John the Baptist Biography

An eccentric recluse wandered the Judean wilderness, subsisting on grasshoppers and wild honey.  Dressed only in camel hide and leather strap, at first glance he appeared wild and, perhaps, unbalanced.  It was not until he opened his mouth to preach that onlookers opened their mouths in amazement at the sheer force of his words.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist

“You brood of vipers!” John thundered.  “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Even now the axe is poised at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and hurled into the fire!”

This prophet was a searing voice of protest against the sins of his time.  He was endued with such power through the Holy Spirit that crowds from Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordan region traveled for miles just to hear him and be baptized.  Even the proud Pharisees and Sadducees came to listen and seek baptism.

At the core of John’s message was a demand for repentance from a sinful lifestyle and a commitment to clean, righteous living.  As a symbol of this turning from sin, John baptized penitents in places such as the Jordan River.

John’s ministry was short-lived however.  This fearless man railed on sin wherever it appeared, and the Herodian rulers were not exempt.  When John announced a coming Messianic ‘ruler’ and also condemned the sin of Herod, he was arrested and imprisoned.  Apparently, John labeled Herod Antipas’ taking of his brother’s wife as adultery, thus bringing upon himself not only the disfavor of Herod but the rage of the wife.  The biblical narrative explains that it was this woman who finally manipulated the execution of this great man, something Herod had feared to do because of Jewish loyalty to John.

John baptises Jesus

John baptises Jesus

While he lived, the Baptist was a lone voice crying in the desert, “Prepare for the coming of the Lord!”  He hesitated to baptize Jesus, acknowledging that Jesus was Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’  Yet, while in prison, John received word regarding how different Jesus’ ministry was from his own.  He sent word asking Jesus if He was truly the Messiah.  After challenging John’s messengers to tell John of the miracles and the message He preached, Christ went on to point out actual contrasts between his ministry and John’s.

Alluding to John’s bombastic ministry, he asked the crowds, “Who did you go to the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  Someone dressed in soft robes?  Those who wear soft robes live only in royal palaces!” A little later Jesus contrasted his own ministry by explaining that He would not “wrangle or cry loudly, nor would anyone hear his voice in the streets.  He would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick…”

Jesus did have a unique ministry because he was the unique Son of God.  His was not so much a message of condemnation and judgment but a better message of forgiveness and freedom through the voluntary sacrifice of Himself for the evil of humanity.

In the end, though, it was Christ’s great love and respect for the fearless prophet that shines through.  He proclaimed to the crowds, “Did you go to see a prophet?  Yes, and much more than a prophet!  I tell you, of those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”

What can we learn from John the Baptist?

John was the last mighty messenger representing the era of the Law and the Prophets.  While acknowledging this, Christ added that the lowliest believer in the new kingdom of grace could be, in a sense, greater than John.  Embracing John’s fearless stand for purity before God, we can live out that very purity through the Spirit of God, who now actually indwells all true saints.

Bible Verses about John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1-14, 4:12, 11:2-18, 14:2-10, 21:25-32;  Mark 1:9-14, 2:18, 6:14-25, Luke 1:13-17, 3:1-20;  John 1:6-8, 15-40, 3:23-4:1;  Acts 1:5, 22, 10:37, 11:16, 18:25, 19:4

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who was John the Baptist?
  • How was John the Baptist like Elijah?
  • Was John the Baptist a prophet?
  • Why was Jesus baptised?
  • Who baptised Jesus?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis