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John the Baptiser

Updated on June 5, 2015
stained glass window of John the Baptist, Cathedral of Leicester, England
stained glass window of John the Baptist, Cathedral of Leicester, England | Source

I doubt there's a book been written with as many characters in such diverse circumstances, covering such breadth of human history as the Bible.

This is because the Bible's focus is people, or maybe better put, God's dealings with people.

As would be expected of all these people, some stand out more than others. But not necessarily for the reasons one might expect.

One such was a man who, before Christ, is ascribed to be the greatest man to ever live.

Christ said concerning this man in Matthew 11:11;

“Assuredly I say to you, among those born of woman there has not arisen one greater…”

The man was John the Baptist.

To the Jews that heard Jesus, this would have surprised, for Jesus was saying that John was greater than Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Daniel, David, Samuel, Joseph, Elisha… and every other man of faith throughout scripture and history.

Text: John 1:6-8

There was no greater man that had ever been born before Christ than John.

Moses was a friend of God -- John was greater.

David was a man after God’s own heart – John was greater.

Elijah did not see death because of his obedient faith – John was greater.

Why? What were the reason’s that John was so great?

Of course, in answering this we must understand that the qualities earning God’s stamp of greatness are not the same as the worlds; and in many cases are quite opposite. As proof of this you only have to go to a library or good book store and locate books on great people and their lives. Unlikely it would be indeed to find John the Baptist listed among them.

You’d find Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Nero, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Cromwell, many kings and queens, and even such names as Gandhi, Martin Luther, Mohammed. But John would not be listed amongst the greats of history.

Those listed either achieved something remarkable for the benefit of others; something infamous to the detriment of others, or, something beyond the abilities of most others.

But John, who was greater than all these, will not be mentioned; because he was great in a way that most men do not recognise nor acknowledge.

What's in a name?

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He wasn’t great physically. Matthew 3:4 tells us;

‘And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.’

He most definitely therefore wasn’t great in wealth.

And he didn’t walk in the circles of the great. We read that John abided in the wilderness and people came to see him.

But John was great because of three things;

  1. His mission
  2. His commitment to that mission throughout his life.
  3. His commitment to that mission even to death.

The greatness of John’s mission

For many people, when they hear the name John the Baptist, they will immediately associate the following verse;

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’

Why do people make that association?

Because that was John’s soul mission in life, He was born to prepare the world for Jesus Christ.

In Luke 1:76 we read concerning John;

‘And you child (john) will be called the prophet of the highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people…’

What an amazing mission - to prepare people for God’s arrival on earth.

But even in preparing the way for Christ, John’s greatness could not be attributed to his miraculous power or wonders; because he performed no miracles. John 10:4 says;

‘Then many came to Jesus and said; “John performed no sign, but all the things that John said about this man were true.” And many believed in Him there.’

No. What made John’s mission great was that he preached Christ. The culmination of John’s mission was the entrance of the world’s saviour. Therefore he preached unlike any prophet before him to ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’

John preached in the region now known as southern Palestine, comprising present-day southern Israel and southwest Jordan

Johns commitment to his mission

If there was ever a man who gave his all for the job, it would have been John.

He was only 30 years old when he began his mission, an age when most men have just gained the experience, courage and wisdom to really do well for themselves. An age that a man feels ready to really make something of himself –to face a challenge with confidence- in his job, his family, his community, his hobbies. It is normally a time in a man’s life where he feels the greatest potential for growth and achievement.

John was willing to put all that focus, energy, and potential into just one thing –a mission that would not benefit him in this life with any of the comforts that we hold so dear; A mission that wouldn’t elevate him in the world’s eyes, nor have people admiring him for his achievements.

No. John’s mission required that he speak of things most people would reject, act in a way that many people would despise, and live a lifestyle that most would run a hundred miles to avoid. So foreign to the world was his message and manner that Luke 7:33 tells us that many thought him possessed of a demon.

