“And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ 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?’ He said, ‘I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, “MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,” as Isaiah the prophet said.’ Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said to him, ‘Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them saying, ‘I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 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. And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ And John bore witness saying, ‘I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 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. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.‘”
While it appears as though John contradicts himself, if one takes a short view of Scripture, he doesn’t. We’ll come back to this. As we explore examples, we will see that John contradicts Jesus as well–or does he? This is why I push a hermeneutical tool such as the CAGED method to divide rightly the word of truth. We keep the Bible caged with our taught traditions and preconceived notions, ripped out-of-context verses and presuppositions, and don’t let the literature loose. We have to consider the context, aspirations of the author, genre, examples and divide rightly the word of truth. Let’s do this then.
To put it plainly, what John the Baptist said about himself is not necessarily what Jesus said about him. Examining examples enlightens, it doesn’t darken or muddy the waters. John was correct, he was not literally Elijah, “the Prophet” and he certainly was not the Messiah. Nevertheless, of John, Jesus said, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come.”
Contradiction or clarification? Even though John was more than a prophet, according to Jesus, John was also a mortal man. Notice that John denied being Elijah but Jesus claimed that John was Elijah. I can’t imagine why this is not a more hotly debated point of Christian contention because we seem to argue over everything else. Many believe that the elements in communion are literally Christ’s body and blood because Jesus said, “this is my body.” Others believe that women should remain silent in the churches because Paul wrote, “Let the women keep silent in the churches.” Nevertheless we must always consider the context, aspirations of author, genre and examples. Therefore we must consider the CAGED method when reading how John said he wasn’t Elijah but Jesus said that he was Elijah. We take the Bible too literally, when it suits us.
John was not Elijah, the prophet who disappeared into the sky but a type of him. He dressed like him, ate like him but was not him. However, he was the Elijah described by Malachi– Jesus said so. John was a mortal man, the offspring of his parents; “Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” John was not Elijah but “Elijah who was to come.”
Nevertheless the people present had their questions concerning John–his purposes and his identity, therefore they sent for the Scriptural scholars–almost always a mistake. “The Jews sent to him priests and Levites…’who are you?'” And don’t miss this part; “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.“
I give the priest and Levites some semblance of credit here. They actually left Jerusalem and went out to interview John themselves. But I don’t give them too much credit because Scripture reveals to us that John had caused quite a stir. The priests and Levites almost had to go because they were losing revenue due to all the people leaving Jerusalem and flocking to John. I write with tongue slightly in cheek and yet, there’s some fiery truth around my smoke.
Mark, probably the naked disciple, wrote; “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”
Luke writes, “And the multitudes were questioning him [John], saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ And he would answer and say to them, ‘Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.’ And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’ And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.'”
John was cornering the metaphorical market of instruction and forgiveness–that was the sole duty of the priests and Levites. Notice the people came confessing their sins. Notice the people came calling John “teacher,” asking for instruction. But notice most importantly the following quote concerning John: “the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.”
Matthew agrees with Mark, for he wrote, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” John was the solitary son of a silenced priest, pro tempore, preaching to people the word of God. Every gospel account agrees– John the Baptist was promised by Isaiah. Two have John the Baptist quoting Isaiah concerning himself. Luke’s account is the most unabridged, though it is abridged.
“THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT. EVERY RAVINE SHALL BE FILLED UP, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL SHALL BE BROUGHT LOW; AND THE CROOKED SHALL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; AND ALL FLESH SHALL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.'”
Utilizing our vitamin E from the CAGED method, we explore the example given from our Old Testament tutor.
“‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins. Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'”
In Isaiah we see an apocalyptic address, which we know was fulfilled because Matthew, Mark, Luke and two Johns have said so, in Scripture. Remember that the apocalyptic address is full of imagery and metaphorical meanings. John the Baptist wasn’t literally Elijah and he didn’t literally make the Lord’s paths straight. The mountains were not literally laid low nor were the valleys lifted up. Yet according to the literature, John was Elijah and the mountains were laid low–how? Look at John’s preaching, his teachings, his methods and the results. But first, let me see if I can prepare your mind and make your path straight.
We also see a common theme in Isaiah, which we have begun to see in John and certainly saw in Matthew, Revelation and Zechariah–a tale of two cities. Time and time again, we see salvation juxtaposed to judgement, even within the same sentence. Notice; “her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.” Prophecy is full of this theme.
For argument’s sake, let’s presuppose that 75% of the Biblical prophecies have yet to be fulfilled. Don’t worry about the percentage it’s simply an arbitrary number meaning that most have not been fulfilled, allegedly. How will we know that they have been fulfilled, or when they have been fulfilled? Will the pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers tell us, based upon their interpretations, like the priests and Levites? We are told to take prophecy literally but what does that mean?
Do the prophecy pundits take the introduction to the epistles of Revelation literally? John promised the seven churches that the time was near and the things would soon take place; why don’t we take this literally yet also believe that locusts are not locusts but attack helicopters? Looking at the prophecy from Isaiah and the quotation of said prophecy in the gospel accounts, all four of them in agreement, we should wonder why th valleys weren’t literally lifted up and the mountains laid low. That is, if we are disciples of the dogmatic dispensationalists.
