The Ministry of John the Baptist

The Same Purpose

13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13–17)

The Old Testament ends with Malachi’s promise of Elijah’s return, and the Gospels begin after more than four hundred years of ensuing silence by fulfilling that very promise. The major objectives of John’s ministry in the First Coming most certainly reveal what is to be expected of “Elijah to come” in the Second Coming:

These obviously combine to reveal a ministry of spiritual revival and reconciliation, something distinctly different from that assigned to either the 144,000 or the Two Witnesses. Gabriel incorporates what was originally revealed through Malachi into an expanded description affirming a ministry not based on signs and wonders, but a message centered on “turning back” spiritually. To be biblically prepared for the arrival of the Messiah requires a change of heart and attitude.

67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
69And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant—
70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—
72To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
73The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
74To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. (Luke 1:67–75)

Remember, the repeated problem Jesus faced at His First Coming is that they over-realized the prophecies associated with the Millennial Kingdom and His Second Coming to the point that they completely overlooked the work of the Messiah which needed to first take place, the work of salvation from sin; instead, what they wanted was “salvation” in terms of freedom from the Romans—a political rescue. But note from the outset of Zacharias’ prophetic response the spiritual state they needed to be in if they were indeed to be “rescued from the hand of our enemies”:To grant us that we…might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” Gabriel expanded upon Malachi to establish the issue first and foremost as one of a right heart and attitude, and Zacharias further prophesies that such is intended to produce right service to God “in holiness and righteousness”.

This may be especially important to consider in light of the fact that we have large, detailed passages of Scripture explaining the special service and work assigned to Israel during the Millennial Reign which comes after Daniel’s 70th Week draws to a close. Israel is not only being prepared individually from the heart, but corporately for service as well. But even when the Messiah returns to establish the Millennial Kingdom, they will still need to have accomplished from the heart spiritually the work of the Messiah in His First Coming. This requirement will not be waived and will once again be the main purpose of the “Elijah to come”, replaying John the Baptist. The same spiritual work initiated by John the Baptist to prepare hearts for the arrival of the Messiah still has to be completed by “Elijah to come”, even more so, for His arrival in the Second Coming.

76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
77To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
78Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76–79)

Again, “the knowledge of salvation” only comes about “by the forgiveness of sins”. There is no national restoration which can be substituted for spiritual restoration. Their current spiritual state is so severe that it is described as “those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death”. Zacharias quotes Malachi to cite John’s primary purpose as spiritual preparation:

1“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. 2But 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. 3He 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. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1–4)

Notice that in verse 3 the overall goal is “righteousness”, and this will come about through a spiritual refining process. But also take note that their spiritual state up to this time is so dreadful that their offerings—their practice of Judaism due to the condition of their hearts, is something which has not been pleasing to God for quite some time. This same condition replays itself in the Second Coming through “Elijah to come” in the same way it originally transpired under John the Baptist. What was predicted for John foreshadows what we should expect even more so from “Elijah to come”. I would argue that these same spiritual conditions are at the least also present today within ethnic Israel at large, and to a much worse degree.

The Same Message & Ministry

3And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,


In his introduction of John’s ministry, Luke builds even further upon the common theme established by Malachi and supplemented by Gabriel and Zacharias. Allegorically this is describing what needs to take place spiritually to be properly prepared to accept the Messiah. It addresses a variety of spiritual problems, some of which require serious work to fix as they are depicted as deep voids which need to be filled in (“every ravine”) or large obstacles which need to be brought low (“every mountain”), but some of which need an approach of fine tuning and less drastic adjustment in making the crooked straight and the rough smooth.

As an aside, it is well worth noting that this is why we should understand that a very great sign of the nearness of the Return of Christ is the spiritual return of Israel. If we fully appreciated the emphasis that Scripture places on this work, we would not allow ourselves to only focus on the more spectacular fireworks with which we identify the Last Days. We should realize this was a major mistake among God’s people at Christ’s First Coming which seems to again be replaying itself in the present shadow of His Second Coming. It is not as much about getting ethnic Israel back to within the borders of the physical land of Israel as it is to return them spiritually into a right relationship with their Messiah. We should not shirk our responsibility for evangelism in the here and now, thinking where Israel is concerned it is up to someone else.

