner for the Messiah.

Unlike Jesus, when John was born he was already famous.  His father, Zachariah, was a well-known priest.  Most Jews in Jerusalem would have known about John.




When Herod issued his horrible edict to have all young males killed, they went looking for Zacharias' son.



He sent his wife and young child into the wilderness to escape an awful death.  Sadly, Zacharias was not so lucky.  He was killed because he would not reveal the location of John.


John lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey.  His role was to prepare the way for Christ.  Essentially, his job was to help others recognize Christ when they saw Him.  John was ordained to this special role by an angel when he was eight days old.  He himself was baptized when he was a child.  When it was time for him to preach of Christ, he had many followers and attracted the attention of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Some wondered if he was Christ himself, others thought he might be Elijah.

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Before we get to the scene where Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, let's explore what baptism meant to the Jews at the time.2

In the Old Testament the word baptism does not appear.  Does this mean they weren't getting baptized?  Unofficially, Jews were baptized the century before and after Christ's birth.  Additionally, it was common for Jews to practice ritual baths for purification in urban areas.


Baths known as Mikvehs thought to cleans the soul as well as the body.
Source


 Remember the Essenes who lived on the shore of the Dead Sea?  They were also thought to practice baptism.

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 Let's go now to where John the Baptist is baptizing many people in the Jordan River


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and Jesus arrives.





There is no evidence that these two knew each other before this moment, yet they both knew who each other were.

What has always baffled me is John's hesitancy to baptize Jesus.  If he knew enough to testify of Him and pave the way for Him, why didn't he understand that Jesus would need to be baptized?

I found a clue to the answer in John's own words.  He says that he baptizes with water.  This meant that he baptizes as a sign of repentance.  In fact, people were known to be baptized multiple times.  John wasn't baptizing in order for them to join a church or so that they would qualify for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom.  It was symbolically to wash away sins.

John knew that Jesus was undefiled and free from sin.  When Jesus says he wants to be baptized in the water, John took it to mean that he wanted his sins washed away.  This would have been confusing to John since he knew Jesus didn't need to repent.

Here is where we are taught a valuable lesson about baptism.  It isn't just about having our sins washed away.3

Baptism actually happens in two stages, first by water and second by fire.  Whenever the gospel of Jesus of Christ is on the earth, this kind of baptism is practiced.  Adam was baptized this way, as was Noah and Abraham and many others throughout the centuries.  In order to be baptized by both the water and of the Spirit, it must be performed by someone with the proper authority.  Remember, John was ordained to have this authority as a baby.4

There is much more I want to write about Jesus' baptism,



like how whenever Heavenly Father appears in the scriptures it's always to tell us to hear His son, or how the dove was symbolic of the Holy Ghost (showing the Godhead members all being in the same place as three distinct and different beings), or that Jesus also was subject to the same laws we are thus necessitating his baptism, or point out the place where Jesus was baptized is the lowest spot on earth,

To learn more about the symbolic teachings of Jesus Christ's baptism, watch this video from Book of Mormon Central.  Click here. 



but instead I want to stay focused on John the Baptist.

After Jesus was baptized, two of John's disciples became Jesus' disciples.  It is also likely that John tutored other future apostles of Jesus.  Eventually John's influence and fame was replaced by Jesus' when His ministry grew with more followers.




While all this is happening, lots of political intrigue is happening with Herod the Great's family.  Here it is in a nutshell.

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Did you get all that?  Don't worry, I didn't either.  Lots of people named Herod, and people marrying uncles and brother-in-laws—all kinds of family drama.

Let's just say I would be careful eating anything at a Herod family dinner.  Poison seemed often to be on the menu.

At one point, Herodias divorced her husband Herod and married her half-uncle also named Herod.  To remarry when your first husband is still alive goes against the law of Moses.  John the Baptist rebuked the marriage.  He was thrown in prison as a result.

Source
Herodias concocted a plan to have John the Baptist killed by having her daughter Salome dance in front of her step-father on his birthday.

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Apparently she was a really good dancer because Herod offered her whatever she wanted up to half his kingdom.  She requested John the Baptist's head on a plate.  Sadly, she got her wish.

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And thus ended the life of the forerunner of Jesus Christ.

Jesus described John the Baptist as

"a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." ~John 5:35


LESSONS FOR TODAY 

It is quite humbling to read about the man who prepared the way for Christ.  From before his birth he was well known and sought after.  His own father was killed to protect his whereabouts.  He had many followers and disciples.  He baptized many.  He instantly knew Christ when he saw him and did not feel worthy to baptize him but said that he instead should be baptized.

He always showed great faith and love for Jesus Christ--no evidence of jealousy or resentment.  He was quick to make sure others knew he was not himself the Christ but that he knew Him.

As I contemplate on the life of John the Baptist, a couple lessons come to my mind.

1. Remember that baptism is more than just having sins washed away.  Now that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored on earth, we have the opportunity each week to make a covenant like we did when we were baptized.  The covenant is so much more than becoming clean, it's a promise to take on the name of Christ and to always remember Him.  We are literally partaking of the atonement of Jesus Christ.  No wonder Sacrament Meeting is considered to be our most sacred meeting.

2. Look for Christ.  Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees mistook John for Jesus.  John always turned their attention to the Messiah.  Unfortunately not all were willing to be baptized or accept Jesus.  Do we look for Christ in the wrong places?  Do we willingly accept him when we find Him?

3. It's not about you.  In an age of social media, it's easy to get focused on our own lives.  We worry about what we are wearing, eating, and visiting and who we are doing it with.  John gives us a perfect example of taking no concern for our own lives but making sure that we are fulfilling the role we were sent to earth to do.

ACTION PLAN 

1. The reason why my youngest child's name is spelled Johnathan and not Jonathan is because his name is actually the combination of John the Baptist and Nathan meaning "gift from God."  So my first goal is to try to get Johnny to read this article.  I want him to have a better understanding of his name sake.  Johnny, if you are reading this, good job!

2. Stay focused on my mission.  I find it so easy to get distracted by what the world thinks I should be doing with my life instead of what I really should be doing with my life.  This week I'm going to ponder more about my mission here on earth and what I was sent here to do.  Hopefully this doesn't mean I'm supposed to stop blogging.

3. Look for Christ.  Christ literally is light... as in sunlight, moonlight, and starlight.My goal for this week is to watch more sunsets and sunrises (maybe) and to look for the moon and the stars.  As I do this I want to think about my Savior.

Notes:  
1. We know this because Joseph Smith explained that the Zacharias mentioned in Matthew 23:35 is the father of John the Baptist and that he was slain for not revealing his son's location.  For a more detailed explanation you can read Robert J. Matthew's article "John the Baptist: A Burning Shining Light" by clicking here.  
2. I learned about the practice of Jewish baptism by reading this article by Pat McCloskey.
3. The LDS Bible Dictionary explains what a proper baptism is.  
4. This concept is explained in a video of BYU Scholars discussing the baptism of Jesus.  You can watch the video by clicking here.  
5. The LDS Bible Dictionary tells more about the life of John the Baptist.  
6. If you want to take the time to try to sort all this out, you have my blessing.  Click here.  
7. Merrill J. Bateman gave a talk on September 19, 2000 at BYU explaining how Christ is in the light we see.  You can read it by clicking here.  


This post coincides with the Jan.28 - Feb. 3 lesson in the Come Follow Me 2019 Individual Study Manual


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This is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All photos are from lds.org unless otherwise sourced.



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