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john the baptist Summary and Overview

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john the baptist in Easton's Bible Dictionary

the "forerunner of our Lord." We have but fragmentary and imperfect accounts of him in the Gospels. He was of priestly descent. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). The mission of John was the subject of prophecy (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1). His birth, which took place six months before that of Jesus, was foretold by an angel. Zacharias, deprived of the power of speech as a token of God's truth and a reproof of his own incredulity with reference to the birth of his son, had the power of speech restored to him on the occasion of his circumcision (Luke 1:64). After this no more is recorded of him for thirty years than what is mentioned in Luke 1:80. John was a Nazarite from his birth (Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judah lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1-12). At length he came forth into public life, and great multitudes from "every quarter" were attracted to him. The sum of his preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Luke 3:8). "As a preacher, John was eminently practical and discriminating. Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder." His doctrine and manner of life roused the entire south of Israel, and the people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto repentance. The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Matt. 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfil all righteousness" (3:15). John's special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a close by his being cast into prison by Herod, whom he had reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of Machaerus (q.v.), a fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded. His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave, went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Matt. 14:3-12). John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover of our Lord's ministry. Our Lord himself testified regarding him that he was a "burning and a shining light" (John 5:35).

john the baptist in Smith's Bible Dictionary

was of the priestly race by both parents, for his father, Zacharias, was himself a priest of the course of Abia or Abijah, #1Ch 24:10| and Elisabeth was of the daughters of Aaron. #Lu 1:5| His birth was foretold by an angel sent from God, and is related at length in Luke 1. The birth of John preceded by six months that of our Lord. John was ordained to be a Nazarite from his birth. #Lu 1:15| Dwelling by himself in the wild and thinly-peopled region westward of the Dead Sea, he prepared himself for the wonderful office to which he had been divinely called. His dress was that of the old prophets --a garment woven of camel's hair, #2Ki 1:8| attached to the body by a leathern girdle. His food was such as the desert afforded --locusts, #Le 11:22| and wild honey. #Ps 81:16| And now the long-secluded hermit came forth to the discharge of his office. His supernatural birth, his life, and the general expectation that some great one was about to appear, were sufficient to attract to him a great multitude from "every quarter." #Mt 3:5| Many of every class pressed forward to confess their sins and to be baptized. Jesus himself came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John. [JESUS] From incidental notices we learn that John and his disciples continued to baptize some time after our Lord entered upon his ministry. See #Joh 3:23; 4:1; Ac 19:3| We gather also that John instructed his disciples in certain moral and religious duties, as fasting, #Mt 9:14; Lu 5:33| and prayer. #Lu 11:1| But shortly after he had given his testimony to the Messiah, John's public ministry was brought to a close. In daring disregard of the divine laws, Herod Antipas had taken to himself Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; and when John reproved him for this, as well as for other sins, #Lu 3:19| Herod cast him into prison. (March, A.D. 28.) The place of his confinement was the castle of Machaerus, a fortress on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. It was here that reports reached him of the miracles which our Lord was working in Judea. Nothing but the death of the Baptist would satisfy the resentment of Herodias. A court festival was kept at Machaerus in honor of the king's birthday. After supper the daughter of Herodias came in and danced the king by her grace that he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. Salome, prompted by her abandoned mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist. Herod gave instructions to an officer of his guard, who went and executed John in the prison, and his head was brought to feast the eyes of the adulteress whose sins he had denounced. His death is supposed to have occurred just before the third passover, in the course of the Lord's ministry. (March, A.D. 29.)

