John the Baptist is a towering figure in the Bible. Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women, no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28). This prophet stands at the crux of the Old Testament blossoming into the New Testament. He is a relative of Jesus and paved the way for him. Here are some facts about John.
Miraculous Birth: John’s birth parallels the birth of Jesus. It was foretold by an angel to his father Zechariah, and an angel broke the news of Jesus’s birth to Mary. An angel also revealed what the babies’ names were to be. Though John’s wasn’t a virgin birth, his mother, Elizabeth, was barren and quite old when she conceived.
Mary’s Visit: Mary came to help his mother prepare for his birth. When she arrived, pregnant with Jesus, Elizabeth declared that the baby in her womb “leapt for joy,” apparently recognizing that he was in the presence of the Savior. At that instant, John was healed of original sin. Mary (and yet unborn Jesus) remained with Elizabeth for about three months.
Name: Ordinarily a Jewish son was named for his father. But Zechariah was adamant that his son should be called John as the angel ordered. Zechariah had been mute ever since he had questioned the angel’s words, but when he obeyed on the matter of the name, he regained his speech. Jewish men were named bar (son of) and their father’s name. John would have been John bar Zechariah. However we know him as John the Baptist after his role in history.
Relation to Jesus: It could be that as children John and Jesus met and played together. Some artwork depicts this. It’s also been suggested that Jesus became a disciple of John. When he asked John to baptize him, John
Prophetic Role: John is known as the forerunner of Jesus. Like other Old Testament prophets, he encouraged people to repent. He baptized them as a sign that they intended to change their lives around. Unlike Jesus, John led an ascetic life, clothed in camel hair, which must have itched, and living on grasshoppers.
When people thought John could be the Messiah, he announced the coming of Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John at first demurred as being unworthy. (Jesus, of course, was sinless; his baptism was a sign that he identified with us and was accepting his role as Savior.)
Later when his disciples told him that Jesus was also baptizing and gaining an audience, John stated, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John the Baptist’s feast day is June 24, near the summer solstice when the sun begins to decrease.) After John identified Jesus as the lamb of God to two of his disciples, they began following Jesus.
Martyr’s Death: John was imprisoned for accusing King Herod of adultery because he married the wife of his brother, who was still alive. At a banquet, the woman’s daughter danced so well that a drunk Herod promised her anything. The woman had her daughter ask to have John beheaded. Disciples later buried his body.
Mystery: While John was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah. No one knows why. Perhaps he wanted his followers to become the disciples of Jesus. It’s been suggested that as John faced his dire future, he needed confirmation that his life had been worthwhile.
Feasts: John’s birth (June 24) and his death (August 29) are both celebrated during the Church year. Except for Jesus and Mary no one else has this privilege.
Church: The Church of John the Baptist is in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, presumably over the site where John was born.
• What fact about John impresses you most?