John the Baptist
John the Baptist is like that guy who announces the boxers before the big fight (Coming to you all the way from Nazareth, it's the Lamb of God himself—Jeeeeeeesuuuuuuus!).
All the gospels show John proclaiming the start of Jesus's ministry, so it's clear that Jesus's entry into the world is very closely tied to this guy. In the other three gospels, John baptizes Jesus himself. In Luke, they're actually cousins. Jesus can't seem to get away from this guy.
The Gospel of John is very (very) clear about who John the Baptist really is. His main job is to tell people about Jesus but not to hog the spotlight. Here are a few of the things John shouts from the rooftops about Jesus:
- "He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me." (1:15)
- "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." (1:27)
- "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29)
- "I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." (1:34)
Talk about dramatic.
When John's disciples catch wind of all this, they leave John and promptly go to follow Jesus. But it ain't no thang to John. It's what everyone is supposed to be doing. Sounds like John needs a little self-esteem boost.
Why All the Hoopla?
The Baptist doth protest too much, Shmoopthinks.
Why does John keep going on about Jesus being the greatest of all time? The Gospel seems desperate to make clear that Jesus—not John—is actually the messiah sent by God. It stands to reason that there were some people at the time who doubted this was the case. If it weren't a concern, they wouldn't have to mention it, right?
The Real Guy
For all the excitement surrounding this guy, it's easy to forget that he's a real historical figure. The Gospel of John mentions that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas (3:24), but doesn't go into the details. Too bad, because they're good.
Mark's gospel and the 1st-century Jewish historian, Josephus, go into a little more depth. Josephus calls John "a good man" and says that "Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause" (Jewish Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 5:2).
Looks like John met the same end as Jesus, but without all the subsequent fanfare. We guess starting one of the world's most popular religions is harder than it looks.