john the baptist in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

JOH'N THE BAP'TIST more properly "the Baptizer." Matt 3:1. The son of a priestly family on both sides, his father, Zacharias, being a priest of the course of Abiah, and his mother, Elisabeth, being of the daughters of Aaron, the prophet and forerunner of our Saviour, and the Elias of the N.T. His parents were old when they received the promise of his birth. Luke 1:18. See Zechariah. He was born about six months before Christ. His birth and work were predicted by the angel Gabriel, Luke 1:5-15, and by Isaiah, Isa 40:3, and Malachi. Mal 4:5. He grew up in solitude, and when about 30 years of age began to preach in the wilderness of Judaea, and to call men to repentance and reformation. By divine direction he baptized with the baptism of repentance all who came unto him confessing their sins, Luke 3:8; and many supposed he might be "the Christ." John 1:19-28. His manner of life was solitary, and even austere; for he seems to have shunned the habitations of men and to have subsisted on locusts and wild honey, while his dress was made of the coarse hair of camels, and a leathern girdle was about his loins. John, moreover, announced to the Jews the near approach of the Messiah's kingdom, called the "kingdom of heaven." Matt 3:2. Multitudes flocked to hear him, and to be baptized of him, from every part of the land; and among the rest came Jesus of Nazareth, and applied for baptism John at first hesitated on account of the dignity of the person and his own un worthiness; but when Jesus told him that it was necessary, John acquiesced; heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended on Jesus in the likeness of a dove, and a voice was heard from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matt 3:17. By this, John knew most certainly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and afterward pointed him out to his own disciples and announced to the people that he was then among them. John 1:26-36. John was a man of profound humility; and although he foresaw that his fame would be eclipsed by the coming of Christ, as the brightness of the morning star is dimmed by the rising of the sun, yet he rejoiced sincerely in the event, saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease." The testimony of John to the divine nature and offices of the Redeemer is full and distinct. John 1:29; John 3:28-32. The message he sent by his disciples while he was in prison was for their sakes rather than his own, although it is not impossible that his own faith was temporarily clouded by the gloom of the prison. Matt 11:1-6. The preaching of John was awakening and alarming, and produced a deep impression on the minds of his hearers, but with most it was but temporary. They rejoiced in his light only for a season. Among the hearers of John was Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. This wicked prince not only heard him, but heard him with delight, and reformed his conduct in many points in consequence of his solemn warnings, Mark 6:20; but there was one sin which he would not relinquish. He had put away his own wife, and had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, who was still living. For this iniquity John faithfully reproved the tetrarch, by which he was so much offended that he would have killed the preacher had he not feared an insurrection of the people, for all men held John to be a prophet. Matt 14:5. He went so far, however, as to shut him up in prison. The resentment of Herodias was still stronger and more implacable toward the man who had dared to reprove her sin. She therefore watched for some opportunity to wreak her vengeance on this prophet of the Lord. On Herod's birthday, when all the principal men of the country were feasting with him, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced so gracefully before the company that Herod was charmed beyond measure, and declared with an oath that he would give her whatever she asked, even to the half of his kingdom. She immediately asked the advice of her mother, who told her to request the head of John the Baptist. Herod, whose resentment against him seems to have subsided, was exceedingly sorry, but out of regard to his oath, as he said, and respect for his company, he caused John to be beheaded. His head was brought on a platter and presented to the young dancer, who immediately gave it to her mother. Thus terminated the life of him who, of all the prophets of old, came nearest to Christ, and was in this sense the greatest born among women, yet less than "least in the kingdom" of Christ. Matt 11:11. He was the promised Elijah - i.e. gifted with his power and spirit. He summed up the whole meaning of the Jewish dispensation, the Law, and the prophecy in its direct termination in Christ, who came to fulfil the Law and the promise. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says of John, he "was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism." He also speaks of his "great influence over the people, who seemed ready to do anything he should advise." Josephus also confirms the gospel account of the murder of John. Antiq., xviii. 5^2.

