In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
In those days, viz. while Jesus dwelt at Nazareth, the place of separation and reproach, "came John the Baptist," viz. to herald him. Man's order is to champion that which is popular, God's order is to herald truth. We note -
I. THAT JOHN CAME IN THE QUALITY OF ELIJAH.
1. In this quality he was predicted.
(1) Gabriel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, evidently in response to the prayer of Zacharias which had ascended with the incense. Gabriel promised Zacharias that he should have a son in his old age, gave directions for the ordering of the child, adding, "And he shall go before the face of the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the heart of the fathers to the children," etc. (Luke 1:11-17).
(2) Gabriel's words clearly allude to those of Malachi, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," etc. (Malachi 4:5, 6).
(3) "Elijah," in these passages, comes in two senses, and on the same principle it is evident that the place in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-3), in the text applied to John, is in its ultimate sense also applicable to the Tishbite.
2. John accordingly behaved like Elijah.
(1) His dwelling was in the wilderness. There he was brought up (Luke 1:80). There he exercised his ministry. Note: We get our moral strength for the rough work of life by retirement with God.
(2) John applied to himself the words of Isaiah, "I am the voice," etc. (see John 1:28). Note:
(a) John was simply the "voice," Jesus is the "Word."
(b) This voice arose out of silence.
Zacharias was dumb until he pronounced the name of "John." So we, until visited by the pledges of his mercy and grace, are dumb before God.
(3) His diet was the wild food of nature. "Locusts" were "clean" (Leviticus 11:22). Our conversation should be pure. "Wild honey," whether from the rock in which the bee had swarmed, or the saccharine exudation from the palm, date, or olive trees (see Deuteronomy 32:13; 1 Samuel 14:26). Note: Men of heavenly tempers are not epicures in earthly food.
(4) He wore a rough garment. This appears to have been the usual dress of the prophets (see Isaiah 20:2; Hebrews 11:37). Therefore psuedo-prophets assumed it (Zechariah 13:4). John's garb particularly resembled that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). The girdle of dried skin, rough and strong, denoted the wearer to be a man of resolution, like his prototype (Luke 12:35; 1 Peter 1:13). Note: If John's dress was plain in the sight of men, he was himself "great in the sight of God" (Luke 1:15). Let us not plume ourselves upon our clothes, or value our fellows by outward appearances.
3. Yet is John distinguished from that prophet.
(1) He distinguished himself. When priests and Levites demanded it' he were Elijah, he said, "I am not" (John 1:21).
(2) Jesus also distinguished him. "If ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah which is to come. So after John's death he said, Elijah indeed cometh first and restoreth all things" (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:12). John Baptist did not "restore all things."
(3) It is evident that in these prophecies there is a double sense. They point to two advents of Jesus. In the first he came to set up a spiritual kingdom, and was heralded by Elijah in "spirit and power." In the second he will come to establish a visible kingdom, and will be heralded by Elijah in person.
II. THAT JOHN CAME TO HERALD THE KING MESSIAH.
1. His testimony was unequivocal.
(1) The "Lord" whom he proclaimed is styled "Jehovah" in Isaiah. John pointed out Jesus of Nazareth as that very personage (see John 1:15, 29).
(2) Herein was John the greatest of all the prophets (Matthew 11:9-11). Other prophets gave marks and tokens by which Christ might be known. John pointed him out in Person. The greatest triumph of prophecy is to bring men to the personal Jesus, in their very soul to see him as the saving Christ.
2. His qualifications were unimpeachable.
(1) John was indicated as a prophet of the Lord in the extraordinary circumstances of his birth (Luke 1:5-25). In these he resembled Samson and Jeremiah (Judges 13.; Jeremiah 1:5).
(2) He had his commission immediately from heaven (Luke 3:2).
(3) The Jews acknowledged him. Multitudes of them came to his baptism (ver. 6). No one disputed his claims Matthew 21:26; (Matthew Mark 11:32 Luke 20:6).
(4) The testimony of John to Jesus is therefore most valuable. The marks by which John identified Jesus as the Christ were Divine and inimitable (John 1:32-34). It is difficult to conceive how the unbelieving Jews can dispose of John's testimony.
III. JOHN CAME ALSO TO HERALD MESSIAH'S KINGDOM.
1. He heralded it as the kingdom of the heavens.
(1) The Christian discipleship is a kingdom.
(a) It has subjects.
(b) It has a King.
(c) It has laws.
(2) It is called the kingdom of the heavens.
(a) Its principles are those of heaven.
(b) In the heavens its principles are made eternal.
(c) It prepares its subjects for translation to the heavens.
(3) It is in "spirit and power" the "kingdom of the God of heaven" described by Daniel (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13, 14). In the other Gospels it is called the "kingdom of God."
(4) John, though a priest, never officiated in the temple. But he introduced the Lord of the temple (Malachi 3:1). Was there not here an intimation that the priesthood of Aaron was now to give place to that of Melchizedek?
2. He proclaimed its near approach.
(1) The coming of the kingdom in "spirit and power" dates from the ascension of Christ (cf. Psalm 110:1, 2; Luke 19:12-14). That event was indeed "at hand," but not the coming of the kingdom in visible glory.
(2) The spiritual kingdom is entered by faith. Believers do not pass out of it at death. In that "article" Jesus, however, comes in Person, though invisibly, to receive them to himself (John 14:1-3).
3. He therefore preached repentance.
(1) "The voice," etc. The imagery here is borrowed from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who on taking a journey or going on a military expedition, used to send persons to "form the road." So repentance must:
(a) Bring down the eminences of pride, presumption, ingratitude.
(b) Fill up the hollows of inattention, apathy, despondency.
(c) Straighten the crooked places of prejudice, censoriousness, covetousness.
(d) Smooth the rough places of sabbath-breaking, drunkenness, profanity, immorality, instability.
(2) John's garb and mode of living preached. His habits were in keeping with his doctrine. Sweet is the harmony between the lip and life.
(3) The time of his preaching was opportune. Jewish writers admit that their nation was then fearfully degenerated. They soon filled up the measure of their iniquity. No preaching was more needed than that of the Baptist.
(4) The place also was opportune. The mind of every man, whether Jew or Gentile, is like the wilderness in which John preached, and needs his stirring words. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,