May 2nd, 2021
Hello and welcome to season 3 episode 26 of The Berean Manifesto; 10 minutes or so a week of Faith, Hope, and Love for the Modern Christian. This is Pastor Bill and in this installment we are talking about John the Baptist.
In Matthew 11 and Luke 7 it’s recorded that Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest person ever born of a woman. Since he’s the greatest, I thought we’d take some time to look at what might have made him the greatest. The most controversial, and my favorite, Biblical theory is spun by something Jesus said to Peter, James, and John on the mountain that would later be known as the mount of transfiguration. It’s recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9. I’m going to tell you what happened combining all three accounts and you can follow along in whatever version of the Bible you like. If I say something you don’t see as you’re following along check one of the other Gospels for the detail.
Jesus goes up onto a mountain in private to pray, as He often did. This time, however, He takes Peter, James, and John the Apostle with Him. While He’s praying, Peter, James, and John fall asleep (Big surprise). Sometime after this Jesus’ face lights up like the sun and His clothes become white. Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus and the three of them have a conversation about His upcoming death in Jerusalem. This is about the time that the sleeping trio awake and are terrified by what they see. That’s when, their conversation apparently having ended, Moses and Elijah begin to leave. And Peter, well Peter, never failing to entertain, says just the wrong thing offering to pitch three tents; one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
Before he can even finish the offer, God makes His presence known. A thick cloud with light beaming out of every thin spot descends on the mountain enveloping all six of them. God speaks from somewhere in the cloud, “This is my Son that I love dearly, I am very pleased with Him. Listen to Him!” At the sound of God’s voice Peter, James, and John fall facedown on the ground in terror. When they hear Jesus’ voice telling them to get up and not be afraid, they look around seeing Moses, Elijah, and the clouds are gone.
Heading back down the mountain Jesus tells them not to say anything until they see The Messiah raised from the dead. (To be fair, the Gospel writers use the reference “The Son of Man,” which was a reference to The Messiah.) Jesus reference confuses them since they weren’t expecting the Messiah to die in order to need to be raised from the dead and then also if they can’t tell anyone about this until after that happens then that means the Messiah had already come and is already walking the Earth. So they ask Him why the writers of scripture wrote that Elijah would return before the Messiah came. Jesus tells them that it is correct that Elijah does in fact return to bring restoration before The Messiah comes. And in fact, he had actually already returned, but the people didn’t recognize him and they killed him. Matthew then finishes his accounting of this event by telling us that the three disciples coming down the mountain with Jesus then understood that Jesus was talking about John the Baptist.
By the presumed reckoning of these three disciples, based on what Jesus said, John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet. Not as an endorsement for wide-scale reincarnation, but as an instance of it looks like this might have happened at least once. Interestingly enough, the Biblical description of John the Baptist’ choice of clothing, food, grooming, and preferred living environment match those of the Biblical description of Elijah. The message that Elijah was to preach upon his return matches the message preached by John the Baptist. Then there’s the curious infilling of the Holy Spirit of John the Baptist while in the womb when everyone else in recorded history needed to make a choice of faith as a requirement before the infilling of The Spirit.
In fact, that infilling of the Holy Spirit while in utero may be the exact thing that Jesus was talking about when He said that John the Baptist was the greatest person ever born of a woman. Even Jesus had to be spirit filled, there at his baptism. Jesus wasn’t born filled with the Holy Spirit, John was born filled with the Holy Spirit. When we look back at the recording of Jesus saying this in Matthew 11 and Luke 7 we see that the sentiment is finished with the revelation that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. The thing we in the kingdom of heaven, Christianity, share with John the Baptist is that infilling of the Holy Spirit. However, we have something John the Baptist didn’t get to enjoy during his lifetime – salvation. The promise that due to our faith in Jesus and what He did we will have eternal life with God on the new Earth.
We don’t need to stop there when there is concrete aspects of character that John the Baptist had that we can aspire to. In particular, humility. In the Gospel of John, written by John the Disciple of Jesus not John the Baptist, in chapter 1:19-27 CSB we read, “ This was John (the Baptist’) testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”  He didn’t deny it but confessed: “I am not the Messiah.”  “What then?” they asked him. “Are you Elijah?” “I am not,” he said. “Are you the Prophet?” “No,” he answered.  “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?”  He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord – just as Isaiah the prophet said.”  Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  So they asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?”  “I baptize with water,” John answered them. “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know him.  He is the one coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie.”
So I’ve told you that Peter, James, and John believed that Jesus taught them that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet and presented you with John’s own testimony that he isn’t Elijah the prophet in the same podcast. Well sort of. John the Baptist didn’t exactly say that he wasn’t Elijah come again. What he did was deny that he was the Elijah that the Pharisees thought was coming. He denied that he was the Elijah that Peter wanted to build a monument to in worship of Elijah. To the Pharisees the return of Elijah was a very large religious event, with Elijah himself being a celebrity of royal proportions. If he admitted that he was the Elijah that they were expecting he would be denying his true calling and inviting them to worship himself that would be bad. He even quotes the prophecy about Elijah when identifying himself, and it goes right over their heads.
They also want to know if John the Baptist is The Messiah or The Prophet. Both of which he denies, not that their question even makes sense. The Messiah they were expecting and The Prophet they were expecting were the same person. The scriptures prophesying about The Messiah separated from the scriptures prophesying about The Prophet is why the people were so confused about who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t the conquering king that they expected The Messiah to be, nor was He the docile lamb that they expected The Prophet to be. Jesus was both conquering king and docile lamb, He flipped tables beating people with a whip and called children over to play with Him in the streets.
When they were questioning John the Baptist, the Pharisees from Jerusalem, he had every opportunity to claim leadership, kingship even, of the Jewish people, but chose to live in the wilderness wearing animal skins held on with a thick leather belt, eating locusts and honey. He could have been high priest. Had every legal right to be high priest, and even been worshipped as the herald of the conquering Messiah, but he chose to point the way to Jesus. We have to ask ourselves where, or to whom, is our life and our words pointing?
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”