Updated: Feb 3
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This is the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent. Advent bears this etymology: “Middle English, borrowed from Medieval Latin adventus, going back to Latin, “arrival, appearance,” from adven-, variant stem of advenīre “to arrive” (from ad- ad- + venīre” to come,” going back to Indo-European *gwem-i̯̯e-) + -tus, suffix of action nouns — more at come.” (Merriam Webster). While it might be easy to think this season announces the nearing of the birthday of baby Jesus, the real purpose is to have baby Jesus be reborn in new Christians. If you keep that concept in mind, the Gospel readings during Advent will take on a personal importance as Scripture readings of preparation. F.Y.I.
Will you let Him in when He calls to you?
The quote above, from Isaiah, is found in Isaiah 40:3, but it is not exactly as Mark indicated. The NASB translation of that verse says, “A voice of one calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” The use of “desert” can also state “wilderness,” and the use of wilderness can be replaced with “desert.” The first element, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you” is missing.
The point is this quote is not wholly from Isaiah, as it is also a partial quote from Malachi 3:1. That verse states, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” Combine these quotes of the LORD from those two prophets and Mark’s quote is complete.
To me, simply from finding out this unstated combined quote, where the truth was told by Mark because Isaiah is quoted, the lack of mentioning Malachi is a hidden sign. Since Mark goes from the prophet’s words of prophecy from the LORD, to speaking of John the Baptizer, the element of a preparing a straight path in the wilderness was fulfilled by John. This focus is then enhanced and clarified further, when one reads Malachi 4:5-6.
Those verses state: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” This prophecy of Elijah being sent prior to the coming of the Messiah was one all Jews knew at the time of Jesus and awaited.
One of the rituals of the Passover Seder meal is to pour a cup of wine and open the front door of the home open. In another rite, a chair is designated for Elijah to sit in at each circumcision. The reason is to invite Elijah to return. The Jews want Elijah to feel welcome to join the family. When these tradition began, I do not know. However, Mark wrote about Elijah’s return.
In Mark 9:11-13, as Jesus and Peter, James and John (of Zebedee) were coming down from the high mountain after the Transfiguration, Jesus told them not to talk about what they had seen until after “the Son of Man rose from the dead” (Mark 9:9). The conversation then turned to Elijah:
“They asked [Jesus], saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”” (Mark 9:11-13)
Matthew added to this, “Then the disciples understood that [Jesus] had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:13)
This means that understanding Isaiah AND Malachi combined to write about John the Baptizer, as Elijah returning, one can understand the description given by Mark as that of a reincarnated prophet of Israel. When we read, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist,” Elijah was described in this manner: “They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”’ (1 Kings 1:8, NIV)
Print this and let the kids color in the hairy tunic and leather belt.
Relative to this prophecy, but buried by a translation attempting to tell a story, rather than expose the truth, is the Greek word “Egeneto.” That capitalized first word that follows the quotes of the prophets is the past tense form of the word “ginomai” (“to come”). It means this prophecy “Came” true in the one named “John.” The first segment simply says, “Egeneto Iōannēs,” “Came John.” It means Elijah “Came” and was named “John.” The name “Ioannes” means “Yahweh is Gracious.”
After that identification (following a comma), John is said to be “the [one] baptizing in the wilderness.” This is then a confirmation of the prophecy, “Clear a way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the wilderness a highway for our God.” The word “baptizó” means “to submerge,” which implies the use of water, which is a scarce commodity in a desert, wilderness, or desolate area. Therefore, this is more powerful symbolically than the imagery a modern Christian gets from a translation that says, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness.”
The wilderness (from “erēmō”) means “solitary, desolate, and deserted.” It implies “waste,” such that “desert” is land that bears no yield. Thus, that place is “abandoned” or “deserted.” More than picturing John, a holy man that fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s return (reincarnation), in a desert, one needs to grasp how “John Came” to Judea and Galilee. Those provinces were the wastes of ancient Israel and Judah. The remnant peoples of those lands had returned to the waste land their ancestors had left to captors and conquerors. That land had been lost because of the sins of Israel’s leaders and followers.
Following another comma, the Greek text literally states, “and proclaiming baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” As for the dryness of a “desert,” water (once again) is the element that symbolizes emotions. John was doing more than “dipping” Jews “underwater,” he was infusing them with the emotional awareness of their sins. Only from being in touch emotionally with the dryness and waste of their having lost their land and their covenant with God could they truly repent. The Jews of Roman-controlled Judea and Galilee had to feel the guilt of their dirty selves deeply, in order for the truth to be written: “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
The symbolic water that washed over the Jews, as the “people went out to John,” was the emotion of their guilt. The realization of seeing themselves going the wrong way filled them with fear. That water, rather than John coming to offer a washing away of sins with river water service, was the baptism that made a straight path for the Lord.
Physical water dries up but living water never goes dry.
Now, when we reach verse six, which said what John was wearing, the segment that follows is not set in the past tense (as the translation above shows “ate”). Instead, the Greek word “esthōn” is the present participle stating, “he is eating.” The essence of this difference in time says John was the reincarnation of Elijah, who dressed in animal skins with a leather belt; but John is then “eating locusts and honey wild.”
Since there is nothing about Elijah that specifically said he ate locusts and wild honey, and since there has to be more meaning to this information than John possessing survival skills in the wilderness, the metaphor has to help explain John’s purpose as Elijah reincarnated. Because “locusts” are infesting creatures that eat the fields and trees, as a plague that takes away the productivity of a land, John was “devouring” those who were stripping the Jews of their ways of righteousness (Jews and Gentiles). He also was dissolving the stickiness of “honey” that represented the ways of other nations. Those ways tasted so sweet, but led the Jews to “wild” lives. It was symbolic locusts and wild honey that led to the fall and ruin of Israel – a land once known for its milk and honey. Elijah returned as John to devour those enemies.
By seeing this meaning and knowing John to be the return of Elijah, who was prophesied to pave the way of the Lord – the Messiah – it is easy to see why Mark wrote what John proclaimed: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.” This was a prophecy also told by Luke, where the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, the husband of Elizabeth (who would give birth to John), saying: “And [John] will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)
As Jesus would be born six months after John, with the two relatives, Jesus would be the Lord of whom John said, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John said that as a miracle child, just as was Jesus, who was born to another woman without the necessity of sexual intercourse. Elizabeth was like Sarah, as both women were old of age and barren (thus not a virgin). As the rebirth of the Spirit of Elijah, John was still not worthy of claiming any greatness, when compared to Jesus the Christ.
Finally, when John said, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” the element of water goes beyond the physical once again. To be “baptized with water” is more than being dipped underwater or sprinkled with water. It means John will renew an emotion of devotion to God and belief in the Messiah. That will lead to Jews seeking forgiveness from God; but the physical means they will seek to follow someone holy.
Just as physical water pours over one, so too does the presence of a leader-rabbi pour the enthusiasm of devotion to him onto his followers. John had that effect on his disciples. Yet, Jesus would have a greater impact in the physical; but his impact as Lord would be when he poured himself into his devoted followers, making them become the extension of love of God, as Christ reborn.
That prophecy by Elijah-John came true on Pentecost, when the “Holy Spirit baptized” eleven disciples in the upstairs room, replacing one Jesus of Nazareth (born in Bethlehem) with eleven. That power of eleven was the difference John spoke of.