The Ministry of John the Baptist

Many Bible readers will recall that John the Baptist ate locusts, wore camel’s hair, and baptized Jesus, but far fewer are aware of just how significant John’s ministry really was and where it all took place. All four Gospels and the book of Acts mention John’s ministry, since it was virtually inseparable from Jesus’ own ministry (Acts 1:21-22), and twenty years after John’s ministry believers in Ephesus over 600 miles (990 km) from Jerusalem knew of John’s baptism but did not know of Jesus’ baptism (Acts 19:1-7). John was born to the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:5-25, 57), and church tradition places his birth specifically at a town called Ein Kerem 4 miles (6 km) west of Jerusalem. Jesus’ mother Mary was related to John’s mother Elizabeth and traveled from Nazareth to visit her during their pregnancies (Luke 1:36-56). When John grew up, he lived in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 1:80) and was likely familiar with the religious community at Qumran. As the new Elijah (Malachi 4:5; Matthew 11:14) and “a voice of one calling in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Mark 1:3), John called people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”–the very same message Jesus himself later preached at the start of his ministry (Matthew 4:17). Another hallmark of John’s ministry was his practice of baptizing people as a sign of their repentance (Matthew 3:6), and Jesus himself chose to be baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21). John initially baptized at Bethany beyond the Jordan River (John 1:28; 10:40), likely across from Jericho. Later he moved his ministry to Aenon across the Jordan River (John 3:22-26) and further north. John called out sin wherever he saw it and even rebuked Herod Antipas for marrying Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For this, Antipas imprisoned John (Matthew 14:3-4; Luke 3:1-20) at the fortress of Machaerus across the Dead Sea. While John was in prison, he sent his disciples to Galilee to ask Jesus if he was indeed the Messiah. Jesus affirmed that he was by pointing to what he was doing and preaching (Matthew 11:1-19). Later, Herodias schemed to have John put to death, and his disciples took his body and buried it (Matthew 14:5-12).

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