capture the attention of people. That is an obvious statement. So after
Jesus healed the centurion’s slave and restored the life of the
widow’s son, the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the
surrounding area. Newspapers, magazines, television, and radio did not
exist at the time of Jesus. Information was passed along by word of mouth.
Travelers from one community would bring information and news from other
towns. The news about Jesus traveled the same way. Eventually the news
about Jesus’ miracles reached the ears of John the Baptist who
was imprisoned in one of the palaces of King Herod which was also used
as a prison. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that John the
Baptist was imprisoned in the palace of Macherus (Antiquities of the
Jews, XVIII, V, 2). The palace was built in 90 B.C. and was located about
24 km southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea. John
had been in prison for about twelve to eighteen months when news about
Jesus disturbed him. We will discover why in a few minutes.
Thoughts In Prison. John had plenty of time
to dream about the past, what the past might have been, and what he had
believed the future would be like. His birth had been extremely unusual.
An angel had visited his father Zacharius, a priest, in the temple when
he was preparing to burn incense and told him that his aged wife would
give birth to a son who should be named John. The angel Gabriel announced
that John would perform his ministry in the spirit and power of Elijah
(Luke 1:8-17). His birth was unusual because His mission was to be unusual.
His father did not believe the angel. As a result he was
not able to speak until John was born. His birth was a miracle because
his mother was past her child bearing years (Luke 1:8-17).
After John was born, his father prophesied by the power
of the Holy Spirit and announced that John would go before the Lord to
prepare the way (Luke 1:76-79). He announced the fulfillment of Malachi
3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will
clear the way before Me . . . (NASB) Mal. 3:1a
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD
in the wilderness . . .” (NASB) Is. 40:3
Since John’s mother was very old, we do not know how
long she was able to teach him; but we can be sure that John knew he
was the one who was to go before the coming Messiah.
He was the one who was to call the people to repent and
prepare their hearts for the Messiah the prophets had promised would
come. The Jews believed that the Messiah would rescue them from foreign
control. Matthew 1:4-8 records John’s persistent message,
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (NASB)
His message was loud and clear. He was announcing the coming of the
Messiah and His kingdom. He was dressed in strange clothes as implied
by Jesus later during His ministry in Luke 7:25.
John was a relative of Jesus. His mother, Elizabeth, was
related to Mary, Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:36). So John must have heard
about Jesus during His youth. Yet John did not know that Jesus was the
Messiah until much later. Even though Matthew 3:13-15 implies that John
knew Jesus was an extremely righteous man, he did not understand that
Jesus was the Messiah. This also suggests that Jesus did not do miracles
as a youth contrary to some Gnostic documents. We discover in John 1:31-34
that John had asked God to give him a sign to confirm who the Messiah
John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit
descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not
recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He
upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this
is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen,
and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (NASB) John 1:32-34
The sign was that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the
Messiah - the Coming One. This event occurred at Jesus’ baptism.
John 1:27 reveals that John the Baptist also believed that Jesus was
God since he said, “He existed before me.” That was a significant
statement because John the Baptist was born before Jesus (compare Luke
1:57 to Luke 2:1-7).
Later John the Baptist announced to the crowds that Jesus
was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John
1:29, 35-36). Jesus’ ministry began to grow and increase. His ministry
increased so much that the Jewish leaders became concerned and apparently
attempted to generate competition between Jesus and John. The incident
is recorded in John 3:22-30. But John had a divine perspective and a
humble heart and stated,
He must increase, but I must decrease. (NASB) John 3:30
John believed in Jesus and believed that they were on a divine mission.
Then a tragic event occurred. He was put into prison by
King Herod because the king did not like John’s messages (Matt.
4:12; Luke 3:19-20). John had rebuked Herod for committing adultery with
his brother’s wife Herodius. Historians tell us that King Herod
had an affair with Herodius while he was away in Rome. When he returned
home, Herod divorced his wife and married Herodius. In response John
had publicly denounced Herod. So the king put John in prison in Macherus.