Scriptural Giants: John the Baptist


One day Zacharias, a priest, was serving in the temple. It was a great privilege for a priest to enter the holy place to burn incense on the altar. The rising smoke represented the worshipers’ prayers carried upward to God. For hundreds of years the Jews had prayed and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Yet no one knew exactly when He would come.

As Zacharias carried out this service, an angel sent by God appeared and stood before him and delivered this message: “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

“… 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.”

Then Zacharias heard these glad words from the angel: “And he shall go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias, … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13, 15, 17.)

How Zacharias’s heart must have thrilled when he understood that he and Elisabeth, even in their old age, would have a son and that their son would be the forerunner for Jesus Christ.

Many obstacles needed to be cleared before people would be ready for the Savior’s teachings when He came. Certain religious leaders of that time, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, loved their power and prestige. They followed the Law of Moses very strictly and made the people do the same. But they forgot the spirit of the law and the reason why the law had been given—to prepare them for the coming of the Savior.

As rumors of a new prophet who was teaching and baptizing the people in the River Jordan reached these religious leaders, they became very concerned. They decided to investigate and find out who this man was.

When the delegation arrived at the Jordan River, they saw that a great crowd had gathered to hear the words of this new prophet. John spoke with great power and courage. He told the people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He urged them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. As the people listened, many were converted and baptized.

The Pharisees and Sadducees listened and may have wondered about the way John was dressed. His clothing, which was very different from their soft, flowing robes, was made from camel hair and leather and was suited to one who spent time out of doors in desert places.

Even though John wanted to draw these leaders to him, he was not concerned about his appearance. He spoke with confidence. He told them plainly that he was not the Christ, but that he was the one sent to prepare the way for Christ as the prophet Isaiah foretold. He also told them that when Jesus came, they would not only be able to be baptized with water but with the Holy Ghost.

After hearing John’s message, the delegation left to report what they had seen to their leaders in Jerusalem.

The following day as John taught on the banks of the Jordan River, Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized. John felt unworthy to baptize Him, but he did as he was asked and led Jesus into the water. As the baptism was completed, the heavens were opened, and John’s heart filled with joy. He saw the “Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matt. 3:16) and resting on the One he had baptized. Then he heard Heavenly Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

Though Jesus had no sins, He had asked John to baptize Him. He wanted all people to follow His example. Through baptism they could be forgiven of their sins, and by keeping God’s commandments, they could receive the great blessings Heavenly Father wanted so much to give them.

Looking at Jesus, John bore testimony to all of his followers: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). John honored his calling and his authority in the Aaronic Priesthood. This great prophet prepared people to receive Jesus Christ. He wanted them to follow the Savior so that they could receive the Holy Ghost and the fullness of the gospel that Jesus would bring.

[illustrations] Paintings courtesy Providence Lithograph Co.

[illustration] Painting by Harry Anderson