Lesson 14: John Counseled the People and Granted an Interview to Some Priests
Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:10-18, John 1:19-28
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 14. Do you have your N.T. in place? Let's get to Luke 3:10. As was said in our last lesson, this section IS Luke's account of John's preaching in the wilderness. V.7-8-9 here is very much like Matthew's account that we covered last time. But, Luke records some dialogue in 10-15; apparently a sort of question and answer session with John, that Matthew didn't cover. Let's begin that section by reading v.10-11. Are you ready? Let's read, "And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." Apparently this question grew out of John's preaching up in v.8, where John said: "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance..." In other words, How do we do that John? How do we bear fruit? To answer their question, John emphasized benevolence, i.e. helping the poor, sharing with those less fortunate. So, you can see when John said, bring forth fruit worthy of repentance up in v.8; that statement was very inclusive. Thus, John was emphasizing, we ARE our brother's keeper. And in THIS question and answer, we have — in a roundabout way — a defining of what John meant when he said repent and bear fruits.
Then in v.12, Luke records a question from a special group of people, the publicans. This is the first time we've run on to this term, so latch on to it now; we'll find it over and over in future text. Publicans were Jews who worked for the Roman government. In other words, those who had a public job. And, although the term was broader than that, it's almost always applied to tax collectors. Taxes in Palestine, at that time, were apparently not severely oppressive. But, no doubt, there was a good sized force of tax collectors working for the Roman government in Palestine. And, perhaps some other places. I get the impression tax collecting was done on a commission basis. Thus, there was a temptation to over collect for personal gain. As a result, all tax-collectors were branded as robbers, even the honest ones. Secondly, some looked upon ANYONE who worked for the Romans as a traitor to the Jewish cause. Thus, many of the Jews who felt that way, would have wanted John to advise the publicans NOT to be tax collectors or even work for the Roman government, period. But, some of the publicans have a question for John. Let's read it, v.12-13, are you ready? "Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you." O.K. you might notice, there was nothing wrong with that profession. John didn't attack the profession. Thus, John said in essence; be honest! Do your job well. Follow the guide-lines given to you. Don't cheat one penny! Just be an honest tax-collector. Thus, to this question; John undoubted emphasized the repentance aspect of his preaching, more so, than the bearing fruit aspect up in v.10-11. But, notice that all this gives US some insight into problems and differences of the Jewish people. Also, this tells us that people came to John to be baptized from every class.
V.14, here's another class; let's read. "And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." These were undoubtedly Jewish soldiers, which of course were in the Roman army. Can a child of God be a soldier? John did not attack the profession. John DIDN'T take issue with being either a publican or a soldier. John's emphasis was upon being a moral person. Don't take advantage of your position. Be honest and conscientious. So, we can see; John's preaching applied to all classes alike.
Let's read v.15. "And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not..." Some must have suspected that ultimately John would declare himself to be the messiah. This tells us that the Jewish people in general expected a messiah. And, it tells us they truly recognized John as a great prophet. They could sense that the Holy Spirit of God was working in and through John. What do you do when you MUSE IN YOUR HEART? Luke didn't say they asked John that question. But, in the book of John, that question is asked. In John 1:19-20, immediately after John's prologue, John the apostle introduced John the Baptist through this question. Let's read that, John 1:19, beginning. Are you ready? "And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ." John flatly and categorically denied that he was the Christ. And Luke in ch. 3:16, implies that this question was the basis or the motivation which led John the Baptist to discuss the contrast between the mission of Jesus and John's mission. This, we covered back in Matt. 3:11-12. We discussed it in our last lesson. And Luke ALSO records that discussion here in Luke 3:16-17; about how much more MIGHTY Jesus would be than John, you will remember. Was John the messiah? Notice in the book of John it says PRIESTS and LEVITES were sent from Jerusalem to ask that question. That question got the attention of the high priest and the Levites who took care of the temple and the Jewish worship, you see.
So, when John denied being the messiah, the priestly element from Jerusalem gave rebuttal, and that's recorded in John 1:21-22. Let's read it. John 1:21 beginning. "And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? and he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?" O.K., John! If you're not the Christ; WHO ARE YOU? Are you Elijah? Now, why did they ask that question? That tells you they understood and expected from Malachi 4:5 and other O.T. passages that Elijah the prophet would come before the Christ. You see, they knew the O.T. These Levites were also Pharisees, v.24 says this. The Pharisees prided themselves on knowing the scriptures. Gabriel told Zechariah, you will remember, that John would go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elijah." (Luke 1:17). So, why did John say, "I am not" [Elijah]? (John 1:21). Now, learn something here! This tells us, they were asking if Elijah was re-incarnated in John. John answered NO! Thus, we learn, John was Elijah ONLY in a metaphorical sense. He was NOT the old prophet, Elijah, come back to life. But, Jesus making reference to John the Baptist in Matt. 11:14 said, "this is Elijah, which was for to come." Therefore, Jesus stated beyond any shadow of doubt, that John the Baptist DID fulfill that O.T. prophecy, (Malachi 4:5). Thus, as I have, already said, John was Elijah ONLY in a metaphorical sense. It's an inescapable conclusion.
Now, the next question, "Art thou THAT Prophet?" (v.21). This question has reference to Deut. 18:15. God told Moses, that he would raise up a Prophet (capital "P") like unto Moses and this has reference to Christ. This is confirmed in Acts 3:22. Thus, John's answer to that question was "NO!". John was not the messiah. So, they demanded, Who are you? To answer this, John quotes from the Isaiah prophecy (here in v.23) that we've looked at before. John made no attempt to hid anything. He simply insisted they get the story straight. He answered their questions in a straight forward way. They propounded the questions. John supplied the answers. A great example of how it ought to be today.