john the baptist in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Son of Zacharias (of the course of Abijah, 1 Chronicles 24:10) and Elisabeth (of the daughters of Aaron), who both "walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Elisabeth was related to the Virgin Mary; but Scripture does not state the exact relationship; the Greek in Luke 1:36 (sungenees ), which our Bible renders "cousin," means any "relation" or "kinswoman," whether by marriage or birth. It is noteworthy that Jesus, of the Melchizedek order of priesthood, was related to but not descended from the Aaronic priests. Zacharias was old, and Elisabeth barren, when, as he was burning incense at the golden altar, Gabriel announced the answer to his prayers (not directly for a son, but, as Israel's representative, for Messiah the Hope of Israel) in the coming birth of a son, the appointed forerunner of Messiah; John (Jehovah's gift) was to he his name, because his supernatural birth was a pledge of the Lord's grace, long looked for, now visiting again His people to their joy (Luke 1). John was to be "great in the sight of the Lord" (contrast Baruch, Jeremiah 45:5). He should be in himself a pattern of that self denial which accords best with his subject of preaching, legal repentance, "drinking no strong drink, but filled with the Holy Spirit (see the same contrast,Ephesians 5:18, the minister's enthusiasm ought to be not from artificial stimulant but from the Spirit's unction) from the mother's womb," a Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-21). Like the great prophet reformer (compare 1 Kings 18:36,37) Elijah in "spirit. and power" of preaching, though not in miracles (John 10:41), he should turn the degenerate "children to the Lord and to" their righteous "fathers, and the heart of the fathers to the children," their past mutual alienation being due to the children's apostasy; fulfilling Malachi 4:4-6; bringing "Moses' law" to their remembrance, "lest Jehovah at His coming should smite the earth with a curse."Thus John should "make ready a people for the Lord."Zacharias for unbelief in withholding credit without a sign was punished with dumbness as the sign until the event came to pass. In the hill country, where Elisabeth had retired, her cousin Mary saluted her, and the babe leaped in Elisabeth's womb. His birth was six months before our Lord's. At his circumcision on the eighth day Zacharias gave his name John; and short, but calls himself the presbyter (elder)": 2 John 1; 3 John 1:1, so 1 Peter 5:1. Alexander of Alex. cites erring to the council of Carthage (De Haer. Bapt.), appeals to 2 John 1:10, "John the apostle in his epistle said, If any come to you," as recognized by the N. African church. The Peshito old Syriac version wants these two epistles. Eusebius reckous them among the controverted (antilegomena ) scriptures (see CANON OF SCRIPTURE ), as distinguished from those universally acknowledged (homologoumena ); his own opinion was that they were genuine (Demoustr. Evang. iii. 5). Origen (Eusebius, H. E. vi. 25) implies that most, though not all recognized their genuineness. Jerome (de Vir. Illustr. 9) mentions them as John's, whose sepulchre was shown at Ephesus in his day. The antilegomena were generally recognized after the council of Nice, A.D. 325. So Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 349; Gregory Naz., A.D. 389; and the councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397). So the oldest extant manuscripts eight of the 13 verses in 2 John 1 are in 1 John. A forger would never call John "the elder." Their brevity and the private nature of their contents caused the two epistles to be less read in church assemblies, and less quoted; hence their non-universal recognition at first. Their private nature confirms their genuineness, for there seems no purpose in their forgery. The style and coloring accord with those of 1 John. Persons addressed. 3 John 1 is directed to see GAIUS orCAIUS, probably of Corinth, a "host of the church." See Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14. Mill believes Gains, bishop of Pergamos (Apost. Const. vii. 40), a convert of John, and a man of wealth (3 John 1:4,5), is meant. 