As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness…
These words, quoted by John the Baptist, had been spoken seven hundred years before by Isaiah. Nearly three hundred years after that, Malachi closed the course of Scripture with these remarkable words: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet," &c. Then intervened a period of four hundred years, during which the voice of prophecy was mute, and all that was left to guide the Israelite was that of which Malachi reminded him in the previous verses: "Remember ye the law of Moses My servant." And then, when these four hundred years were closed, suddenly, immediately before the Messiah's advent, there appeared in the wilderness a wonderful man, living a life like that of Isaiah and Elias, applying to himself this prophecy of Isaiah, and having applied to him by Christ that of Malachi concerning Elijah. I propose to endeavour to answer these two questions.
1. By what right, and in what sense, are these two prophecies, the one originally spoken by Isaiah of himself, and the other distinctly marking out a particular man Elias, referred to John the Baptist? And —
2. In what sense was John the forerunner of the Redeemer, preparing His way before Him?
I. Now, to understand on what principle these words are applicable to John, we must carry along with us the leading principle of prophecy. It is not merely a prediction of separate events, but far rather an announcement of principles; through the interpretation of the present the prophets predicted the future; for the announcement of every principle connected with a fact is a prediction of all future events that shall occur under similar circumstances. For instance, the astronomer, in the announcement of the eclipse, has so plainly discovered the principles that regulate it as to be able to foretell without a doubt the very moment of its return. Thus it was that our Lord and the prophets applied their prophecy. The prophet Malachi uses the name of Elijah, and says, "Before another great and dreadful day come, another man shall rise up in the same spirit as Elijah." Our blessed Lord applies this prophecy to John the Baptist. He told men that "Elias truly shall first come and restore all things," but that the Elias that was to come was not the Elias they had expected, but one in the spirit and power of Elias, who should turn the hearts of the fathers, &c. He thus reminded them that what the prophet meant was not a resurrection of the man, but of his spirit.
II. In the next place we return an answer to the second question proposed — In what sense was John the forerunner, &c. The expression of the prophet a figurative one. In Eastern countries, when a monarch desired to pay a visit to a distant part of his dominions, he was accustomed to send his messengers before him to demand of the inhabitants of every part through which he was to pass that they should make his road easy by filling valleys and cutting through hills. Precisely in the same way was John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ. He came proclaiming a King, declaring the conditions without which the kingdom could not come, and without which the King could not reign. The first of these conditions was this: he prepared the way for Christ by declaring private righteousness preparatory to public reformation. "Change yourselves, or to you at least no kingdom of God can come."
2. John prepared the way for the advent of the Messiah by a simple assertion that right is right, and wrong, wrong.
3. The Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah by teaching simple truths, falling back upon first principles. Observe that all this was to prepare the way for Christ — it was not Christ. Yet in all ages the baptism of John in the laver of duty must precede the baptism of Christ in the laver of self-sacrifice.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A)
JOHN THE BAPTIST.
"Also of John a calling and a crying
Rang in Bethabara till strength was spent,
Cared not for counsel, stayed not for replying,
John had one message for the world — REPENT.
John, than which man a sadder or a greater
Not till this day has been of woman born;
John, like some iron peak by the Creator
Fired with the red glow of the rushing morn.
Thus, when the sun shall rise and overcome it,
Stands in his shining desolate and bare,
Yet not the less the inexorable summit
Flamed him his signal to the upper air."
(F. W. H. Myers.)
Parallel VersesKJV: As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.