His mission was hard –ultimately ending in his death. But it was a mission that John embraced as zealously as Jesus did his own, because John realised that his mission dealt with the highest of goals, the saving of souls.

Luke 1:15-16 reads

‘And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mothers womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.’

John knew that by his inspired words about the coming messiah, and by his righteous life, he would be making Jesus more real to people. He was like the bugler that a king sends ahead of him when approaching a city to prepare them for his arrival. The people hear the bugler and then become watchful to see what the bugler has declared. If not for the bugler the people would not be expectant, and therefore less likely to believe it when the king actually does arrive.

Much like if the queen suddenly turned up on your doorstep one morning. Even though she came with all the trimmings of the queen and looked like the queen, just the simple fact that she wasn’t announced would bring serious doubts to your mind as to whether this truly was the queen, wouldn’t it?

John had the same job, he was to make Christs upcoming arrival, Christs testimony of himself, the more plausible –he was Christ’s bugler.

And he was determined to make as many people as possible aware of the saviours approach, because then, being aware; they had the better chance of believing in him. And so committed was he in this, that he denied himself everything but the essentials to accomplish it.

Be amazed

What surprises you most about John the Baptist

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And yet, you know, John knew less than we do about Christ and his new covenant, even though he was the greatest of the prophets. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Matthew 11:3 reveals that John wasn't even sure whether Jesus was the one he was to prepare the way for, doubt causing him to send his own disciples to ask of Jesus, "Are you the coming One, or do we look for another?"

But John's commitment went beyond a life mission, it extended into the modus of his death.

(Read John 3:22-30)

John realised that after his mission had been accomplished, after he had blown the bugle announcing the kings imminent approach and then arrival, then John had to step back and take his place behind the king.

For the people to continue to focus on John, after Jesus' arrival, would have defeated the purpose of what John came to do. But in this there was a problem.

In John 5:35, Jesus says concerning John; "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light."

Even unto Death

As a burning light, John was a great herald of Christ, preparing his way. but when Christ arrived, John's bright light distracted some from Christ's light. and there was only one way to solve this - God had John's light removed.

In Matthew 14:1-12 we read that not even John's personal disciples left John to follow Jesus until John's death.

And John didn't die pleasantly either. He was first imprisoned and then beheaded.

Herod’s daughter receives the head of John the Baptist. ―Matthew 14
Herod’s daughter receives the head of John the Baptist. ―Matthew 14 | Source

The greatest man that ever lived before Christ was born humbly, lived meagrely, and died horribly -- the greatest man! he knew neither riches, power, not fame. Nor did he have great knowledge; not even a clear understanding of what he preached. Yet he was willing, at the age of thirty, to give his life for his mission.

This is why John was great. And yet, Jesus said; "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 John."

And why is that? How can we who are Christians be greater than John?

Could it be because of Jesus.

Could it be that like as Jesus was the culmination of Johns mission, so we (those in Christ kingdom) are the culmination of Christ's mission. John and we both, then, find our greatness in Jesus.

[Note: as one hubber has dutifully pointed out, this is but my current understanding of things. My reasons for associating Christians with the kingdom of heaven are: a) King of the kingdom is Christ, Colosians 1:13,18), he rules from heaven, and we, as his subjects, are therefore part of the kingdom of heaven also; b) Peter was given the keys to the kingdom (Matt 16:19), which I presently believe was referring to he giving the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost following Christ's resurrection (Acts 2:14) in which 3000 souls (v.41) were saved (added to the kingdom); c) Luke 22:29-30 refers to Christ's kingdom and the apostles being part of it, ruling over the church. Happy to hear your comments on this. Life has taught me that I can, and have often, got things wrong]


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    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 6 years ago from Oz

      @wba108 ~ thanks for stopping by to comment. Yes, God's value system, thankfully, is different than man's. John's life presents a great example of faith and devotion, I look forward to one day meeting him; and honouring him. God bless

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      parrster-Terrific insights into Johns life! I often wondered why John the baptist was considered the greatest man before Jesus. He performed no miracles and wouldn't be considered a great prophet. But God has a different value system than what we do, He looks at the heart!

