THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Volumes could, and should, be written about the importance of John.(I have produced an 11 part audio study of the importance of John as a critical eschatological figure. I am also working on a book on John as Elijah. John was the predicted Elijah! This could only mean that the Day of the Lord was near (Malachi 4:5-6). The angel informed Zechariah, John’s father, “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15). Nothing could have been more exciting for John’s parents to hear! In their son, the Spirit was to return to Israel!
John was, according to Jesus, the promised Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14; 17:10f). Lamentably, the modern millennialists are in open denial of Jesus’ affirmation of John as Elijah, because if it be admitted for one moment that John was the fulfillment of the promise of Elijah, then the millennial paradigm is falsified.
But, in regard to John, the Spirit, and the prophetic office, notice what Jesus said: “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. …. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matthew 11:9-14). Mark says, “for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.” (Mark 11:32).
Certain facts emerge from these texts..
First, John was a prophet.
Second, since the prophetic office was to be revived in the last days, this suggests that the last days essentially began with the appearance of John.
(This fact is destructive to the amillennial and postmillennial paradigms that suggest that the last days are the Christian age, and that the last days began on Pentecost. The revival of the prophetic office “in the last days,” coupled with the appearance of John as the promised prophet Elijah, means that the last days must be identified as the last days of Old Covenant Israel).
Third, the long absence of the Spirit from Israel had ended! While the outpouring of the Spirit promised by Joel had not yet occurred, nonetheless, the presence of the Spirit was now revived in the prophetic office. And, even John promised that Joel’s promise was about to be fulfilled (Matthew 3:11).
Fourth, since the prophetic office was confined to the seventy week countdown, the appearance of the prophetic office was limited in duration.
Since the prophetic office was to be revived, in Elijah, in the last days, it meant that the Great Day of the Lord was near!
What excitement there must have been in Judea as the news spread that a prophet, a great prophet, had appeared! It is no surprise therefore, that the leaders in Jerusalem sent an ambassage to John asking, “Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet? Are you the one we look for?” (The word translated as “look” is from prosdekomai, and means an eager, expectant looking. There is a sense of imminence in the word-(Matthew 11:2f; John 1:21f). John’s appearance was an incredible signal that the kingdom, the judgment, the Day of the Lord and the resurrection was near.
The millennialists try to take John’s denial that he was Elijah, and use it to reject Jesus’ affirmation that he was in fact Elijah. The key is found in the fact that Israel expected the appearance of literal, physical Elijah. John truthfully denied being Elijah reincarnate. However, he was Elijah, for he came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). This is why Jesus said “If you will receive it, he is Elijah…let him who has ears to hear…” It took discernment to realize and accept John as Elijah. We dare not deny Jesus’ positive affirmation of who John was.
And so, John, prophetic herald of the end, proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” (Matthew 3:2). Likewise, just as Malachi had predicted that Elijah would do, he sought to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and turn Israel to faithfulness, before the coming of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11f). What powerful, significant words John uttered! The one coming after him, indeed, the one already present among them, would pour out the Spirit as promised by the prophets of Old. More to come!