The Birth of John the Baptist, the Forerunner to the King
From the devotional Walking with Jesus by Dave Glock:
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. . . . And he [Zacharias] asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. . . . “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:57, 63, 76-79)
Jesus Himself gave testimony to the birth of John the Baptist.
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)
Being the forerunner to the King elevated John above all people—he was in a category of one. But all who see Christ’s millennial kingdom established will occupy a higher place. To be there will be greater than to proclaim its coming. Christ’s teachings about John throughout His ministry are complex, but we’ll come to that later, as John’s life unfolds parallel to the life of Christ. Now, to observe his birth.
The miraculous conception of John resulted in a normal, full-term delivery— after all, he had been filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. He was equipped for a special task. God, who begins good works, will accomplish them!
The first complication comes as a committee of friends and relatives decide to name him Junior. Will the father, Zacharias, have any say in the matter? He has not been able to contribute anything verbally for nine months. That was about to change in a forceful way. He writes, and then he speaks. He writes, “His name is John.” It was more important that his name should point forward to the future King than backward to an old priest. Then he speaks—the priest becomes a prophet. Just as John had been filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, so now his father, Zacharias, is likewise filled with the Spirit to prophesy. And what a prophecy it is! Notice the content of his prophecy:
- The Lord is the Lord God of Israel.
- He has visited and redeemed His people, Israel.
- Salvation has come through the house of David.
- Deliverance from the world empire, Rome, has come for Israel.
- The Abrahamic Covenant is being fulfilled.
- A holy and righteous kingdom is being offered.
- Salvation and forgiveness of sins are being offered.
In naming the child “John,” Zacharias also commissions the eight-day-old forerunner with his message. To understand this commission is to understand the ministry of John and the nature of the kingdom to be offered. Notice, help had come for the nation of Israel through a king from the house of David to deliver Israel from the ruling empire in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant to provide a holy kingdom. Zacharias sounded like his namesake, the prophet of old, when he spoke of that coming kingdom.
Thus says the Lord: “I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the Lord of hosts, the Holy Mountain.” . . . Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.” (Zechariah 8:3, 7-8)
The Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants are referenced in the prophecy of Zechariah. The Abrahamic Covenant promised Abraham a people, the land of Israel, and a seed (Genesis 12:1-3). The Davidic Covenant promised David a house (the house of David), a throne, and a kingdom (2 Samuel 7:16). The ministry of John was to prepare the people of Israel for their coming King and the establishment of that literal, earthly kingdom.
If we rush to the end of the story we will hear the nation of Israel say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” They will reject John the Baptist, they will reject Jesus, and they will reject the kingdom. As we have already noted, Jesus will refer to John throughout His ministry. Notice the following comments Jesus made concerning John:
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14)
“Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:11-13)
Christ makes the first comment before John’s death, and the second after it. Notice the potential nature of John fulfilling his unique role: “If you are willing to receive it . . .” The second quote shows that they did not receive it. Potential fulfillment of the role available, but never realized. At least, not yet! This is a spiritual “could’ve, would’ve” with eternal consequences. God’s gracious plan was being worked out without the parties involved even knowing it. Peter made reference to this as an Old Testament problem.
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Herein is the paradox. The rejections of John and of Christ were as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise—more certain. Christ is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth! Yet John and Christ go about their ministries with validity and sincerity in the offer of the kingdom. Rejection will come, but glory will follow—in time. Jesus shall reign!
Hindsight brings understanding; we comprehend God’s providential dealings better after the fact. Job and James and Peter and Paul all address the principle of “suffering first, glory later.”
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
This principle finds varied but certain applications in the lives of each one of us. We can trust God and experience the peace that passes understanding as we realize that He works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), even those things that we don’t understand.