An email correspondent has posted to us asking some questions about John the Baptist and his role in eschatology. I am very happy to offer some thoughts on this very fascinating and important issue. I will post his question and then under that my response. As a primer, just let me say that I believe that John the Baptizer was, apart from Jesus and Paul, the most important eschatological figure in the entire New Testament!
Questions about John the Baptist
Hello Dr. Preston, I'm making great progress with your book The End of The Law, amazing and powerful conclusions! Several questions have subsequently arose in my heart and I'd like to hear your insights please: 1. In what way did John's water baptism prepare the Way of The Lord? Were those who were baptized spared from the Great and Terrible Day of The Lord? And why was it necessary for Jesus to undergo this baptism himself?
Response: I believe that John the Baptist‘s baptism helped prepare the Way of the Lord based on several concepts associated with Israel’s salvation history.
1. Throughout Israel’s history, “passing through the waters” was an image of a new birth / a new beginning. When Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were “baptized into Moses” (1 Corinthians 10), and, significantly, they were born as a nation so to speak by passing through the waters (cf. Isaiah 63:10f). When Israel passed through the Jordan, that was likewise seen as a new beginning, and thus, they set up stones of memorial to mark that new beginning (Joshua 4).
2. Baptism / Immersion was an initiation into a particular covenant fellowship and community. Even the rabbis said that when a Gentile was circumcised and baptized, that he was reborn and became ever bit as much a child of Abraham as anyone else.
Yes, I do believe that those baptized into John’s baptism were delivered and spared from the Great Day, because they became then followers of Jesus and knew of his warnings to flee from that Day (Matthew 24:15f).
I think Jesus had to be baptized (obviously not because he had sin) but to “set the example” and also, since John was commissioned by the Father and his baptism was a command, then Jesus had to show his submission to the Father just like everyone else. John the Baptist recognized that Jesus did not have a “need” to repent and be baptized, but, Jesus knew that to refuse would be to reject His Father’s will.
Why Was John the Baptist Called the Greatest Prophet?
2. Why did Jesus declare that John the Baptizer to be the GREATEST prophet, even greater than the likes of Moses, even though he did no documented miracles or wonders?
Response: I think there are several reasons why John must be considered as the greatest prophet. (I have been working on a book on John, as Elijah, for a few years now. His eschatological role is tremendous!!).
1. John was so important because, unlike the former prophets, he was the herald and messenger of the Great Day of the Lord and the arrival of the long anticipated kingdom. Not one of the former prophets ever said that the kingdom was nigh!
2. Directly related to this is that John was Elijah (Matthew 17:10-12). Elijah was considered the greatest of the former prophets. What we need to keep in mind is that although John did no visual miracles, he was filled with the Spirit from the womb, and this is– within itself– an indication that the last days had arrived. There was an understanding in Israel that the Spirit had departed from the nation and would not return until the last days before the arrival of the kingdom. So, for the NT to tell us that although John did no miracles, but, that he was Elijah and full of the Spirit, was incredibly important!
3. Jesus said “the law and the prophets were until John.” This indicated, not that Torah ended at the coming of John, but that, as indicated under #1, his ministry meant that the time of fulfillment had arrived! The law and the prophets had essentially said “one of these days, it will happen, in the last days.” John said: “The kingdom of heaven has drawn nigh!”
3. Why did Jesus and His disciples water baptize people before His Crucifixion?
Response: It is my understanding that the disciples were following in the steps of John and baptizing people into the new community that was forming. And they were saying that Messiah was near, and that if the believers wanted to be spared from “the wrath about to come” they needed to get on board, so to speak, and realize how critical the time truly was.
4. And finally, what is the meaning of "In the Name of The Father, and of the Son, and of The Holy Spirit" in the context of water baptism?
Response: It is my understanding that this term indicated entrance into the body, into, and by the authority of God. “in the name of” generally speaking, meant to do something by the authority of, but, it likewise signified entrance into the fellowship of the one whose name was being called. In other words, by being baptized, they were entering into fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Spirit.”
Okay, hope these few thoughts are helpful. Again, my apology for the long delay, but, circumstances have been (are) very difficult right now.
For more on John the Baptist, get my book, The End of the Law of Moses: From Torah to Telos.