THE MISSION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Matt 3:1-3 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. (Also See Mark 1:1-3; Luke 3:1-4)
"In those days" cannot mean the days recorded by Matthew at the end of chapter two, because Jesus had just returned to Nazareth of Galilee from the flight into Egypt commanded by God in order to protect the infant, Jesus from being slain by Herod the Great. Instead, the time referred to at the beginning of the lesson text is dated by the gospel written by the Holy Spirit-inspired Luke that corresponds to the accounts of Matthew and Mark. In Luke 3:1-2 we find "those days" to be during the time Tiberius Cesar ruled the Roman Empire, Pontius Pilate governed Judea, Herod Antipas ruled Galilee, and the Jewish nation had high priests named Annas and Caiaphas. Annas had been removed from authority by Pilate and replaced by his son-in-law, Caiaphas. To them this action violated their Jewish rights. Therefore both were still recognized as high priests by the Jewish people. Without going into much detail to explain the time in biblical history known as "those days," it is sufficient to say that based on the government officials cited above, as well as the period in time that they ruled, we know that Jesus, at this time, was approximately thirty years old, which means that John the Baptist was six months older.
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. John was preaching in a sparsely inhabited area of Judea adjacent to the Jordan River. He wasn't named "the Baptist," but that title was attached to his name because his mission on earth was to reform the Jewish nation by preaching the repentance of sins and confirming it with baptism - the immersion of a person into water. Jews, in Old Testament days, practiced baptism as a ceremonial purification process, spiritually cleansing the outward parts of men as well as articles used in worship services. Jewish baptism was the process of ceremonial purification, and is not to be confused with Christian baptism, which is immersion in water for the remission of sins. When hearing the New Testament word of God, accepting it in belief, repenting of one's past sinful life, and confessing Jesus the Christ to be the Son of God, is concluded by baptism to cleanse us from our sins, God then adds us to His church, the church of Christ. This is exactly what took place on the Day of Pentecost following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
(T)he kingdom of heaven, as used in the lesson text, is one that carries the same meaning, and is used interchangeably with, "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of Christ." The Messiah, Christ Jesus, was prophesied to ascend to the spiritual throne of David in 1 Kings 2:4, 8:25, Jer. 33:17, and Dan. 7:13-14. The Jewish nation had been taught, and fully believed, that promised Messiah was to rule over the Jewish nation as a human monarch, destroy all of their enemies, and establish a Jewish nation destined for praise, honor, and glory. Although, during His ministry, Jesus tried to correct this misconception of His kingdom, the Jewish people, including His own apostles, failed to recognize its true meaning until after Jesus' ascension back into the heavenly home from which He had descended to earth in human form.
John's message of repentance and baptism served to prepare the Jewish nation for a kingdom that would take place in the near future - it was at hand! In Matthew's words the prophet Isaiah said one would come as the voice of one crying in the wilderness (See Isa. 40:3a). From Luke 1:5-25 we know that an angel of God named Gabriel told Zacharias that his wife Elisabeth would bear a son and his name would be John. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). This was the God-given mission of John. And as Isaiah continued his prophecy, this man called John was to Prepare ye the way of the Lord, makestraight in the desert a highway for our God (See Isa. 40:3b). It was the doctrine of repentance and baptism that was to turn the children of Israel from a nation of spiritual destitution into one that was eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah.