Jesus is No Myth

Dedicated to promoting the idea that the Biblical Jesus Christ was a historical character.

John the Baptist

Ancient Expectations

Many of the ancient nations counted among their legends a promise that a divine being would come to rescue the human race from its misery. The Romans believed the legends. Tacitus, Pliny and Cicero speak of the dread and expectation that gripped the Roman world. They believed that near the time of Christ one would come from among the Jews who would have universal dominion. Also, Suetonius says that the Sibylline prophecies told that Nature was about to bring forth a king to the Romans, and it so terrified them that the Senate passed a decree saying that all children born that year should be destroyed. A device of the wives of the senators, each of whom hoped she might be the mother of this great being, avoided the consequences of the decree. [1]

The Jews also had prophecies handed down to them concerning the coming of the Messiah. Writings of great antiquity predicted his coming, and added that he would be announced by the voice of a messenger. That messenger was John the Baptist. [2]

 Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 “And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 

As one who is sent before a king to see that the way is prepared, John the Baptist went before the Christ. It was customary for eastern kings, when on an expedition, to send forerunners to prepare the way; the hills were to be leveled, the valleys to be filled, and the road was to be straightened so that the king would have easy access in travel. John came on a similar mission. Yet his preparations differed from the forerunners of earthly kings. He called the people to repentance, preparing their hearts for the message to follow.

Fill in the Blank

1. Many ancient nations had ________________ that promised a divine _______________ would come to rescue the human race.

2. Prophecies given to the Jews said that the Messiah would be announced by a ________________________.

3. The father of John was the priest named ________________________,  whose wife was named ________________________.

4. The angel told the priest that his son would be the ____________________ of the Lord.

5. John’s task would be to make _________________ a ___________________ prepared for the Lord.

6. John went before Christ as one goes before a ________________.

7. John called the people to ______________________. 

John Came in Fulfillment of the Prophecy

The prophet Malachi said,

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

A priest of Abijah by the name of Zacharias was the father of John. His mother was Elizabeth, and she was a daughter of Aaron. Therefore, the blood of priests ran in John’s veins. The forerunner of the Messiah was also a Nazarite from his birth. (A Nazarite was bound by a vow to be set apart from others for the service of God.) [3]

The appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judaea was as startling as that of Elijah. From his dwelling place in the wild and thinly populated region about the Dead Sea his voice is Stentorian:

Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent...”

He dwelt by himself. He wore garments like the prophets of old: a garment woven of camel’s hair, attached to his body by a leather girdle. The desert provided his food—locusts and wild honey.

John came suddenly out of the wilds of Judaea, as Elijah had come from the wilds of Gilead. John’s message resembled Elijah’s in its sudden appearance, vehemence and denunciation. [4] [5]

Matthew 3:1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight! 4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Questions

1. What is the name of the prophet who predicted the coming of John?

2. From what famous priest of the Old Testament was John’s mother descended?

3. From what areas of Palestine did John come when he made his public appearance?

4. A Nazarite was bound by a vow to serve whom?

The Message of the Baptist

Josephus says that John,

“... had a great influence over the people, and that they seemed ready to do anything that he should advise. [6]

But John had no thought of fomenting a rebellion of the type feared by Herod. The people were already in rebellion—against God. John came to call them to repentance, including Herod in the call.

Matthew 3:5 “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judaea, and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. 11 As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance; but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals; He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And his winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing-floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The Identity of John: The Forerunner

John wanted no rebellion, but he did want the people to repent. In fact, his baptism was a baptism of repentance. John called on the people of Israel to turn from their sins, and to receive their coming king. In this role he was the typical “forerunner” of a royal person, sent in advance of the king to announce the king’s coming.

John 1:19 And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 They said then to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”  John 1:19-23.

Questions

1. What was John’s principal message?

2. Was John widely known among the people of his own time?

3. Did John baptize people?

4. Did John tell the priests and Levites that he was the Christ?

5. How did John describe himself?

John Baptizes Jesus, Naming Jesus The Christ

John 1:25 And they asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • John was not the Christ
  • John said there was another.

Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him; 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

  • Jesus was superior to John.
  • John baptized Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit and the Father identified Jesus.

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. 34 And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

  • John identified Jesus as the Savior.
  • John said Jesus is the Son of God.

At the height of this popularity, John baptized Jesus, and proclaimed Him to be the Messiah. After the baptism of Jesus, John moved northward to Aenon, continuing to baptize. [7]

John’s Imprisonment

About a year after John baptized Jesus, Herod Antipas had John arrested and imprisoned in the castle Macherus, a fortress on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

To complicate matters for John, Herod Antipas and Aretas, the king of Arabia Petrea, had a quarrel. It happened this way: Herod had married the daughter of Aretas, and had lived with her for a long time. Then Herod went to Rome where he stayed with his half-brother, Herod Philip. Herod Philip had a wife whose name was Herodias. Herod Antipas fell in love with her, and asked her to come and live with him when he returned home. She agreed, but put a condition on the arrangement. Herod Antipas would have to divorce his wife, the daughter of Aretas. His wife learned of the arrangement Herod had made, and asked him to send her to the castle Macherus that stood on the border of his realm and her father’s. So she told her father of Herod’s intention to marry Herodias. When Aretas added this insult to his disputes with Herod over the borders of their realm their differences boiled over. They had a war. [8]

Nevertheless, Herod brought Herodias to his palace and lived with her as his wife. John denounced Herod as an adulterer. Herodias developed a grudge against John, and wanted to put John to death, but the king feared John because he knew he was a righteous and holy man.

Mark, in his Gospel, says,

Mark 6:20  “...Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed, but he used to enjoy listening to him...”

John’s Execution

Herodias had a daughter whose name was Salome. On Herod’s birthday she danced for him. So pleased was the king that he promised her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. She said,

Matthew 14:8  “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”

Herod gave it to her. After John’s death, Herod kept his fears of the prophet. When Jesus appeared, sending out his disciples to preach, Herod’s fears returned. He thought John the Baptist had risen from the dead. As Matthew says,

Mark 6:16  “John, whom I beheaded, he has risen!”

Conclusion

The testimony of Scripture, and the historian Josephus, are in unison: John the Baptist did live in the times and places described in the Scriptures. John the Baptist was a man of history. His purpose in coming was to be a forerunner of the Messiah. He was a signpost in history pointing to his successor. He pointed to Jesus of Nazareth, naming him the Christ.

Review Questions

1. Was the expectation of the coming of a divine being confined to the Jews, or did other nations share this belief?

2. Was John the Baptist the Messiah?

3. Were there Jewish prophecies predicting the coming of John the Baptist?

4. What Old Testament prophet did John resemble?

5. What secular historian mentions John the Baptist?

6. What was the reason for the coming of John the Baptist?

7. Did John say anything about Jesus of Nazareth?

8. How did John die?

9. Did John accomplish his purpose?

10. Did John speak with and touch Jesus of Nazareth?

Appendix

Celsus, an Epicurean philosopher who lived in the region of Adrian in the second century, was one of the most virulent adversaries of Christianity. He used only the Gospels as evidence for his arguments, not by denying the facts reported by the Gospel writers, but by drawing his own inferences from the incidents. Celsus says that Jesus lived but a few years before him. He mentions that Jesus was born of a virgin. He speaks of the star that appeared at the birth of Jesus, the wise men who visited the infant, and of Herod’s massacre of the children. He also says that John baptized Jesus. [9]



[1] Irwin H. Linton, The Sanhedrin Verdict, p 17.

[2] Mark 1:2-4.

[3] William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible: "nazarite."

[4] Mark 1:6.

[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 255. 

[6] William Whiston, Josephus, Complete Works, p. 382.

[7] John 3:23.

[8] Op.Cit., Whiston, Josephus, p 382.

[9] A. Campbell, The Evidence of Christianity, A Debate, p 297.