Life of John the Baptist

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Question: Who is John the Baptist? Was he really a prophet? What was his life like?

Answer: John the Baptist (he was only referred to as such after he began to baptize) was born to a woman in her old age named Elizabeth. She had been barren all her life but was healed by God (Luke 1:5 - 15, 36).

Elizabeth was a descendant of Israel's first high priest named Aaron (Luke 1:5) and a cousin of Jesus' mother Mary (Luke 1:36). Zacharias, the father, was a priest who served in Jerusalem's temple during Abia's course. This made John the Baptist of priestly descent.

John the Baptist was set apart, for life, to be a Nazarite even before his conception (Luke 1:15). His miraculous birth, occurring just six months ahead of Jesus', took place in the late February to early March time frame (at the same period of God's Feast Days known as Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread) in 5 B.C.

Timeline of Jesus' Birth
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Not only was John the Baptist's arrival a miracle, it was also a fulfillment of prophecies which spoke of a voice in the wilderness (John 1:19 - 23) who would come in the spiritual power of Elijah (Matthew 17:10 - 13).

Baptism of Christ
The Baptism of Christ
Lorenzo Ghiberti (c. 1427)

Nazarites were those who were consecrated to serve God and who were generally separated themselves from other people. John, as a Nazarite, was required to not drink any wine or strong drink, and could not even eat grapes or anything that had grapes in it. He also had to refrain from cutting his hair. Additionally, John could not come near or touch a dead body, even if it was his mother or father (Numbers 6:2 - 21).

John spent the early part of his life dwelling in the rough, mountainous tract of land that existed between the city of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (see Matthew 3:1 - 12). During most of his adult life he 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).

God called John to prepare the people for Jesus' teaching and ministry. His ministry began when he was 30 years old (26 A.D.) and started to diminish when Christ's ministry began. He was put in prison by Herod Antipas for speaking out against his marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias.

Jesus stated that not only did John fulfill prophecy he also (although the Bible records not one miracle he performed) was the greatest prophet sent by the Father (Matthew 11:7 - 11).

Interestingly, even though Christ called John the greatest prophet, the Bible does not record him performing a single miracle (e.g. healing the sick, etc.). He was ultimately beheaded, during a celebration of Herod's birthday, in the Spring of 29 A.D. (just before the Passover).

Immediately after Jesus was transfigured, in the presence of three of his disciples, they asked Him about Elijah. They wanted to know why the scribes said he must appear before the end of the world. Jesus told them, "Elijah shall indeed come first and restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come . . ." (Matthew 17:12). The disciples understood that he was referring to the life and ministry of John the Baptist (verse 13).

Additional Study Materials
Why is Elijah not in heaven?
The fascinating life of Apostle Paul!
Is it a sin to celebrate birthdays?
Who are the Minor Prophets?

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