Jesus and John the Baptist, a New Beginning

John 1 and Luke 1

The first chapters in the Gospels all describe a new beginning. There had been some 400 years of silence, prophetically speaking, since the days of Malachi the last prophet of the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has continuity with Old Testament sacred history (compare for instance Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17). Indeed, the Gospels claim that this new beginning is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes (Matt. 5:17). All the Gospels culminate with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, who is the ultimate new beginning, the first born of God’s new creation (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5).

A main emphasis in the early chapters of all of the Gospels is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer.

Luke described the amazing births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Matthew described the birth of Jesus, and then skipped to the adult ministry of John the Baptizer.

Mark and John do not describe either birth, but start their Gospels with the adult ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Why would the relationship between the two men, John the Baptizer and Jesus, be such an important issue? Because John the Baptizer was a very significant individual at the time. Many Jews in 1st century Israel believed John to be a prophet sent by God (John 1:6, Matt. 21:6 “all held John to be a prophet”).  We know from the Gospels and also from the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius that John the Baptizer had thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers (see here for Josephus’ description of John). Some people thought John the Baptizer might even be the Messiah (John 1:20). The Gospels clarify John the Baptizer’s role and make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, of higher rank than John the Baptist.

John’s Gospel’s specifically introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer already with three verses in 1:6-8, and then again in 1:15 and 1:19-35 (cf. 3:25-30). The appearance of John the Baptizer so early in John’s Gospel, the sixth verse of the Gospel, is evidence that “the beginning” of John 1:1, and all of these verses at the beginning of John’s Gospel refer not to the Genesis creation but to the same beginning that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, cf. Luke 1:1-2, Matt. 1:1, John 8:25, 16:4).

In other words, John the Baptizer is so quickly and prominently introduced at the beginning of all the Gospels, including John’s Gospel because the Baptizer has a key role in this new beginning. The Baptizer’s key role was to bear witness to the coming of the Messiah: “After me comes a man who ranks above me…behold the lamb of God…this one is the Son of God” (John 1:15, 29, 34).

One other aspect of the new beginning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inaugurates was declared by Mary the mother of Jesus when she visited Elizabeth the mother of John. The coming of the Christ was to initiate a “reversal of fortune”. In language that echoes the prayer of Hannah (the first person in the Bible to mention the coming of God’s king messiah, 1 Sam. 2:10), Mary knew that the new beginning would turn the world upside down (Luke 1:47-56). Those of low estate would be exalted, the proud would be scattered, and the mighty brought down from their thrones. As Jesus promised, “the meek will inherit the earth”.

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Jordan River near Jericho

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 1 and John 1:1-14

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38 as we continue seeking God, growing our faith and increasing our love. Come follow along and see what God as in store for you!

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