7So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7–9)

The proof of repentance is visibly proven by a changed life, which is often expressed biblically as producing good fruit. (Mt. 7:17-20; Gal. 5:22-23) In order to achieve the spiritual goals established by Malachi, Zacharias and Isaiah (as quoted by Luke), repentance has to be accompanied with a change in lifestyle from sin and the world’s ways to righteousness and God’s ways. Or as the Apostle Paul would later explain…

17But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17–18)

John the Baptist makes the specific stipulation, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’”. Then and now there are those who think a genetic heritage is enough, which John clearly dismisses. Paul will later categorically state, “…it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham”. (Gal. 3:7) They need to not just repent, but prove they have done so sincerely by following up with changed lives. This is the important aspect of baptism, that it is not a means to “get clean”, but a public testimony identifying that one has been cleansed and will make every effort to never return back to their previous way of life.

10And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” 11And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.”

12And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.”

14Some 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.” (Luke 3:10–14)

What do all these examples have in common? Interestingly enough, they all have to do with treatment of others—an application of loving our neighbor as our self. Anyone can say they love God, but this is actually proven in the course of our love (or not) of others. John’s definition of a repentance which produces the right fruit is in how one stops mistreating and abusing others and instead fulfills the biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself”. (Lev. 19:18)

15Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15–17)

John’s message for the First Coming will be an even more powerful and meaningful message given by “Elijah to come” in the shadow of the Second Coming, because the winnowing, threshing, gathering and burning will be about to literally and ultimately take place. But it is only John, who was confirmed by Christ to have come in the character of Elijah and further establishes that Elijah will come yet again, who conveys a message and ministry of spiritual reconciliation to Israel. Again, there is nothing mentioned in regard to this for the 144,000, only that they are “first fruits” (Rev. 14:4), the first of many from among ethnic Israel, and it is certainly a near opposite contrast to the stated purpose of the Two Witnesses, “these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth”. (Rev. 11:10)

In fact, this activity described as “torment” comports with many of the examples of two witnesses through Scripture rather than Elijah or his counterparts. The two angels at Sodom and Gomorrah effected a rescue of God’s people, but certainly brought destruction on the “earth-dwellers”; the two spies at Jericho effected a rescue of Rahab and her family, but certainly played a part in the destruction of the city; Moses and Aaron effected the rescue of Israel out of Egypt, but certainly played a role in the terror brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And it would be quite difficult in these instances to make a case that any of these examples were effecting some kind of revival or spiritual restoration.

We have to be careful that we do not become so obsessed with assigning the wrong things to the wrong figures that we set ourselves up for deception. I have more than a passing familiarity with a popular Christian conference speaker who happens to be ethnically Jewish who has been approached a number of times by people inquiring whether or not he is one of the Two Witnesses. Within all eschatologies there seems to be a sizable faction dogmatically devoted to identifying and seeking the arrival of these two figures. I can only imagine that when they arrive, and they do not effect a spiritual revival among Israel, that it is those with this presupposition who will openly dispute their authority and identity, and compound the error further by challenging the notion of Elijah’s singular return.

19This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

21They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

22Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:19–23)

What may be particularly interesting is to note what is stated in Isaiah 40 after this quote by both the Apostle John and Luke:

6A 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.
7The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
8The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

9Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
11Like 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. (Isaiah 40:6–11)

The preceding verses covering the parable of preparation where the spiritual valleys need to be filled in, the mountains brought low, the crooked made straight and the rough smooth all speak of the work of the Messiah in His First Coming. What comes after is called “good news” of the imminent arrival of the Messiah and appears to be speaking more pointedly to the Second Coming. In other words, at the First Coming, John the Baptist in the character of Elijah preaches the first part of Isaiah 40 to a point, and the “Elijah to come” in the Second Coming will pick up with the additional message of the Messiah-Shepherd returning for His sheep.