2 John 1 is addressed to the elect lady, and closes with "the children of thy elect sister greet thee." Now 1 Peter 1:1,2, addresses the elect in Asia, and closes (1 Peter 5:13) "the Church at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you." "Lady" (kuria ) in Greek is the root of church (kuriakee , belonging to the Lord). So John writes to the elect church in Babylon where his old associate Peter ministered, as Peter thence had sent salutations of the elect church in the then Parthian (see Clement Alex. quoted above) Babylon to her elect sister in Asia where John presided (Wordsworth). Date and place. Eusebius (H. E. iii. 25) relates that John, after Domitian's death, returned from Patmos to Ephesus, and went on missionary tours into the pagan regions around, and visited the churches, ordaining bishops aspect. His Lord's contrasted phrases in the Gospel John adopts in his epistles, "flesh," "spirit," "light," "darkness," "life,""death," "abide in Him"; "fellowship with the Father and Son, and with one another" is a phrase not in the Gospel, but in Acts and Paul's epistles. It marks enjoyment experimentally of Christian verities as living realities, not abstract dogmas. Burning zeal, all absorbing love, appear in John combined with contemplative repose. Simple, withal profound, his writing is unrhetorical and undialectic, gentle, comforting, loving, the reflex of Jesus his Lord whose beloved disciple he was. Ewald speaks of its "unruffled heavenly repose ... the tone not so much of a father talking with beloved children as of a glorified saint from a higher world."Place in building up the church. Peter founded, Paul propagated, John completed it. The Old Testament puts prominent the fear of God; John, the last New Testament writer, the love of God. Yet as Old Testament also sets forth love, so John as a Boanerges also sets forth the terror of the Lord against unbelievers. Three leading developments of Christ. tan doctrine are: the Pauline, the Jacobean (between which the Petrine is the intermediate link), and the Johannean. James, whose molding was in Judaism, presents as a rule of life the law, under the gospel, established in its spirit, the letter only being superseded. John had not, like the apostle of the Gentiles, been brought to faith and peace through conflict, but through a quiet development from the personal view of Christ, and from communion with Him. So in John everything turns on the contrast: life in fellowship with Christ, death in separation from Him; life, light, truth, opposed to death, darkness, lie. Jamesand Peter represent the gradual transition from spiritualized Judaism to independent Christianity; Paul, independent Christianity contrasted with Judaism. John by the contemplative element reconciles the two, and forms the closing point in the training of the apostolic church (Neander). S ECOND A ND T HIRD E PISTLES . Authenticity. The similar tone, style, and sentiments prove both to be by the same writer. Irenaeus (adv. Haer, i. 16, section 3) quotes 2 John 1:10,11, and 2 John 1:7 in iii. 16, section 8, as John's writing. Clement Alex. (Strom. ii. 66), A.D. 192, speaks of John's larger epistle, and in Adumbr. p. 1011, "John's second epistle to the Parthians (so it ought to be read for parthenous ; see Augustine quoted, J OHN ' S F IRST E PISTLE ) is the simplest; it was to a Babylonian, the elect lady." Dionysius of Alexandria (Eusebius , H. E. vii. 25) says "John never names himself in his epistles, not even in the second and third, though his returning faith was rewarded with returning speech, of which his first use was to pour forth a thanksgiving hymn, in which he makes it his son's chief honour that he should be "prophet of the Highest, going before the Lord's face to prepare His ways" as His harbinger. John had the special honour of being the subject off prophecy ages before, and of being associated in close juxtaposition with Messiah Himself. John "waxed strong in spirit and was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel" (Luke 1:80). Meanwhile God's interposition in the wonders of his birth caused "all the people to be in expectation, musing in their hearts whether he were the Christ" (Luke 3:15). The thinly-populated region adjoining the hill country of Judea was his haunt; there communion alone with God prepared him for his work. At 30, when "the word of God came to" him (Luke 3:2), he went forth, his very appearance a sign of the unworldliness and legal repentance. which he preached; his raiment a camel's hair garment secured with leather girdle (2 Kings 1:8) as Elijah's; his food that supplied by the desert, locusts (Leviticus 11:22) and wild honey (Psalm 81:16). All classes, Pharisees, Sadducees, the people, publicans, and soldiers, flocked to him from every quarter, Jerusalem, Judea, and the, region round Jordan (Matthew 3:5; Luke 3). The leading sects he denounced as a "generation of vipers" (compare Genesis 3:15, the serpent's "seed"), warning them that descent from Abraham would not avail with out doing Abraham's works (compare John 8:39), and telling all practically and discriminatinglythat the repentance