When Jesus was grown the time came for him to begin his public ministry. In both local Jerusalem politics and internationally with the empire of Rome, this was a time of intrigue as people clamored for power. Tiberius was put in power by his father before he died, and for several years power was transitioned to him. This was done in order to circumvent the Roman senate choosing the next emperor upon the death of Tiberius’ father. The high priest Annas in Jerusalem had served his term but continued to exercise the power of the office through his Son in law Caiaphas. In contrast, the one true king steps into this atmosphere in meekness and humility.
But before he comes, the Old Testament prophecy has declared, the people should expect someone to come and make a clear path for the Messiah.
Luk 3:1-18 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, (2) during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (3) And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (4) As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (5) Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, (6) and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (7) He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (9) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (10) And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” (11) And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (12) Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” (13) And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” (14) Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (15) As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, (16) John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (17) His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (18) So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
We are given more insight into the nature, teaching and work of John, who would prepare the way for Jesus in:
Mat 3:1-12 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (4) Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (5) Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, (6) and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (9) And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (10) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Mar 1:4-8 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (5) And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (6) Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. (7) And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. (8) I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John lived in the wilderness and dressed in camel’s hair and ate locust and honey. That is to say he lived dependent upon the Lord for his daily survival. He was not a wealthy evangelist but he was a prophet of God. He was not preaching in the temple, though it was the time of his service in the temple. His father and mother were both of priestly descent and he had walked away from a prestigious priestly pedigree to go out and prepare the way in the wilderness as a prophet.
His message was a call to repentance. It was a call to righteousness in one’s living. He came into conflict with the religious leaders, not because he was calling the masses to live righteously, but because he was calling them to a righteousness of action and heart. The Pharisees and scribes could put on religious masks but could not obey God with their hearts and John’s call was for all to come in humble repentance. Both the wicked sinner and the self righteous sinner must come before God with nothing but need. This is a hard thing for the proud religious leaders to hear.
John the priestly prophet represents the law well. He has walked away from the traditions that had distorted the law, but he is a good representative of the old covenant. That covenant was good news. It was a covenant that declared that sinful people could come before a holy God and be reconciled to him. But that good news was weakened by our sinful flesh. Man could not meet the requirements of the law. The law served as an instructor pointing to our great need for a savior. This is the ministry of John. He has prepared the way for the one who would come to set us free.