John’s Disciples Become Jesus’ Disciples

A recurring theme throughout the New Testament is the necessity of embracing John’s ministry in preparation for that of Christ’s. It was John’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah which caused two of John’s disciples, one of them being Andrew, to immediately begin following Jesus. (Jn. 1:35-40) Almost immediately this widens to include Peter, Philip and Nathanael. (Jn. 1:41-51) This prior association with John the Baptist becomes the prerequisite used to replace Judas with another authentic, founding Apostle.

21“Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21–22)

But this was not something unique and strictly limited to the Apostles. When Jesus Himself is explaining to the people who John is, He specifies:

26“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written,


28“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (Luke 7:26–30)

Observe the dual qualification which is stated for those who on the one hand “acknowledged God’s justice” but on the other “rejected God’s purpose for themselves”, and how it is intrinsically tied to “the baptism of John”. For Israel, at a time in pre-Church history when the Holy Spirit was still operating on an individual, case-by-case basis, this baptism served a very important function in displaying the kind of changed heart for which Elijah in the First Coming was sent.

This may be something particularly important in the shadow, and actual removal, of the Church, when Paul explains to us that the Holy Spirit is basically going to return to working in that previous manner again. (2 Th. 2:5-6) This may be why Elijah needs to be sent once more, because the spiritual environment, once the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit) no longer convicts the world of sin and returns to working on an individual basis, the same kind of ministry provided through John the Baptist must be necessarily replayed once again through “Elijah to come” on behalf of Israel.

27They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, 28and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” 29And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.” 31They began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘From men’?”—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. 33Answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27–33)

From a slightly different perspective, Jesus confirms this necessary connection to John the Baptist, teaching that at that time, Jesus’ authority could not be accepted by anyone not first accepting that of John’s. This is a very important aspect of the anticipated ministry of “Elijah to come” at a point where the Church has been removed (or on the verge of removal), the Holy Spirit’s restraining role is lifted, and “a real prophet” prepares Israel for the Messiah’s final Return.

24Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24–26)

1It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7There were in all about twelve men. (Acts 19:1–7)

What began with John needed to be completed in Christ, but his ministry was so efficacious as to produce disciples who were discovered long after the Day of Pentecost. In each case, the foundation laid by John always led back to Christ, or as he would famously state to his disciples about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. (Jn. 3:30)

It Began With John

34Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 36The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— 37you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. (Acts 10:34–37)

It is important to keep in mind that when John the Baptist in the character of Elijah came the first time, there was as yet no Church; his work was strictly with Israel proper. Or as Paul explains, the Gospel is for “the Jew first”. (Rom. 1:16) It is not beyond reason that this is yet again the work of “Elijah to come” in the Second Coming, to fulfill all the Scriptures promising Israel’s wholesale reconciliation to their Messiah, and further explains the references in Revelation to the reaction of the rest of the world, which is always characterized by a lack of repentance. (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:8-11)

There are a number of changes which are coming in the End Times, chief among them a time when the Church is removed and God’s focus returns to Israel. The Church’s removal comes at a time when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains in the way established at Pentecost and is more like that between His Resurrection and Ascension, when He personally imparted the Spirit to them, and a time of unprecedented spiritual darkness which is scripturally anticipated and even now creeps upon us.

The ethnic Jews who accept Jesus as their Messiah during the Church Age are, in fact, part of the Church and will experience the Rapture as well. There is a popular notion that the Rapture itself will be a powerful enough event in and of itself that people will, on their own, see the truth, fall to their knees, and instantly repent to spark a worldwide revival, but such has never been the case throughout the whole of history and is never explicitly stated as such in God’s Word. This is because, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ”, (Rom. 10:17) not by simply seeing something. Just as it was at the First Coming, where Israel is concerned, someone has to prepare the way spiritually by preaching what is necessary to induce hearts willing to finally accept Yeshua as their Savior.

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