V.24-28 here in John ch. 1, is a continuation of that priestly inquiry. Let's read v.24-28. Got your eyes on it? Let's read! "And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elijah, neither that Prophet? John answered them, saying I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." O.K. after John told them he fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy (here in v.23) and after John DENIED being the messiah; they wanted to know: why then did John baptize? Again, I might call to your attention, this implies, that John introduced baptism. It was something new to this priestly element. Explain this John! Why do you baptize? You might observe that the writer of this book manages to weave in the answer to their question in the next 5 or 6 verses that we haven't read yet. But, in the verses that we read, John the Baptist takes this opportunity to explain to this priestly element of Pharisees that the messiah was among them. They didn't know it. But, the messiah was already in their midst. Now, that must have been a curiosity-getter, and probably brought on another deluge of questions. But, John used this opportunity and this occasion to emphasize AGAIN the contrast between himself and Jesus, the one that was among them, that they did not recognize as being the messiah. John tried to make them aware of how much mightier, Jesus was, than the prophet John.
Now, those other verses (down below) that we made reference to before, took place the next day, v.29 says. So, we're going to hold those for a future lesson. Where did these things take place? John the writer, gave us this information in v.28. Bethabara was the place. And the writer points out this was on the east side of the Jordan river. Now, Bethabara is city # 5 of your map-worksheet. Write it in! City # 5. The spelling is in v.28. Some translations say, Bethany, so you can take your choice. But, there was more than one city by that name. However, John points out, though, this city was on the east side of Jordan. And it was a good ways up the river as you can see on your map. Got it posted? In modern times, archeologist have had some difficulty in locating Bethabara with absolute certainty. But, you might notice on your map as a matter of perspective; this place on the Jordan was about in line with the border of Samaria and Galilee.
Alright, the book of Mark moves very rapidly. In all that we have covered in this course thus far; Mark has uses eight verses to bring us to this point. So, I would suggest you re-read the first eight verses in the book of Mark (right now) as a summary on John the Baptist. Much more is said about John the Baptist with references scattered here and there in all four books. But, we have pretty much covered the high points of John's preaching and John's ministry. All four writers use John's preaching as a springboard in introducing Jesus and Jesus' personal ministry. Considering John's mission, this is a very natural order of events. Matthew uses a sum total of 17 verses (which make up Matt. ch. 3) in this introduction. Each of the other writers use less than one chapter. So, at this point we are about ready to switch scenes. John's baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river will make that transition. But, we're going to hold that for our next lesson. Although, John lived about another 18 months or so, after he Baptized Jesus; of course, most of that time was spent in prison. And we'll get back to all that.
But, in the minutes we have left, let me try to give you a little
time perspective in these events. In the book of John, where the Pharisees came to inquire of John the Baptist, as to his identity (we cover that in this lesson); it is very easy upon a first reading to assume that Jesus was baptized at Bethabara mentioned in v.28. And it seems natural to assume in John 1:26 where John said that the messiah was standing among them, and they didn't know or recognize him, that this event was before Jesus was baptized of John in Jordan. But apparently, that was not the case. Notice in v.29 here in John's account, he mentions THE NEXT DAY. See that? Then in v.35, it says, "the next day..." In v.43, he mentions "the day following". In v.1 of ch.2 there another day reference. Now, we'll look at all of these again; but, the point I want you to see here is this: Jesus had apparently been baptized further down the Jordan valley about 40 days or something like six weeks before the time here where the Levitical Pharisees came from Jerusalem to inquire of John. In the mean time, after Jesus was baptized, apparently John had moved up the river to Bethabara. Now we'll learn that Jesus was NOT with John during those weeks preceding the Bethabara event. But, this is apparently the occasion when ever Jesus caught up with John as Jesus went back up the Jordan valley. If you count Jesus’ birth as AD 0, just to keep thing simple; then this must have been in the late summer of AD 29. That corresponds with Luke's statement at the beginning of Luke chapter 3, you'll remember: i.e. the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. This was about 3 years before Jesus died on the cross of Calvary. I see no reason to get overly concerned here about chronology. But, some chronology will help you to get a handle on these events and make them more meaningful. It will help us to comprehend the different phases of Jesus' ministry over that 3 year period. Matthew and Mark don't give us much help on this. Luke it would appear, follows a little more of a chronological approach. And, that's one of the reasons I decided to follow Luke as our lead book and then more or less adapt the others to that. Now, we won't be a stickler about that; but, we're trying to follow Luke's lead; as we said before. We covered Luke 3:23 once before when we were working on the genealogy table given there. But, that verse says, "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph..." John, you'll remember was about six months older than Jesus and apparently had been preaching in the wilderness about a half a year at that time. So, if the Bethabara event occurred in late summer of AD 29, then John must have begun his ministry in the winter or early spring of that same year.
I trust you are feeling confident about John's mission, John's ministry, and the teachings of John. The last verse of the O.T. said, "he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." You see, John's teachings had to do with changing the heart, i.e. the inner part of man. This is comprehended in that word REPENT, which John began to preach. And as we have seen, John's preaching was heart-changing. Repent or perish! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Get prepared! His message was urgent and the time was short. It's only when we see these things in relation to the O.T. that they build our faith. These things were written that we might believe, John 20:30. John the Baptist was a spiritual road builder. He was building a highway for Jesus, i.e. he was rolling out the red carpet for Jesus. And John did his job well. He was truly the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Jesus said, the greatest prophet ever born. Have a good day!