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A Synopsis of Paper 135: John the Baptist

John the Baptist grew up in a small town west of Jerusalem. He took the vows of a Nazarite when he was fourteen years old. At twenty, he left home to tend sheep in a colony of Nazarites headed by Abner. As time passed, John became convinced that he was to become the herald of the coming kingdom of heaven. At the age of thirty-two he embarked on his short, brilliant career as a public preacher.

John's message can best be understood within the context of his time. For almost one hundred years, Israel had been suffering under the continuous control of gentiles. The Jewish people could not understand why God's chosen people should be thus humiliated. Most Jews were confident that the kingdom of heaven was coming and that God would rule the nations of earth during their generation. The vast majority of Jews believed that God would accomplish his plan by sending a Messiah.

John began his public preaching tour in March, 25 AD. He added a new twist to an old custom when he baptized to symbolize the remission of sins; in the past only gentile proselytes had submitted to baptism. John baptized more than one hundred thousand believers in fifteen months of active preaching. James and John, sons of Zebedee, were baptized.

Jesus' brothers, James and Jude, considered being baptized as well. When they asked for Jesus' advice, the three brothers made their way together to the Jordan valley. Jesus and his brothers were baptized in the Jordan river at noon on Monday, January 14, 26 AD. An apparition appeared over Jesus' head, and a voice was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son in who I am well pleased." After his baptism, Jesus took his leave, going into the hills for forty days.

When Jesus returned in mid-February, John knew that the responsibility for the coming kingdom no longer rested with him. His preaching changed into an expression of mercy toward the common people and a denouncement of corrupt political and religious rulers. In June, Herod Antipas had John arrested.

John was imprisoned for a year and a half. He was lonely and sometimes bitter. A group of his disciples who came to visit expressed wonderment that Jesus didn't try to save John. In response to their concerns John said, "This man can do nothing unless it has been given him by his Father in heaven. You well remember that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I am one sent on before to prepare the way for him.' And that I did. He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom who stands near‑by and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. This, my joy, therefore is fulfilled. He must increase but I must decrease. I am of this earth and have declared my message. Jesus of Nazareth comes down to the earth from heaven and is above us all. The Son of Man has descended from God, and the words of God he will declare to you." John was amazed because he understood that he had spoken a prophecy. Never again did he doubt the divinity of Jesus.

Jesus loved John. He knew that John's life's work was finished, and that great things were in store for John once he departed this world. Jesus restrained himself from interfering in the course of the great preacher's end.

John remained in prison because Herod feared releasing John almost as much as he feared putting him to death. But Herod's unlawful wife, Herodias, hated John. One night, during a feast for Herod's birthday, Herodias's daughter danced for Herod. He was so enchanted with her that he promised her anything she asked. After seeking counsel from her mother, the daughter asked for John's head on a platter. John's life on earth ended that night.

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