Herald of the King The Mission of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12)1 -- By: David J. MacLeod

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 009:1 (Summer 2000)
Article: Herald of the King The Mission of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12)1
Author: David J. MacLeod

Herald of the King
The Mission of John the Baptist
(Matthew 3:1-12)1

David J. MacLeod2


Four hundred years is a long time — the United States is not yet two hundred fifty years old, and Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin seem like figures from the very distant past. For four hundred years, since Malachi in the 5th century bc (ca. 400–450), the voice of the prophets had been silent. Malachi and prophets like him had brought direct revelation from God to the nation — they were His spokesmen, His mouthpieces, and His speakers (cf. Exod. 7:1–2; Deut. 18:18). Yet, since Malachi, there was no voice, nor any that answered. Many in Israel were indifferent, but there were those who were sadly conscious that the voice of the prophets spoke no more.3

The events in Matthew 3 took place by the Jordan River in the year ad 29.4

According to Luke’s parallel account (Luke 3:1–2),5 it was during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and Pontius Pilate was governor of the province of Judea. Herod Antipas, Philip, and Lysanius ruled various provinces in the area, and it was the era of the high priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas.6 Luke’s introduction to the story reminds us of the fact that Romans occupied the land, and political intrigue was the order of the day. The mention of the high priesthood in the singular (ἀρχιερέως, archiereōs),7 when it was actually occupied by Annas, then one of his sons, and then his son-in-law, suggests that it was corrupted by a serpentine nepotism and an evil concentration of power.8

In any case, as the old commentator, Bengel, observed, with this account of John the Baptist’s preaching, the curtain of the New Testament was drawn up, and the greatest chapter of biblical history commenced.9 The scene is easy to imagine. A caravan of pilgrims was slowly climbing the mountain gorges threaded by the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. They halted for a moment in the intense heat, and they saw a rugged, sinewy, su...

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