SYNOPSIS – John the Baptist arrived to prepare the way for the Messiah and to herald the Good News of the Kingdom of God – Mark 1:4-8.
All four gospel accounts apply the same prophecy from the book of Isaiah to John the Baptist. His ministry to baptize in water and summon all Israel to repent was in preparation for the arrival of the promised Messiah and his Kingdom. All this was in fulfillment of the promises from the Hebrew Bible – (Mark 1:4-8, Matthew 3:3, Luke 1:76, John 1:23).
(Isaiah 40:1-5) – “Comfort ye — comfort ye my people — Saith your God. Speak ye unto the heart of Jerusalem, And cry unto her — That accomplished is her warfare, That accepted is her punishment — That she hath received at the hand of Yahweh, According to the full measure of all her sins. A voice of one crying! — In the desert prepare ye the way of Yahweh — Make smooth in the waste plain a highway for our God: Let every valley be exalted, And every mountain and hill be made low — And the steep ground become level, And the chain of hills — a plain: Then shall be revealed the glory of Yahweh — And all flesh shall see it together, For the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken! ” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The citation connects John to the prophesied forerunner, the one who would arrive like Elijah before the “day of Yahweh.” He was the one who cried out in the “wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.” The description parallels some aspects of the Prophet Elijah and his prophetic ministry – (Malachi 3:1-3, 4:5, Mark 9:12-13, Luke 1:17).
The term “wilderness” refers to desolate places, especially in Judea to the territories east of the River Jordan, and south of the Dead Sea. The ministry of John was associated closely with the “wilderness” areas near the Jordan. It also echoes key events from the history of Israel, particularly, its forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
(Mark 1:4-8) – “John the Immerser came in the wilderness, proclaiming an immersion of repentance for remission of sins; and there were going out unto him all the Judaea country and all they of Jerusalem, and were being immersed by him in the Jordan river, openly confessing their sins; and John was clothed with camel’s-hair and a leathern girdle about his loins, and was eating locusts and wild honey; and he proclaimed, saying— He that is mightier than I cometh after [[me]], of whom I am not worthy to stoop and unloose the strap of his sandals: I, indeed, have immersed you with water — He will immerse you with the Holy Spirit” – (From the Emphasized Bible).
John is known popularly as “the Baptist.” However, the Greek term in the gospel of Mark is a verbal noun – It more accurately reads, “one who baptizes.” It describes what he did – What characterized his ministry. The English term “baptism” is derived from the Greek verb baptizô, which means to “dip, immerse; to dunk.”
At the Jordan River, John proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.” A passage in the Gospel of John claims that he baptized in this region because “there was much water there.” An ample supply of water would be necessary to carry out a large number of baptisms by immersion (Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-11, John 3:23).
The Greek noun rendered “repentance” denotes a “change of mind” (from meta, “after,” and nous, “mind” (metanoia). The call is for more than simple “remorse” over past mistakes – The remission of sins requires a conscious change of mind and direction.
This was a baptism in water for the “remission” of sins. The Greek term means, “to release, discharge, liberate; to remit” something. Elsewhere, it is used for the “discharge” of debt and “divorce.” Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent from its dominion. The same verb is applied to the “Son of Man” who has the authority “to discharge sins.”
The gospel of Matthew adds the Pharisees and the Sadducees to the mix. The gospel of John also includes “priests and Levites.” Representatives from all levels of Jewish society were called to repent and be baptized, including the religious leaders from Jerusalem. This was in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).
The description of John as “clothed with camel hair and a leather belt” links him to the story of Elijah who, likewise, “wore a garment of hair with a girdle of leather.” This is a deliberate echo of that earlier ministry to Israel (2 Kings 1:1-8).
John is one of the two key characters in the Prologue of Mark. His preaching and actions point forward to the coming Messiah – He is preparing the way. But it is Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, who implements the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The baptism and repentance proclaimed by John were a means to this end – Preparation for the arrival of the kingdom and its promised King.
John contrasted himself with the Coming One in three ways:
- Mode of Baptism.
The Greek adjective rendered “mightier” is used later to describe Jesus as the “mighty one” who is well-able to bind the “strong man,” that is, Satan. The exorcisms of demons by Jesus demonstrated his authority over the Devil – (Mark 3:22-30).
“I am not worthy to unloose the strap of his sandals.” In this first-century society, to remove someone’s footwear was a menial task assigned to slaves and domestic servants. Thus, John portrayed himself as less than worthy to function even the lowliest slave of the “Coming One” – Even his baptism in water for the remission of sins was preparatory, not final. Both John and Jesus baptized, however, John baptized in water, but the Messiah would “baptize in the Holy Spirit.”
The book of Acts demonstrates that the gift of the Spirit was a distinguishing mark of the early Church. Later, the Apostle Paul linked it to the covenant promise of “blessing to Abraham.” The gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “last days,” a fulfillment of the “promise of the Father,” a part of the “blessing of Abraham,” and a cornerstone of the New Covenant – (Compare – Acts 10:44-48):
- (Acts 2:38-39) – “And Peter said unto them — Repent ye, and let each one of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of your sins — and ye shall receive the free-gift of the Holy Spirit; For unto you is the promise, and unto your children — and unto all them who are afar off: as many soever as the Lord our God shall call unto him” – (The Emphasized Bible).
- (Galatians 2:14) – “In order that, unto the nations the blessing of Abraham might come about in Jesus Christ,—in order that, the promise of the Spirit we might receive through means of the faith.”
- (Isaiah 44:3) – “Do not fear, O my Servant Jacob, and Jeshurun whom I have chosen; For I will pour, Water upon the thirsty soil, and Floods upon the dry ground,—I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring.”
- (Ezekiel 36:26-27) – “And I will give you a new heart, And a new spirit will I put within you, And I will take away the heart of stone of your flesh, And will give you a heart of flesh; And my spirit will I put within you, And will cause That in my statutes ye shall walk, And my regulations, ye shall observe, and do.”
- (Joel 2:28) – “And it shall come to pass afterward, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”
“He will immerse you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus did not abandon the rite of water baptism. However, his baptism added something new – Baptism in the Spirit. This made his baptism unique and vastly superior to anything previously experienced. The Greek preposition rendered “in” (en) can mean, “in,” “by,” or “with,” although “in” is the more basic sense. It refers either to the place (i.e., “baptism in the Spirit”) or to the means to accomplish something (i.e., “baptism by the Spirit”).
“Holy Spirit” was a common term among first-century Jews for the Spirit of God. Devout Jews did not utter the name of God. Out of reverence, direct references to Him were avoided by using circumlocutions like “Holy Spirit” and “the Blessed One.” The term is equivalent to the “Spirit of God” and similar descriptions.
The stage is now set for the public unveiling of Jesus – The Messiah, the Son of God, the Herald of the Kingdom, and the one who baptizes in the Spirit.