Seychelles And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

cheap cytotec The writer, John, is not talking about himself. This section in the first chapter of the book of John is about the man commonly known as John the Baptist. John the Baptist was an unusual character. Mark describes him as dressing in camel’s hair, with a leather belt, and who survived on locusts and wild honey. Luke tells us that when the angel appeared to Zechariah, John’s father-to-be, he was told that John must not drink wine or strong drink. This suggests that John was a Nazarite—a person consecrated to the Lord. According to Numbers, chapter 6, a Nazarite would not drink strong drink, or grapes in any state, and he or she would not cut his or her hair. All this suggests that John would have appeared to be rather skinny and wild-looking. Maybe a little scary. He would probably also have been smelly, except that his vocation had him baptizing people in the Jordan all the time. (I suppose the people were glad for that.) 

buy generic Ivermectin John was Jesus’ cousin. When Jesus’ mother, Mary, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, John’s mother, Elizabeth was already pregnant. It is supposed that John was 6 months older than Jesus because in the first chapter of Luke we read that the angel Gabriel came to Mary when Elizabeth was six months pregnant to announce that she would conceive a son whom she would name Jesus. The angel used Elizabeth’s pregnancy, since she was thought to be too old to have a child, to help explain to Mary how she could be pregnant in spite of being a virgin. He said to her, “Nothing is impossible with God”.

When Elizabeth first encountered Mary, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1.42-44). So John, whose primary purpose was to serve as a herald for the arriving Messiah, made his first announcement three months before he was born. 

This goes to show that we can’t underestimate the wisdom of children, nor their capacity to do good work. I also cannot let the opportunity pass to emphasize that John was in the womb. Jesus, too, was in the womb and, however early he was in development—seemingly in his first month—he was recognized by John with joy, and was recognized by Elizabeth as her Lord. The 2000-year-old New Testament boldly presents the humanity of the unborn. Imagine if Mary would have become pregnant with Jesus in the 21st century. Would she have done the obvious, convenient thing and aborted Jesus? I think Mary would not have, given her spiritual wisdom, but there have been an estimated 62 million abortions in the U.S. since the Roe v. Wade ruling. Imagine the hopeless condition we would all be in if Mary had had an abortion.

The Gospels tell us very little about John the Baptist until he is fully into his ministry. Matthew sums up John’s ministry in this phrase, often repeated by John: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3.2). So, fundamentally, John was preparing the people of Israel for Jesus. Israel had long hoped for a return to the glorious theocratic days when David and his son Solomon ruled in the land and, little doubt, this is how many understood John’s message. John’s call was for repentance, which is a spiritual focus, but Israelites associated the kingdom of God with both civic and spiritual subservience to God. In fact, there is reason to wonder whether John himself understood the nature of the kingdom he was heralding. Some time later, after he had been imprisoned for calling out King Herod for marital infidelity, he sent a message to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11.3). But this is not unusual when it comes to faith. As they say, sometimes you obey because you understand, and sometimes you obey in order to understand. When the commander is a good and trustworthy God, the latter arrangement is possible.

Verse 19 says, “The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” Many haveread the New Testament and conclude that Jews are the bad guys. Well, yes and no. The Jews John is referring to are the entrenched religious leaders of Israel, and they are almost always portrayed as hypocrites. However, this charge is not against all Jewish people. John the Baptist was Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. The Apostles were Jewish. The Gospels are overwhelmingly about Jewish people. The New Testament is about a Jewish sect that reaches hard into the Gentile world, creating a new spiritual community. The Jews in the New Testament are the bad guys and the good guys.

The tribe of Levi was set apart from the other 11 tribes of Israel to serve as priests in Israel. Not all Levites were priests, but all priests were Levites. So John’s interrogators were all from the tribe of Levi. They were sent from the Jewish power center in Jerusalem to find out who John was and what he was up to. They knew he was stirring up a lot of interest and they were trying to figure out what they should do with him. As we find out later, the religious leaders were capable of going to extremes if they found someone doing something they believed was contrary to the Jewish faith and to their best interests (which they had somehow come to believe were the same thing).

John’s first answer to their question was that he was not the Christ. He was not the Messiah. He was not the one that Israel looked for to deliver it from political bondage. The verse says that he “confessed” these things. This is probably not a great translation in that a confession today generally means that someone is openly admitting guilt for an offense or a crime. Confession here would better be rendered “professed” or “testified”. John is speaking openly and publicly that he is not the Christ.

Since John insisted he was not the Messiah they asked him whether he was Elijah. This question derives from the prophetic promise of Malachi (the last verses of the Old Testament): “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4.5,6).

In the same appearance of the angel to Zechariah, as noted above, the angel used almost the same words in prophesying about John: “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1.16,17). We can also read about John in the book of Matthew, when Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration. The disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17.10-13). So, given the prophecy of the angel and the comments by Jesus, we would expect that John would answer, “Yes” to the Levites’ question. But he answered, “I am not”.

There are a variety of theories as to why John answered in this way. The theory that seems most likely has to do with the Jewish expectation of the original Elijah to appear before the coming of the Messiah. Based on Jesus’ answer to the disciples, this literal expectation may yet be realized, but in connection with the second coming. John’s denial, then, is to being the literal Elijah. He was not Elijah; he was John. Still, he comes in accordance with the prophecy to Zechariah in the spirit and power of Elijah.

The Levites also asked him if he were “the prophet,” a question derived from Deuteronomy 18.15-18. Verse 18 says: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their bothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” John also denied being this prophet. Some time later, Peter, preaching in Solomon’s Portico to a large crowd, made it clear that the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy was Jesus himself.

John finally offered up an answer to the question of his identity. He was not biographically verbose. He limited his answer to his job, which was what he considered the important fact about himself. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”. John’s reference is to a beautiful quote from the book of Isaiah, one that remains well known in Western society because it is one of the passages on which Handel based his “Messiah”.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40.1-5).

John is clear here, as he is elsewhere, that he is a herald, announcing to the people the arrival of the Lord God. The people are to be comforted because this arrival means a great blessing is to be upon them. It is good news, which is the literal meaning of “Gospel”.