Why did John the
Baptist doubt Jesus?
Q. Why did John the Baptist, when he was in prison, openly wonder if Jesus was the promised Messiah?
A. John the Baptist, the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, was Jesus' cousin through Mary (Luke 1:36).
His life was unusual, even from before his conception. While performing his priestly duties in the temple, Zacharias was visited by an angel which said Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son named John. When Zacharias expressed doubt because of his and Elizabeth's advanced age, the angel struck him dumb until the baby was named (verses 5-13).
The custom, in those days, was to name a son after his father, or a near relative. Zacharias had little choice: accept the name his relatives chose, and remain mute for the rest of his life, or name him as the angel said, and have his tongue untied. Even though John was an unusual name in the family, Zacharias wisely chose to name his son John (verses 59-64).
Some other unusual things about John were, he would be a Nazarite from birth, and be filled with God's holy spirit even while he was in the womb (v. 15). And he would be the prophet of God, to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry (v. 76).
John grew into manhood and, unlike most people, lived in the wilderness, away from the cities (Luke 1:80). His clothing was rough, and his diet was strict (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6).
Why did John choose to live with wild animals in the wilderness, rather than in the safety of the cities? It was not likely his choice, but as the holy spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12), the spirit likely sent John there as well.Luke 3:2 says much about this. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests, and to become a priest in the temple John would have tutored under them. But God wanted him to have the pure teachings, so God's message came to him supernaturally, away from the temple priests' influence.
Commentator John Gill wrote,
"...he was not brought up in the schools of the prophets, nor in the academies of the Jews, or at the feet of any of their Rabbins and doctors; that it might appear he was not taught and sent of men, but of God."
The Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown commentary agrees:
"...free from rabbinical influences and alone with God, his spirit would be educated, like Moses in the desert, for his future high vocation."
Returning to Gill's notes we read,
"...and that it might be clear he had no knowledge of, nor correspondence with Jesus, whose forerunner he was, and of whom he was to bear testimony."
If John had no knowledge of, nor correspondence with Jesus, it had to be through the holy spirit that he was able to assert,
"Behold, the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36).
Later John spoke out against king Herod, warning him his marriage to his sister-in-law was unlawful (Mark 6:17-18). For this, John ended up in prison.
The Preaching of St. John the Baptist
Oil on copper by Alessandro Allori
Jesus was in Jerusalem (Matthew 4:5-10) when he learned that John had been incarcerated in Galilee, so immediately went there (verse 12).
John had proclaimed Jesus as the lamb of God but had not personally witnessed his miracles. Also, the Jews were expecting a messiah who would free them from Roman control. Jesus didn't fit that mold so, in prison, John had time to think and entertain doubts. He began to hear about the works of Christ, and may have wondered why Jesus didn't, through some miracle, deliver him from his imprisonment. So he sent two of his disciples . . .
"And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? " (Matthew 11:1-3, KJV)
Jesus answered them,
"Go back to John and tell him what you hear and have seen for yourself, that the blind and lame and lepers and deaf are healed, the dead are raised up, and the poor hear the good news of God's kingdom. Happy is he who has no doubts about me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
All this was heard by the people who surrounded them. They must have had some doubts about John, since he sent emissaries to question Jesus. But Jesus had no such doubts. He asked them what they went out into the wilderness to see: a weak, spineless person shaken by every wind of doctrine? Or a man in soft clothing?
If that's what they expected, they were mistaken. And one has to wonder whether Jesus' next statement was a jab at Herod. He said, "Those who wear silks and satins are in kings' houses " (verses 7-8).
Realizing that some of the people went to see a prophet, Jesus commended John to them saying he was more than a prophet (v. 9), because John is the one Malachi spoke of when he said, "I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way for me" (Malachi 3:1).
Then, once again preaching the gospel Jesus said,
"No one has been greater than John the baptizer, yet the most lowly person in God's kingdom will be greater than John is today." (Matthew 11:11)
Written by: Les Turvey