It is my opinion that within the message of John the Baptist lies the “seeds” of the message of the entire new testament. To miss the message of him who baptized in water, is to miss the message and the miracle of Him who baptized in the Spirit. Let’s begin by reading our text.
THE MESSENGER OF GOOD NEWS
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 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 (about) to come?
As we begin to unravel the message of the Baptizer, let’s start with a couple brief word studies.
The word for “at hand” in the Greek is “eggizo” from “engus”.
Engus is from a verb meaning to squeeze or to throttle.
Eggizo is used 43x and engus is used 30x in the new testament.
The basic meaning of both is to “draw near, to approach, to bring near, to be at hand”.
(See Mathew 26:45-46, Luke 18:35, Luke 21:20, 1 Peter 4:7 (eggizo) and see Hebrews 8:13, Revelation 22:10 (engus).
The word for “kingdom” in the Greek is “basileia”.
Basileia is used 162x in the new testament and means “royal power, rule, kingship, dominion, reign, a realm, a kingdom”.
John’s message was that the kingdom – the realm / sphere of the rule and dominion of the king was near, meaning the time for it to be received had come, it was within grasp. But, what did John mean by “the kingdom of heaven”?
It is important we understand that there are some today that insist that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are different, that they are not the same kingdom. Others teach that the difference in language refers to two different “phases” of the same kingdom. (We will briefly look at why they believe this below). But, are the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” in fact different kingdoms? Or, does this difference in language really account for two different “phases” of the same kingdom? These are question that need answers. Consider the following parallel texts.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee…. From that time, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In Mathew’s gospel, Jesus used the same phrase (“the kingdom of heaven”) that John the Baptist did, they both said that it was “at hand”. However, notice Mark’s account of Jesus’s words in his gospel.
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Was Jesus proclaiming to the Jews that there were in fact two different kingdoms “at hand” at the same time? How would the Jews of his day understood this? Or, was Jesus proclaiming that two different “phases” of the same kingdom were “at hand”, at the same time? But there is more. In Mathew’s account, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles instructing them to preach that the “kingdom of heaven” was at hand.
These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
But, in Luke’s account, notice the change in language as the disciples are sent out to proclaim the kingdom.
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him….
…. And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing….
….. Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come…. Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Unless the “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” both refer to the same kingdom, then John, Jesus, and his disciples all preached that either two kingdoms, or two phases of one kingdom were “at hand” at the exact same time! Obviously, this is not even logical?
The word of God teaches no such “kingdom divisions”. As we can see, by comparing scripture with scripture we arrive at the conclusion that both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God refer to both one and the same kingdom – the eternal Messianic kingdom.
So why the different terminology? Simply stated, the phrase the kingdom of heaven reveals where the kingdom is from. The kingdom is of a heavenly realm, from the heavens. The phrase the kingdom of God reveals whose kingdom it is. It is Yahweh’s kingdom. It is the Lord’s rule, reign and authority.
Next, to understand what John meant by “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, we must now delve into the old testament source of his message. As we do, we will gain further insight into the message of the messenger. At this point, it’s important for the reader to understand why some people teach that the “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” are two separate kingdoms or two separate phases of the same kingdom. They do so to maintain the doctrine of a “future earthly kingdom”. Allow me to briefly explain.
According to them, the kingdom that John came preaching was “at hand”, was only the “spiritual kingdom”, meaning the rule and reign of God “in the hearts of men”. And, that the future earthly kingdom (the “real” Messianic kingdom where Jesus rules in his physical body in a literal temple in Jerusalem), was “not at hand”, but will be, someday. However, we will demonstrate this to be completely false.
By a close examination of the prophetic source of John’s message, we can determine beyond doubt that the kingdom that John proclaimed was “at hand” was in fact the final and consummative eternal Messianic kingdom, which by the way, was never intended to be a physical-literal kingdom. Let’s take a look.
For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
As far as I know, it is universally agreed that in Mathew 3:3 John is quoting Isaiah 40:10-11. So, in order to go any further in our understanding of the message of John, we must first understand the message of Isaiah 40. As we go there, we need to ask a question which may at first seem ignorant, but I assure you it is not. Was John the Baptist the proclaimer and the herald of Jesus the suffering servant, or Jesus the king, coming in salvation and judgment? Asked another way, did John proclaim Jesus’ first or “second” coming? Let’s find out.
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…”
This is essentially where Mathew’s gospel ends John’s quotation of Isaiah 40, and unfortunately, this is where most average readers of the bible end their application of Isaiah 40 to the message of John. However, we need to read a bit more of the context of Isaiah 40 to fully grasp the massage of John.
“…. then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”…. Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd, He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
If we allow the context of Isaiah 40 to speak for itself we can clearly see that the “way of the Lord” that John was sent to “make ready”, was a people prepared for the Lord’s coming in glory, with might, and in judgment (reward and recompense). Therefore, John’s message as the “voice” was not to herald the incarnation-coming of the Jesus, he had already come. Rather, John’s message was that Israel’s King was about to be revealed in glory and with salvation. And notice, this is the coming of the kingdom, “the Lord God will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him”. This is of course the eternal Messianic kingdom.
This message of John is brought into even clearer focus in Luke’s parallel account.
