Episode:Jesus Goes Public—Precursor and Prelude (Part 3)
John came from the herdsmen, like Amos. He was dressed like Elijah of old, and he thundered his admonitions and poured forth his warnings in the "spirit and power of Elijah". It is not surprising that this strange preacher created a mighty stir throughout all Palestine as the travelers who were crossing the river carried abroad the news of his preaching and baptizing along the Jordan.
Opening thought: "See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him." [Isaiah 62]
Closing thought: The path of righteousness is founded by the God of love.
Summary by Kermit
Commentary after Review
When attempting to penetrate to the true meanings of John’s methods and practices as herald of Jesus’ bestowal mission, be mindful of their historical context. Seek to recognize and appreciate the spirit and potentials of his sayings and doings instead of their actualities. John’s message of righteousness and repentance may very well seem out of fashion today. The love and mercy of God are far more pleasant realities to broadcast, and of course that was the burden of Jesus’ ministry. But the love and the law of God cannot be considered one apart from the other. They are indissolubly linked in the unity of God’s nature. Love and mercy are effective antidotes for evil. But they are powerless to neutralize the sin of the unrepentant. Creature freewill sovereignty is implied in the commission of sin, and can only be undone by the creature. Access to God’s mercy must await genuine repentance.
Terms as transgression, repentance, righteousness, and divine law may seem like old school terms out of step with the parlance of our times, but careful reading of the 5th ER discloses that these terms are introduced in the beginning papers and utilized throughout with precision. Readers dismiss their significance at their peril.
135:6 John Begins to Preach
The times were ripe for John’s message. Despite the several different meanings which could be attached to John’s preaching his sincere, enthusiastic proclamations served to arouse the populace to a state of heightened expectancy awaiting the restoration of the Jews as God’s chosen people. John chose the well trafficked crossing of the Jordan river opposite Jericho to initiate his public preaching and baptizing. More than a preacher invoking strong emotion in his hearers, John stirred the souls of these weary Jews. John was truly a prophet according to both the Jewish criteria of the day as one who taught God’s will and proclaimed the necessity of righteous living, and the 5th ER yardstick of one who enjoyed actual engagement with celestials—a prophet.
John’s emulation of Elijah in dress and manner of preaching served to be a relatively brief (15 months) but powerful attention step in opening the way for Jesus to step on to the scene with his contrasting style. Baptism along with other features of John’s message did constrain Jesus somewhat in his choice of terminology and emphasis, all of which testifies to the evolutional nature of the whole bestowal mission.
Baptism was not unknown to the Jews, being performed as a ceremony of entrance into fellowship for the gentiles. As a ceremony of repentance for Jews it was novel.
Not one to mince words, John's evidence of his lack of tact is the manner in which he greeted the group of Pharisees and Sadducees who presented themselves for baptism. He likened them to vipers and sternly warned them to bear the fruit of sincere repentance for remission of their sins.
John’s instructions to the penitents betrayed his struggle with a correct understanding of the kingdom of heaven. His prescriptions were outer-life directed. But why should we be surprised when such confusion about the true meaning of the kingdom of heaven exists today. Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is within you is still not universally understood.
135:7 John Journeys North
The more John preached the more confused he became concerning the nature of the kingdom and the part Jesus would play in its outworking. In moments when he favored a more literalist version of the kingdom where the throne of David was to be restored and Jesus being born in the City of David, was to be the deliverer John found consistency. When he leaned toward the view of a spiritual kingdom and the end of a temporal age he had serious doubts as to what part Jesus would play in such events. But counsel from Jesus on these matters was not to be according to their expressed agreement.
Proceeding north, John first made reference to “another one who is to come after me” when asked if he were the Messiah. This one, greater than John would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. We have the literalness of this statement confirmed through the 5th ER’s specific disclosures concerning the Holy Spirit ministry.
135:8 The Meeting of Jesus and John
John’s cult of baptism is the nucleus of a new culture blurring the distinction between Jew and gentile. Recall the reciprocal role of baptism in originally being a ceremony for gentiles becoming Jews, and now for Jews becoming believers in Jesus.
We are about to see the passing of the kingdom of heaven “baton” from John to Jesus. Note the setting of the scene. The Zebedee brothers were already baptized by John, Jesus’ brothers James and Jude were inquiring of the elder brother as to the advisability of their doing likewise. Jesus arranges for a meeting with his brothers the following day, at which time Jesus declares that his hour has come, let us go to John.
Even upon this momentous occasion, Jesus’ adherence to scrupulous work habits serves to echo the law-and-order foundation of John’s work, to be carried over to Jesus’ mission.