The Christian Bible Reference Site

John the Baptist

Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 1, 3, John 1

An Angel Announces the Birth of John

A man named Zechariah was a priest of the Jewish temple. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were very holy people. They had prayed for children but had never been able to have a child, and by now they were too old.

One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. Zechariah was terrified, but the angel said to him,

"Don't be afraid, Zechariah! For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. You will both have great joy and gladness at his birth, and many will rejoice with you. For he will be one of the Lord's great men. He must never touch wine or hard liquor - and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from before his birth! And he will persuade many a Jew to turn to the Lord his God. He will be a man of rugged spirit and power like Elijah, the prophet of old; and he will precede the coming of the Messiah, preparing the people for his arrival." (TLB, Luke 1:13-17)

Zechariah should have had faith in the angel and given thanks to God for the good news he received, but Zechariah was not convinced. He told the angel that he and Elizabeth were too old to ever have a child. For his irreverent lack of faith, the angel told Zechariah he would be unable to speak until the time John was born!

Everything the angel said came true. Zechariah was unable to speak, and Elizabeth did become pregnant. It was not until after John was born that Zechariah was able to speak again.

A Fiery Preacher

John the Baptist

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. He wore clothing of camel's hair and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.

When John grew up, God called him to be a preacher and reformer. But John was no well-dressed "feel good" preacher. He lived in the wilderness and ate grasshoppers and wild honey. He wore primitive clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt. John bluntly told people they would suffer the wrath of God if they did not change their ways. Yet, when John preached, people felt that God was working among them, and huge crowds of people went into the wilderness to listen to him.

John announced that the kingdom of God was coming near. He warned the people that being God's chosen people was not enough to save them from God's wrath. They must repent - change their sinful ways. He warned the well-to-do that they must share their food and clothing with the less fortunate. He exposed the greed of tax collectors and warned them not to cheat people. He warned soldiers to be satisfied with their wages and not take advantage of people. John criticized King Herod for unlawfully marrying his brother's wife. This confrontation eventually led to John being beheaded on the king's order.

John baptized people with water. It was a symbol of washing away the old sins and making a new beginning toward living a holy life.

Many people thought John was the Savior, the Messiah, that they had been waiting so many years for. But John told them,

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (NRSV, Matthew 3:11-12)

John Baptizes Jesus

John baptizes Jesus in the River Jordan

John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove.

That one more powerful than John was Jesus. John, with his baptism and announcement of the coming kingdom of God, had prepared the way for Jesus. There was a spirit of revival and a new religious fervor among the people. It was time for Jesus to begin His ministry.

Jesus was about 30 years old by this time. So far, He had lived His life quietly as a carpenter. But one day Jesus came to the wilderness, where John was preaching, and asked to be baptized. John knew Jesus was the Messiah and told Him, "No, I am the one who needs to be baptized by You. Why are You coming to me?" But Jesus said it was the proper thing to do, so John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan.

After Jesus was baptized, as He was coming out of the water, the Spirit of God came down on Jesus like a dove from heaven. A voice from heaven was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son, and I am very pleased with Him."


How Were Jesus and John the Baptist Related?

Jesus' mother, Mary, and John's mother, Elizabeth, were relatives (Luke 1:36). The old King James Version of the Bible says they were cousins, but the word "cousin" used to mean any relative in the 17th century when the KJV was written. They may have been cousins, or because of the age difference, Elizabeth might have been Mary's aunt.


There was an Old Testament prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return to prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6). John the Baptist was seen as fulfilling that prophecy (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:12-13, Luke 1:17). He dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8, Mark 1:6) and was also a great preacher and moral reformer in the mold of Elijah.

The events at Jesus' baptism - the Spirit descending and the voice from heaven - are two more signs that Jesus was no ordinary man. Like His miraculous birth, these events show that Jesus was truly the Son of God.