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John the Baptist

[John the Forerunner]



Luke begins his Gospel by describing an aged, devout, childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah encounters the Angel Gabriel, who tells him that he and his wife will conceive a son who will be a great prophet, and will go before the Lord. About six months later, Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary, to tell her that she was about to bear a son, a king whose kingdom would never end.

Thus Elizabeth gave birth to John, and Mary gave birth six months later to Jesus.  Luke says that John grew, and "was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel." The people of the Qumran settlement, the producers the Dead Sea Scrolls, use the term "living in the wilderness" to refer to settling in their community at Qumran. It has also been suggested that John spent some time being educated there.

John preached and baptised in the Jordan, calling on people to repent and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. He spoke of one greater than himself who was to come, and when Jesus was baptised, John told some of his disciples that this was the one that he had spoken of. Following his baptism, Jesus began to preach, attracting many followers, many of whom were disciples of John. Some resented this, but John told them: "This is as it should be. My mission is to proclaim the Christ.” John continued to preach, calling on everyone to repent.

King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife and taken Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. John opposed his actions and Herod, under pressure from Herodias, had John arrested and beheaded. When John had been in prison for a while, he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, "Are you he that is to come, or is there another?" by way of confirmation of what was happening. Jesus replied by telling the messengers, "Go back to John, and tell him what you have seen, the miracles of healing and other miracles, and say, 'Blessed is he who does not lose faith in me.”

He then told the crowds: "John is a prophet and more than a prophet. He is the one spoken of in Malachi 3:1, the messenger who comes to prepare the way of the Lord. No man born of woman is greater than John, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John." This has been understood to mean that John represents the climax of the long tradition of Jewish prophets looking forward to the promised deliverance, but that the deliverance itself is a greater thing. He lived a frugal life in the wilderness and renounced the joys of family life, dedicating himself completely to his mission of preaching. In terms of virtue, John has no superior, but all who have been born again in the kingdom of God have the greatest glory. This is not to say that John is himself excluded from the Kingdom.

His feast day is celebrated on June 24th, symbolically six months prior to the birth of Jesus.