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness “Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain will be brought low, the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God’”
Luke adds the phrase “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” which Mathew omits. This is a direct quote from Isaiah 40:5. However, it is also a direct quote from Isaiah 52:10, “all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God”. In order to understand Luke’s application of Isaiah 52 to John’s message, let’s read the immediate context of Isaiah 52.
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.
Once again, if we allow the context of Isaiah 52 to speak for itself, we can see that John as the “voice” of the messenger was proclaiming the consummative salvation and redemption of Israel at the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, “when the Lord restores Zion”.
Based on the context of these Isaiah texts (which are the source of Mathew 3:3), John was not sent as the forerunner and messenger to “prepare the way” for Christ’s initial visitation through his incarnation, or the “first phase” of the “real” kingdom of God. Instead, John’s mission was to prepare the nation for the final and glorious coming of their King, who would bring salvation and restore the Messianic kingdom to Israel. And without doubt, the kingdom that John proclaimed was “at hand”, was in fact Israel’s promised eternal Davidic kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13, Daniel 2, 7).
THE “MESSENGER” OF BAD NEWS
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 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 (about) to come?
Now on the surface, it seems that this verse is contextually out of place compared to the previous verses. John came preaching the good news that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, which according to Isaiah, would be the time of Israel’s salvation and restoration. So, why does John seemingly jump from the “good news of the kingdom” to the “bad news” of the “wrath to come”?
The answer lies in the fact that John was both “the voice” of Isaiah 40 and “the messenger” of Malachi 3-4. Said another way, John’s message to Israel was two-fold. As “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, John’s message was salvation for Israel at the coming of the Lord in power and glory to establish the kingdom. However, as “the messenger” of Malachi, John’s message was the coming of the Lord as the “refiner and purifier” of Israel at the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. The latter was a message of judgment. Let’s look at a parallel text of Mathew 3 in Mark’s account.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Now, in order to understand the “judgment side” of John’s two-fold message, we must once again examine the prophetic source of new testament scripture. To do this, we must go to the book of Malachi.
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. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.
As we have already noted, John was not only the “good news voice” of Isaiah 40, but he was also the “messenger of judgment” which Malachi said would come. This partially explains John’s “good news-bad news” message. For Israel, the coming of the King in his kingdom was the good news, but the impending wrath (which was “about to come”) at the day of the Lord was the bad news. What should also be obvious is that just like Isaiah, the context of Malachi does not refer to the first incarnate-coming of the Lord, but to his second coming – his coming as king, judge and refiner of Israel.
Thus, all prophetic sources of John’s message demand that we see John as the herald of the Lord’s final and consummative “coming” to redeem Israel, and to establish the Messianic kingdom.
JOHN’S MESSAGE CONFIRMED
As I stated in the beginning of this article, “it is my opinion that within the message of John the Baptist lies the “seeds” of the message of the entire new testament. To miss the message of him who baptized in water, is to miss the message and the miracle of Him who baptized in the Spirit”. We have demonstrated the message of John – He came as the forerunner and the herald of the final (second) coming of the Lord for the salvation of Israel and to establish His Messianic kingdom which was “at hand”.
So, if in fact John’ message was the message of the new testament writers, then we should expect to find these very elements (the “at hand” coming of the Lord for salvation, the coming of the kingdom, and the imminent wrath of God), contained elsewhere within the pages of the new testament. Let’s take a look.
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Notice what Mathew records Jesus as saying. His “coming”, the judgment of Israel (repay every man according to his deeds), and the Messianic kingdom, are all said to occur within the lifetime of his contemporary audience (some standing here will not taste death until…”).
(Instead of us demonstrating from the prophetic source of Jesus’ words that he was in fact referring to his final and consummative “coming, judgment, and kingdom”, I encourage the reader to study the core “source texts” for yourself. Here they are – Daniel 2,7 Isaiah 59, 62).
Now notice what Paul says.
1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
1 Peter 4:5
but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
And Paul again, this time regarding the imminent “wrath” of God to come upon the Jews.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
All these texts have the same message as John – the coming of the Lord for salvation, the judgment, resurrection (and by implication the kingdom), and the wrath of God were all near/at hand (“ready”…. “we who are alive… until”…. ”wrath has come”) in the first century.
Now, this last text is my personal favorite. Jesus hold nothing back as he plainly makes known to us the timing of every “end time element” of John’s message.
(Luke 21:20-23, 27-28, 31-32)
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people…. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.
Luke’s record of the great prophecy of Jesus says it all. Jesus, who cannot lie says that:
Redemption (salvation) (v.28)
The (second) coming of the Lord (v.27)
The kingdom of God (v.32)
The wrath (days of vengeance – judgment on Jerusalem) (v.20-23
Would all come to pass (ginomai-come into existence) within his contemporary first century generation (v.32).
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place”.
In closing, the message of John the Baptist was the eternal Messianic kingdom of God was truly “at hand” in the first century. And, that the final (second) coming of the Lord to bring both salvation and judgment-wrath for Israel was a part of the “coming of the kingdom”. This was confirmed and echoed by both Jesus and his apostolic writers of the first century, prior to AD70.
Therefore, within the message of the Baptist do in fact lie the “seeds” of the message of the entire new testament. To miss the message of him who baptized in water, is to miss the message and the miracle of Him who baptized in the Spirit”. The message was the kingdom was coming, the miracle is it has come.