Apart from Christ Jesus he has no significance whatever. In fact he becomes a mere deceiver. This is true of all the prophets but especially true of John, since, as Christ had said, he is “more than a prophet.”
When John was eight days old his father addresses him and says: “And thou, child, shalt be called a prophet of the Highest”. There were indeed many prophets of the Most High, but yet John is more than a prophet, for, as we read in: “For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” John must go before, must lead, must take up the van in order to get everything in readiness for the coming of the Lord. All the prophets indeed had that work also, but John in a very special sense of the word. Do we not read in Scripture: “The Law and the Prophets were until John, since that time the Kingdom of God is preached and every man presseth into it.” Hence John stands at the end of that long series of Old Testament revelation called “the law and the prophets.” With his appearance there cometh a great change, for we read “SINCE THAT TIME the Kingdom of God is preached.” Again in we read: ‘“For the Law which was given by Moses, but grace’ and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Which does not mean that in the Old Testament there was neither grace, nor truth, but yet a text such as this serves to show how tremendous was the change, how great the transition when the Church went from the Old into the New.
And now John stands at the, end of the old and before the open door of the new. Of them born of women there is none greater than John, yet, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he. John stood at the end of the Old and before the open door of the New. He stood where the Grace and Truth of God in Christ would break out in a beauty and a glory never seen before. The Law, until this time written OUTSIDE of man on tables of stone, would now be written in their hearts.
John thus went before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.
Long ago it had been said, “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His Temple” (). Yet not so suddenly but that there will be time for John to appear. And John must cry out, “At hand is the Kingdom of God. . . .repent.” When John does finally come out of the deserts and makes his appearance in the south country, he preaches: “repent, . . .the ax is laid unto the foot of the tree, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire ( ). And again, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.”
And John also thunders judgments against the hypocrites. Said he to them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Judgment was coming, but also mercy; deliverance, but also wrath; the day of deliverance, but also the day of vengeance. John is Noah, the preacher of righteousness. He is Elijah, the announcer of judgment.
For the Kingdom is at hand.
But John also baptized. In fact we read, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about Judea and were baptized of him . . . .” So John’s work was likewise crowned with great success. If the Law was a schoolmaster unto Christ, John stood at the door to see to it that there were no truants. Not everyone in Judea and Jerusalem repented, of course, but there must have been a mighty influx. Many pressed at the door, waiting for entrance. Many came, impatiently they stood waiting and watching for the Old to wax old and perish and for the New to come in. Some even took the kingdom by violence. Surely John’s work was crowned with success.
With these things before us we might attempt to show the significance of the Baptist as follows:
First of all it was his work to make announcement. “The Voice of one crying in the wilderness”. He cries in the wilderness. It is the continuation of the voice of Elijah. Elijah withdrew from Bethel, to Jericho, to Jordan, and then disappeared. Now that voice of the ascended prophet is heard again, but in John, Here, in this vicinity also Moses died and his voice was heard no more. But from out of that wilderness there comes again, also his voice. Though dead he still speaketh. John’s voice is the voice of all the prophets, only John is also more than a prophet. He is also the Herald and Messenger. For Christ is not coming. Christ HAS come. At present the Lamb of God, toward whom everything points, is in Nazareth, but He is on His way to the deserts of Judah. There the Old and the New will meet, will greet one another to the accompaniment of the voice of the prophets. John sees Him coming in the distance. The Kingdom of God is at hand, says he.
Crying as John did he was calling to prepare the way of the Lord before Him. Sacrifices had been the order of the day until now, but there were different orders now. Men could sacrifice and yet the hearts mean nothing of it. Repent is the order of the day. These were dark days. During the four hundred years between the Old and the New there had been an awful falling away also. The scribes and the Pharisees boasted that they were per se children of the Kingdom and in need of nothing. Besides that, did they not keep the altars smoking with sacrifices? They needed nothing. They would like an eloquent prophet who could praise them for their integrity, or, still more, they would like a fearless general to lead them out of the Roman bondage, but for the rest they were self-satisfied. Now comes John crying out REPENT! There is no entrance into the Kingdom of heaven than, alone via repentance. Inwards service, true humility. All could keep the altars smoking with offerings, but now the offering must be inward, internal. . . .humility, faith, trust in Christ, etc. The King is coming. Woe to any impenitent. He shall not look at smoking altars, but at the heart.
“The wrath to come”. . . .run, hide, fall upon your knees for the great day of the Lord is come. The law was until John. . . .now is the Kingdom. The Law was given by Moses. . . .grace and TRUTH (the eternal reality, the fulfillment) is come by Christ Jesus. Repent! Impressed by these sentences the Scribes pretended they would also be baptized. Had they not until this time enjoyed the types and covered themselves with the rituals of His service? Could they not take this ritual with it? But no, says the voice: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John preached what the church preaches throughout, Entrance into the Kingdom only in the way of repentance. In the Old Testament the blood on the door posts covered them all and they all went through the Red Sea and were all baptized into Moses. But now that is changed. TRUTH has come in Christ Jesus. Repent says the voice. He cries of forgiveness also. “Who shall abide the day of His coming” cried Malachi four hundred years before this. The voice answers: the penitent, whose sins are forgiven them in Christ Jesus.
But John also baptizes. He baptizes upon the strength of the coming of Jesus. He baptizes, looking to Jesus in Whose blood all sin, shall once and forever be washed away. “Behold, the Lamb of God”. And they were baptized, confessing their sins. And they received the seal of sins washed away once and forever, sealing them unto Christ, making ready a people for the Lord.
None of the disciples understood Christ. Neither did John. For later he sends messengers to Jesus asking Him whether He was the One to come or if there would come still another. No, John did not understand all things, neither did he understand his own significance.
But he understood enough to cry out: “He must increase but I must decrease”. And that was enough.
That was John the Baptist.
And that after all is every child of God today.