You know them, they have cornered the market on eschatology for a hundred years. They tell us that the Bible should be taken literally but then tell us that Ezekiel 38 is about a very near-to-us war between Russia and Israel over Israel’s natural gas reserves. Problem; literally Ezekiel writes about cattle as plunder and weapons of swords and shields.
Notice; “and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords.” Also notice; “Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?”
Are we truly to believe that the apocalyptic address, such as lightning, fire and smoke, is to be taken literally but plain meanings such as sword, shield and cattle are figurative language meaning missiles, jets and natural gas, respectively? Does this not sail past ridiculous into the ludicrous like the gaffes of Joe Biden? At first it was funny but now I truly feel sorry for the man. In the same way prophecy pundits used to make me think and work hard to discover the truth but now, I truly feel horrible for their stagnation and dubious dogma of doubling down. Like the Green New Deal, they set a date, but the date passed, then they had to double down. Take any argument from the prophecy pundits and place it on the Scripture, and like the hologram of Joe Biden, which seems to be on the fritz, the argument is debunked by overlaying their narrative on to the context.
Especially when we have examples like today’s text and related texts from other sources, all backed by the Holy Spirit. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all agree that John the Baptist came to flatten the proverbial curve. Because of John’s ministry, the mountains were laid low and the valleys lifted up. It’s from an apocalyptic address immersed in imagery with literal and figurative fulfillment. John was a voice crying in the wilderness and he lifted up the vulnerable and laid low the venerated. To the esteemed religious leaders, John cried out, “you brood of vipers” and to the tax gatherers he offered forgiveness through confession of sin. Yet John was only the front runner to the Messiah. Jesus came to fulfill all the Law and the prophets as promised, he said this in the Sermon on the Mount.
Nevertheless John was a mortal man and when cast into prison began to doubt. Like Elijah in the cave, John began to wonder if the valleys were still low. He sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus.
“Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who keeps from dstumbling over Me.'”
John the Baptist was not fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah until he was told that Jesus was the Messiah and saw the Spirit descend. Yet he knew Jesus and knew his role. It is not a contradiction but a clarification from God to a mortal man. In the same way we know but sometimes don’t recognize. When John doubted, Jesus, of course, gave the perfect response. Look again; “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who keeps from dstumbling over Me.”
John the Baptist quoted Isaiah 40 concerning himself and his ministry as the frontrunner to Jesus to the religious leaders. But then, after proclaiming to Israel that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, he was thrown into prison. In prison he wondered whether or not Jesus was the actual Messiah. The response of Jesus tells us why John doubted as well as telling us that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
Remember that John quoted Isaiah concerning himself and not Malachi. Remember that all the gospel writers quoted Isaiah when referring to John’s early ministry and baptism of Jesus. When John, the one who quoted Isaiah about himself, begins to doubt, Jesus reassures him by quoting Isaiah, alluding to Isaiah and then quoting Isaiah again. The things Jesus quotes about himself to reassure John, are from passages in Isaiah surrounding the passage promising the ministry of John, which John quoted about himself.
But wait, it gets better than mere reassurance. Jesus, after quoting and alluding to Isaiah, says the following: “blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”
It almost sounds out of place, doesn’t it? “The BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who keeps from dstumbling over Me.” What does stumbling over Jesus have to do with John’s doubt?
The better question to ask is, how did John possibly doubt? Jesus was not doing these signs and wonders in a vacuum. John himself was the first to declare Jesus as the Son of God. Surely John had heard of the works of which Jesus was doing. Nevertheless even if he didn’t, he himself said, “I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
John was a mortal man and mortal men doubt. Lovingly, and I believe with gratitude, Jesus reminds John of Isaiah and the prophecy concerning both of them. Protect your neck and place yourself in John the Baptist’s sandals. Like the Pharisees and the prophecy pundits, John didn’t see the slaughter of Israel’s enemies. Therefore Jesus reminded John about the other apocalyptic addresses in Isaiah. By proclaiming sight to the blind and the gospel preached to the poor, John was forced to see Jesus in Isaiah and also himself. He would have made the connection. John didn’t come to literally lay low the mountains but figuratively. Yet literally John was a voice to the vulnerable, crying in the wilderness just as Jesus literally gave sight to the blind, but also figuratively.
Jesus told John to be happy to not stumble over him. Jesus didn’t look like a coming king to the Pharisees and the prophecy pundits and this caused them to stumble. They failed to see the imagery in the apocalyptic address, as did John. That is, until Jesus clarified it for him and wouldn’t let him stumble over the imagery in the apocalyptic address.
Does the ministry of John the Baptist look like Isaiah 40? It doesn’t matter what it looks like, all four gospel writers say that it was. Therefore it behooves us to examine the example to understand the explanation.
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’ A voice says, ‘Call out.’ Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’ All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.'”
The prophecy pundits proclaim that all prophecy that was fulfilled was fulfilled literally. I don’t think so! We know without a doubt that John the Baptist fulfilled this passage of prophecy because all of the gospel writers say that he did. Yet I don’t recall any historical events in or around 30 AD in which the valleys rose and the mountains sunk.