needed required a renunciation of their several besetting sins; and that whereas, on their confession, he baptized with water (see BAPTISM ), the Mightier One would come baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11,12). When the ecclesiastical authorities sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, Who art thou? John replied, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord" (John 1:19-23). The natural wilderness symbolized the moral (Isaiah 32:15), wherein was no highway for the Lord and for righteousness. The hills of pride and the valleys of degradation must be brought to the one holy level before the Lord (Isaiah 40). John was the forerunner of the reigning Messiah (Matthew 3:2; Malachi 3:1), but through the nation's rejection of Him that reign was deferred (compare Numbers 14:34 with atthew 23:37-39). John baptized see JESUS (which see, also see BAPTISM ) and though knowing Him before as a man and his kinsman, yet then first knew His divine Messiahship by the Spirit's visible descent (John 1:30-34). John thence forth witnessed to Jesus, desiring to "decrease that He might increase." By his testimony at Bethany (so oldest manuscripts for Bethabara) beyond Jordan, "Behold the Lamb of God," he led two of his disciples to Him, Andrew and John the apostle and evangelist (John 1:35 ff; 3:23-36; 4:1,2; Acts 19:3). Yet John never formally joined Jesus; for he was one of the greatest among the Old Testament prophets, but not strictly in the New Testament kingdom, the least in which, as to spiritual privileges, was greater than he (Luke 7:28). His standing was the last of Old Testament prophets, preparatory to the gospel. He taught fasting and prayers, rather in the spirit and therefore with the forms of, the old dispensation which the new would supersede, its new spirit creating its appropriate new forms (Luke 5:33-38; 11:1). see HEROD ANTIPAS beheaded him in the fortress Machaerus E. of the Dead Sea, to gratify Herodias' spite for John's faithfulness in denouncing her adultery, and in slavish adherence to his reckless oath to give Herodias' daughter Salome, for dancing on his birthday, whatever she might ask. From the prison John had sent two (the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts read Matthew 11:2 "by," dia , for duo , two) disciples to see JESUS to elicit from Himself a profession of His Messiahship, for their confirmation in the faith. Jesus at once confirmed them and comforted John himself (who probably had expected to see Jesus more openly vindicating righteousness, as foretold Malachi 3:2-5;4:1-3), by an appeal to His miracles and preaching, the very credentials promised in Isaiah 35:5, 61:1. Jesus at the same time attested John's unshaken firmness, appealing to His hearers' own knowledge of him (Matthew 11). No reed shaken by the wind, no courtier in soft raiment, was John. But whether it was the ascetical forerunner, or the social Lord Himself, that preached, that generation was dissatisfied, with John because he was too self denying, with Jesus because He would not commend their self-righteous fastings: "we have piped unto you (unto John) and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you (unto Jesus) and ye have not lamented." Of John as of Jesus they said, he hath a devil. John fell just before the third Passover of Christ's ministry; his disciples buried him Self denial, humility, wherewith he disclaimed Messiahship and said he was not worthy to unloose His shoes' latchet, zeal for the Lord's honour, and holy faithfulness at all costs, were his prominent graces. (On the "Elias who shall yet come," see ELIJAH , end). John's ministry extended at its close into Peraea at the S.E. end of the lake of Galilee. When the herald was silenced the Master took up the message (Mark 1:14) in the same quarter. John's labours there so impressed Herod that, "he feared and observed him, and when he heard him did many things, and heard him gladly"; but would not do the one thing needed, give up his adulterous paramour, his brother Philip's wife. Elijah was translated in a chariot of fire; but John died a felon's death, for the forerunner was to be as his Lord. The worthless Ahab reappears in Herod with similar germs of good struggling with evil. Herodias answers to the cruel Jezebel. As Ahab in spite of himself respected Elijah, so Herod John; but in both cases the bad woman counteracted the good. John in prison fell into the same dejection concerning the failure of the Messianic kingdom, because it did not come in outward manifestation, as Elijah under the juniper. In both cases God came in the still small voice, not the earthquake and fire (Matthew 12:15-21).