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 6 years ago from Oz

      @ruffridyer ~ Thanks for reading and commenting. You could be right in your comment regarding John's faith... I'll have to remember to ask him when we at last meet up :)

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A great hub on a great man. I am of the opinion that when John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the one it was not a lack of faith on John's part but rather John desiring his followers to know the truth from the Lord himself.

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 6 years ago from Oz

      @jimagain ~ Thx for stopping by Jim, and for your kind comment. For a good example of faithfulness, you can't go wrong with old John.

    • jimagain profile image

      jimagain 6 years ago from Hattiesburg, Mississippi

      Awesome Hub. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read a well-researched, biblically-based effort as this. Well-written and replete with scripture references!

      I appreciate that John didn't fit the typical mold of the current religious establishment of his day. No reed shaken in the wind or man clothed in soft raiment; he was definitely 'valiant for the truth' even at risk of being unpopular! Jeremiah 9:3

      But most of all his assertion, He must increase, I must decrease! John 3:30

      I'm looking forward to reading more of your Hubs!


    • equealla profile image

      equealla 7 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I want to give my humble insight, but will most probably cause a storm in a teacup. John was greater, because he was the re-incarnation of Elijah. To live and choose such a difficult life twice in a row, is remarkable for any soul. Such soul has developed to a level where he understood much more than us. Most of us is still drinking baby's milk, and cry about material things. Nothing wrong with that. We will, in time, also mature.

      We do not know if this pure soul has delayed another higher level of being, just to come back to earth for this mission. I cannot say, as I am not to any level to lift my opinion.

      Just as a sportscoach cannot go and do an appendisectomy on my son, whom he is coaching. He first have to learn. So, me too cannot tell you about the wonderful places and worlds out there, as I must learn first, as well.

      But Jesus had known, really known, who Jonn was.

      By the way, if you doubt re-incarnation, throw away the Bible. It teaches that Jesus is coming back to rule. That is re-incarnation. It is not about the body, but what is homed inside that body.

      Thank you for a well written article. It certainly has provoked me to do some selfsearch to see if I ever will be able to measure up.

      I do realise I still have a long way to go.

    • Rossimobis profile image

      Chibuzo Melvin Mobis 7 years ago from Biafra

      Rated up...will still read it again.

    • UlrikeGrace profile image

      UlrikeGrace 7 years ago from Canada

      Amen! parrster...well said and very well laid out...John was a remarkable man but not in the sense that the secular world generally thinks of remarkable. Even the fact that he realized that he had to decrease so Jesus could increase is amazing. This is no less true for us today than it was for John in his day.

      Thanks for an informative, and inspiring hub.

      Blessings UlrikeGrace

    • Timely profile image

      Timely 7 years ago from United States

      With you...I am a visitor here on this earth, my citizenship is in heaven, waiting for the return to my home (beautifully put in Philipians 3:20-21). There lies our reward and the days when we will fellowship with great ones such as John:)

      Great hub!

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 7 years ago from Oz

      ~Michael Shane~

      I agree, he was an amazing man with an amazing mission. Thanks for commenting.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Awesome hub! He was one of my favorite biblical characters besides Jesus......

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 7 years ago from Oz


      Thanks for pulling me up on that one. I have have amended the hub to indicate that it is but my current understanding of things. At this stage I still associate the kingdom of Christ on earth with the kingdom of heaven, located in different places but made up of Christ's subjects. though not there yet, I still think of myself as a citizen of heaven. However, I stand ever ready to be corrected.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      It doesn't say that the least in the Kingdom of heaven are christians.That is an assumption on your part.Angels in heaven are no longer human as christians are while in their physical bodies anyway.Notice that Jesus refers to John being born of the womb of a non virgin birth ,whereas Jesus was said to be a virgin birth.