Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, were righteous people. They had prayed to have children, but had never had any. Now they were old. One day while Zacharias was serving in the temple at Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13). Zacharias was also told that his son would help prepare people for the coming of the Lord.
Zacharias doubted that he and his wife could have a son, since they were so old. As a sign that his message was true, Gabriel struck Zacharias dumb, and he was not able to speak until after his son had been born and received the name of John.
Holding the Aaronic priesthood meant John had the keys to preach repentance and baptize for the remission of sins. Jesus recognized John as having the authority to baptize, and when the Savior began his ministry, he came to John to have that ordinance performed. After John had baptized him, Jesus Christ began to organize his church on the earth. John testified of Christ and said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Some of John’s followers did not want to accept Jesus Christ as the head of the Church, as greater than John. Jesus responded by saying that John “received not his testimony of man, but of God, and ye yourselves say that he is a prophet, therefore ye ought to receive his testimony” (John 5:33–34, footnote 34a).
John continued to preach repentance and to baptize. When he condemned Herod Antipas for illegally marrying his brother’s wife, Herod put him in jail. Eventually Herod was tricked into beheading John the Baptist.
But that was not the end of John the Baptist’s ministry. When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon, they came across a passage concerning baptism. On May 15, 1829, they went into the woods to pray to understand this principle. In answer to their prayers, the resurrected John the Baptist appeared to them. He laid his hands upon their heads and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood, saying, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13:1). Joseph and Oliver then were instructed to baptize each other and to then confer the Aaronic Priesthood upon each other, which they did.
Thus John the Baptist, whom Jesus Christ called “a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35) continued his ministry by restoring the Aaronic Priesthood in these latter days.