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Are You the Coming One?

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

I have always been a little troubled by the story of John the Baptizer in Luke 7 where he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the coming one or should we expect someone else?” What happened to John the Baptist? Was John now doubting that Jesus was the Messiah? A little research into history and the culture of the day made me realize there was more to the story than a casual reading of the Text would suggest. Perhaps John’s question was more complex than it seemed on the surface.

First of all, we need to establish a little background. The Luke narrative doesn’t say it, but John the Baptist was in prison at the time of this story (Matthew ll:2). We also need to read Mark 6:17-20 to understand why John was put into prison. Herod Antipas had put him in prison for publicly criticizing the fact that Antipas married his brother Philip’s wife. Because John was in prison, he had to send two of his disciples to ask Jesus a question that was troubling him. Did John the Baptist lose his faith? Had this fiery, passionate desert man lost his fire? Does he think that he has made a big mistake in promoting this man, Jesus? Or is there more to the story?

I’m going to contend that John did not lose his faith; how could he? He had seen heaven literally ripped open and God’s spirit descending on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10). He had heard God’s voice speaking from the heavens saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, I am well pleased with Him.” He baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:14) to fulfill Scripture. In John 1:24-34, John had publicly declared about Jesus, ”This is the Son of God.” Could this question then of Jesus being the “coming one” be more complex?

Could the “one to come” and the Messiah possibly be two separate figures in John’s theology? We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essene community was looking for two Messiahs. One was to be a prophet / priest and the other was to be a warrior / king. Together these two figures would come and rescue the Israelites, set up a new priesthood, and establish a new kingdom on the earth. Also, there were several different schools of thought at that time as to what the promised Messiah or Messiahs might look like and what they would have to do to usher in the new kingdom. John had definitely gravitated to the fire and brimstone and day of judgment theology. He read Malachi 4:1-5, and knew that he was the Elijah of verse five that would usher in that dreadful day of the Lord (John was told that he was like Elijah from birth; see Luke 1:17 and read The Kingdom of Heaven if Forcefully Advancing).  John quoted the Isaiah passages where the mountains and hills would be made low and he told the people that the ax was at the root of the tree and that the winnowing fork was in the Messiah’s hand. John got the part about the warrior king and fire and judgment, but he wasn’t seeing or hearing about any of this kind of activity from Jesus. All he was hearing about Jesus was the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah that was meek and lowly and a servant. If the coming one was going to do the things John was thinking, there was going to have to be more fireworks, more war-like actions on the Messiah’s part. John could have been saying, “I know you are the Messiah, but are you the Coming One? If you are the Coming One, why am I still in jail? Why can’t you bust me out of here, I am one of your right hand men in the coming kingdom? When are you going to start the judgment part?”

Look at how Jesus answers John by re-reading Luke 7:22-23. Jesus quoted prophetical scriptures from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1-2) that tell what the Messiah will do; such as healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and even raising the dead. Notice, however, Jesus purposely leaves out the part where the Messiah will set the captives free. Jesus was saying to John – in code through the Old Testament Text – “John, your end times charts are off. It won’t be with fire and judgment this time; that will be later. And no, you are not getting out of jail. There’s no military might this time, it will be me coming to die as a servant.” Then Jesus turned to the crowd and begin to brag on John and told them there was no greater man born of woman than John and that he was the Elijah that would prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 7:24-28 and Matthew 11:14).

In summary, John the Baptist didn’t lose his faith or doubt that the person that he had earlier baptized in the Jordan was the Messiah and the Son of God. He was just confused about how all this was going to take place, because it didn’t look like the fire and judgment part was coming to pass like he thought, especially since he was now in prison. John was not going to see the results or fruit of what he had tried to do, but he was as great as any person in Scripture because everything he did pointed to Jesus as the Messiah.

John the Baptizer & Elijah

Study Passages: Malachi 4:5-6, Mark 1:1-8, 2 Kings 1:8, Matthew 3:4, Luke 1:5-24

We are introduced to John the Baptizer in Luke 1:5-24, as an angel comes to an aging priest named Zechariah. Zechariah is on duty in Jerusalem and is in the Priests Court in the Temple performing his assigned duty of burning incense to the Lord and praying to God that He would send the “Chosen One” (Messiah) that God had been promising. The angel tells Zechariah that his old wife will give birth to a son and they are to call him John and that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. The angel also says that he will bring many people back to the God of Israel. Verse 17 says, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah…. to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:80 says that John the Baptist grew and became strong in the Spirit and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. Matthew 3:4 tells us that John’s clothes were made of camel hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and honey.

Now, let’s take a look at Elijah from the Hebrew Testament. He shows up from nowhere, out of the desert, in 1 Kings Chapter 17 to begin his prophetic ministry. His name means, “The Lord is God”. In 2 Kings 1:8, we learn that he wore a camel’s hair garment with a leather belt around his waist. He has a very powerful and important impact on Jewish history. He spent most of his time in the desert around the Jordan River and is finally whisked up to heaven without dying.

Now, let’s go back to John the Baptist and look at how and where he lived and preached. His whole ministry is spent up and down the desert area of the Jordan River. There are two main areas where stories about John the Baptist appear:

  1. Where he baptizes Jesus at Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28) and
  2. At Aenon near Salim (John 3:23), where he was also preaching and baptizing


Why would John choose these locations to baptize? If you will look at a map of Elijah’s travels and stories, you will see that these are the exact locations where Elijah is fed by ravens, where he passes his cloak to Elisha and where he is taken up to heaven! John the Baptizer is operating in Elijah country! He is baptizing in Elijah places! He wears what Elijah wears! He wants to be like Elijah! How else could you more clearly say, “I am Elijah?” He is living out the prophecy that the angel had spoken over him before his birth. Don’t you know that his parents told him what he was supposed to be like as he grew up!

He was doing his best to fulfill the destiny that God had given him.

And, according to Jesus himself, John the Baptist was Elijah! Read Matthew 11:1-14 (esp. 14), and 17:10-13, where Jesus says that John was the fulfillment of Elijah and the Old Testament prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6. That prophecy said that Elijah would come back and prepare the way for the coming of the promised Messiah. John the Baptizer fulfilled that role, in that he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and prepared the way for Jesus to come to the Jewish people. He accomplished that by trying to emulate Elijah in every way that he could, from his clothes to where he worked and even in his speech. John the Baptizer, like his predecessor Elijah, had a very important and powerful impact on Jewish history and was a key ingredient in God’s plan to send his son, Jesus, to be our Messiah!