The Message of John the Baptist -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:449 (Jan 1956)
Article: The Message of John the Baptist
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

The Message of John the Baptist

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

That John the Baptist is an important Biblical character could be gleaned from just one statement of our Lord. That statement is found in Matthew 11:11, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Add to this the fact that he also is referred to in two of the Old Testament prophets (cf. Isa 40:3–5; Mal 3:1) and the point is demonstrated clearly.

John was a rugged type of person, a stern John Knox kind of character who thundered out “the way of the Lord” to a stiffnecked generation. His Old Testament counterpart is Elijah, to whom he is likened (cf. Luke 1:17), and whose ministry also was filled with the announcement of judgment. And both were dressed in fashions that fitted their ministries. Of Elijah it is written that “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins” (2 Kings 1:8), while of John Matthew states, “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey” (3:4 ).

And yet this rugged and stern character, although his message was not, humanly speaking, “geared for the times,” had a tremendous influence on his contemporaries. John was popular, for the crowds flocked to hear him and receive his baptism. Campbell Morgan describes his ministry as attractive, convective, and invective (G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 22). John’s ministry,

however, was not popular in the sense that he was successful in influencing the majority to turn to the way of the Lord. In fact, it was just the opposite. His work led to his imprisonment (cf. Matt 4:12) and death (cf. 14:3–12). In this the servant was not above his Master. But it must have been expected. A minister of the truth does not have a lengthy tenure of service when called to pronounce judgment, at least as a general rule. And John began by calling certain of his congregation “O generation of vipers” (3:7). He must have felt that when the “love-offering” was taken up!

But what was the message of this unusual man? His words assume importance in v...

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