The Expository Files

A Voice in the Wilderness

Matthew 3:1-12

With some denominations claiming their roots in John the Baptist, it would do us well to study the life of John to see whether this is a plausible explanation of his life, mission and his death.

John was definitely a child of promise, however we need to determine whether he is the child of promise that was to establish a kingdom that would last forever and not be moved. John was promised to Godly parents (Luke 1:6). His parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were righteous.

They were to name their son "John" (Luke 1:13). ....the angels said so; 1:60.....his mother said so; 1:63.....his father said so. The importance of seeing this is the fact that "Baptist" was no part of his name. Rather he was called the "Baptist" because he baptized with his own hands and was the first divinely commissioned baptizer. He was called "the Baptist" after his work.

John was given a specific mission on this earth and we can find what that was by studying his work. John's work was prophesied in the O.T.: (Isaiah 40:3-5). John "...came to prepare the way..." for the Lord and to " turn the hearts.." of the people to the Lord. (Malachi 3:1 ; 4:5-6).

As can be seen from these prophesies, John work or mission was not in the establishing of the kingdom, but rather to prepare the way of the One who would follow and establish an eternal kingdom that would stand for ever. That One was Jesus, of course.

It is important to understand John's mission because to fail to see its importance would result in a failure to understand many other fundamental principles of the Bible.

Christ said he would build His church..(Matthew 16:18).
Christ purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28).
The church is called Christ's body...Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Thus we can see the essential fact of the scripture that John's work and mission was not to establish the church, but to prepare the way for the One who would. Let us now look at a more detailed study of the life of John the Baptist.

John's ultimate mission in life was to prepare the way of the Lord....(John 1:23). There was a great need for this. God had left the children of Israel from 400 BC (at the close of the book of Malachi) to be guided by the written word of the O.T. No further Scripture had been given during that time. It was a waiting period.

The Israelites, like the generations before them (and yet in unique ways), had drifted from the written word of God, both in their religious practices and moral corruption.... (they were not again embroiled in idolatry as they had been centuries earlier, but rather in self-righteousness and traditionalism (Matthew 15:7-9; 3). Thus the importance to prepare a people ready to receive the Son of God.

His second primary mission was to bear witness of Christ....(John 1:34 ; 3:26-30). Out of John's disciples would come Jesus' first disciples and apostles. After John bore witness of Jesus as the Son of God, John humbly acknowledged his mission was nearing its end and stepped into the background (John 1:36-37).

John said of himself that he came to bear witness of the Christ, but the church would be the bride of Christ; therefore it can be said of John that he was like a best man at a wedding, rather than the bridegroom.

His third duty was to turn the hearts of the children of Israel back to God....(Luke 1:16-17). While there were many religious people in Galilee and Judea, there were many who were "honoring God with their lips" but there hearts were far away.

Fourthly his mission was to warn the disobedient to walk in "the attitude of the righteous" (Luke 1:17). God has always taught and required obedience. John did not come to build or establish the church. He didn't. John himself was never a he lived and died before the Christian age began. He was beheaded by Herod (cf. Matthew 14:1-12). As far as we can tell John was never himself baptized. John's mission, his life and his death were all fulfilled prior to the establishment of the New Testament church.

John's message was one of: Repentance...
(Matthew 3:1-2). Literally this means a change of mind, and when it is genuine it leads to a change of life (Matthew 3:2,8 ; Luke 3:8).

The wrath to come... (Matthew 3:7 ; Romans 2:5). John did not minimize sin nor did he minimize the certainty of divine punishment for sin. It is evident from his teaching that men could not reject his message and go unpunished. Many do not care for that kind of message in our day. But they didn't like it in his day either! Ultimately his warnings against sin got him killed! John realized the importance of the statement that "God will not be mocked...." (Galatians 6:7-8). He preached that Christ would baptize with fire (Matthew 3:12).. What is this "baptism of fire"? It is a baptism of punishment of the wicked. This can clearly be seen in the context. There are two different baptisms mentioned here; one was "of fire" and one was of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11) Some of his audience would receive baptism of fire (judgment); some others baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ applied the promise of the Holy Spirit specifically to the apostles (Acts 1:4-5).

The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1-2). There are several conclusions to draw here. First, the kingdom was not set up in days of Abraham or Moses. Neither was it in existence at the time John was preaching. It was not something to be set up two thousand years in the future. Why? Because John taught that it was drawing near during his days (in the first century).John was preaching during the period of the fourth kingdom from Daniel (Daniel 2:44). It was the days of the Roman Empire. In accordance with Daniel's prophecy, and John' pronouncements that the time was at hand, it was not long after the work and death of John that the kingdom was established by Christ (Colossians 1:13).

Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3). There is a vast difference between the baptism of John and the baptism that followed in the kingdom that Christ established. John's baptism looked forward to the death of Christ - we look back on it; we are baptized into His death. John's disciples were not. John's baptism was not in the name of Christ - ours is (Acts 2:38). John's was temporary - not valid after the day of Pentecost. (Acts 19:1-5). Our baptism is valid to the end of the world (Matt 28:20. John's required a confession/sins - ours require a confession/faith in Christ (Romans 10:9). John's did not put one into Christ - ours does (Galatians 3:27). John's did not put one into the church - ours (1 Corinthians 12:13 ).

Jesus summed up John and his work when John was in prison (Matthew 11:7-15). Jesus gave John high praise. John had been faithful to his life's mission. Though many tried to prevent it, the kingdom of which John spoke came into existence with power; a spiritual kingdom that was so violently opposed, and that John himself did not live to see, but he did help make it possible.

But through John's preparatory work, and through Jesus' redemptive work, and through the apostles appointed work, you can be a citizen in the kingdom. God's purpose can never be thwarted. Do not neglect this great salvation!

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 6.5; May 1999