Primary and Junior
In our last lesson we learned a little about John, "Saint John" he is often called, who was one of the Lord's twelve disciples, and who wrote the Gospel which we are studying and also the Book of Revelation. Before the Lord called him to be one of His disciples he had been a follower of another John called "John the Baptist." It is of this John that we learn today.
John the Baptist was born and lived for one great purpose, to prepare a way for the Lord's coming into the world. His whole life was different from the lives of other men, from the time when an angel from heaven told that he was to be born, to the sad end of his life in King Herod's dungeon.
For very many years it had been known - foretold by the prophets - not only that the Lord was coming into the world, but that someone would come to prepare the way before Him. "Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me." (Malachi 3:1) " The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3; Mark 1:2, 3) It was also said that he would come in the spirit and power of the great prophet Elijah. (Malachi 4:5; Luke 1:17.) And now the time had come for the prophecies to be fulfilled. John was born to the good priest Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth, in their home in the hill country of Judea. "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel." (You read the story in Luke 1.) Then he began his work, preaching repentance and baptizing.
Great crowds of people came to hear John, and the Jews at Jerusalem wondered who he could really be; so they sent priests and others to ask him who he really was. They asked him if he were the Christ; and he said he was not. They asked him if he were Elias or "that prophet" (see Deuteronomy 18:15, 18) but he answered, "No." Then they asked him who he was, and he said he was the one whom the prophet Isaiah meant when he spoke of the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. Then they asked him why he baptized if he were not the Christ, and he said that he baptized the people with water as a sign of their being washed from their sins, but that another and greater One had already come among them, whose shoe he was not worthy to unloose, that He would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Which meant that after his baptism when people had repented and were washed from their sins, the Lord would give them the beautiful, happy love of doing good.
Mark tells us how the Lord Himself came to John to be baptized in the Jordan, and how John knew Him, for "he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased." After this John preached for more than a year in and about the wilderness of Judea, while the Lord was beginning His teaching, for the most part in the northern part of the land.
You read the rest of the story of John in Luke 3:19, 20; Matthew 14:1-12 - how he was imprisoned and killed by Herod. This was the sad end of the earthly life of John the Baptist. He did faithfully what he had been sent to do, "to prepare the way for the Lord." But he died without being much with the Lord, and only hearing through others of the wonderful works that He did, and of the Divine power and love that had come into the world.
1. What prophecies can you show me in the Old Testament that foretell the coming of John the Baptist?
2. What did the angel say of him, who foretold his birth to Zacharias?
3. How is it true that John was Elias, and that he was not Elias? Read Luke 1:17.
4. Where and how did John the Baptist live? Where did he baptize? What did he preach? What led to his death?
5. What did John say of the Lord as he pointed Him out to his disciples? By what sign did John know that it was the Lord?
John the Baptist preached repentance in preparation for the Lord. From the account of his preaching in Luke 3:2-18 we learn some of the plain instruction of right and wrong which John gave to publicans and soldiers and others. We may believe that many among the multitude who heard John took his words to heart and repented. But beyond this, John and all that is told us in the Gospels about him represented the Divine truth of the letter of the Word and perfect repentance in obedience to this truth. We are taught that a wonderful use was served by this representative of repentance, not unlike that which was served by the Jewish sacrifices which represented heavenly worship. It was the means of bringing angels near to men, surrounding them with a heavenly protection. Without this men could not have endured the Lord's presence. This helps us to understand the prophecy of John's coming, which closes the Old Testament: "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (E. 724)
Notice that the same John who taught repentance pointed out the Lord to his disciples, and called Him "the Lamb of God." It is by repenting of evil ways that our minds are opened to heaven and the Lord - to perceive His innocence and to love it. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." See also Luke 7:29, 30. The dove which was given to John as the sign by which he should know the Lord, is, like the lamb, an emblem of the spirit of Divine holiness and innocence in the Lord, which one is prepared by repentance to perceive and acknowledge. Innocent thought is especially represented by the dove, and innocent affection by the lamb. (A.3994; T. 144)
We wish that we could know the Lord and enter at once upon the enjoyment of good, heavenly life. That will all come in time, but John the Baptist must come before the Lord; the baptism with water before the baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We must learn the Divine laws and repent in obedience to them. We must do it bravely in the spirit of John the Baptist. In proportion to the faithfulness of our repentance, we shall be prepared for all good and happy things. (E. 475)