John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a
baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).
John the Baptist plays a crucial role in the history of salvation.
Chosen before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah (Luke
1:13-17), he knew his Lord from the beginning. Luke writes of the miraculous
conception of John (Luke 1:24). He then records that when the Virgin Mary
visited Elizabeth, who was then six months pregnant with John the Baptist, the
baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped at the sound of Mary's voice (Luke 1:41).
Jesus taught that John fulfilled the prophecy
of the return of Elijah (Matt. 11~4), who was to precede the Messiah as
"the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the
Lord"' (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23).
Shortly before Jesus began His public
ministry, John went out to the wilderness of Jordan to prepare the way for the
Messiah. He carried out His prophetic role with a brotherhood of disciples
characterized by: (1) repentance in expectation of the Kingdom, (2) baptism for
forgiveness of sins, (3) bearing the fruit of righteousness, and (4) spiritual
discipline. John himself lived by an ascetic rule of poverty and fasting; in
fact he may have been a lifelong Nazirite (Luke 1:15, Num. 6), His eyes were not
set on the body and its desires but upon Christ the Lord, and this influence was
widespread (Mark 11:32, Luke 7:29, Acts 18:25, 19:1-7).
John prophesied that the Messiah was coming,
One immeasurably greater than himself, "whose sandal strap I am not worthy
to stoop down and loose" (Mark 1:7). This One would baptize not only with
water but with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). When Jesus appeared before him to be
baptized, John was humbled, realizing he himself was in need of being baptized
by the Messiah, Jesus (Matt. 3:14). But Jesus knew what was fitting "to
fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15), and John obeyed. Thus came the
event so familiar in Orthodox icons: Christ in the Jordan, being baptized by
John, the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove. The Father's
voice from heaven declares, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well
pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
John's work was crucial to Jesus' ministry.
Jesus considered John's testimony important - not because Jesus, the Son of God,
needed to be validated by any human witness but because the people's acceptance
of John as a Godly man prepared them to accept Jesus as well (John 5:33-35).
Jesus' first disciples came from John's brotherhood (John 1:35-39), and the
vacancy in the apostolic college was filled by one who had been John's follower
(Acts 1:21, 22).
John the Baptist died a martyr for Christ
(Mark 6:24-29). The Orthodox Church commemorates him in special hymns every
Tuesday, as well as on designated feast days throughout the year.