John the Baptist
Luke ain't shy about John. He gives us a bunch of straight-up info about this guy—take a look at 1:13-17, 1:76-79, and 3:4-6 for some examples. You can think of these passages as ancient versions of movie trailers. They're a preview for what this new John-flick is all about make you want to see the rest. Spoiler alert: the hero dies.
John's Warm-Up Act
It's tough to miss the fact that John comes before Jesus in order to prepare the way (1:17, 76; 3:4-5). That's right, this guy is just the warm-up act. But instead of being followed by a band or a comedian, he's followed by the "prophet of the Most High" (1:76). Tough gig.
The real trick to understanding John is to recognize that he does his job in multiple ways and on several levels. Translation: he's deep. Here are some of the essential ways John warms the crowds up for Jesus:
- He proclaims forgiveness or "release," just like Jesus and the disciples will (3:3, 8; 4:18; 5:17-26; 7:47-48; 24:47).
- His social ethics require people to give to the poor and to deal justly with their neighbors (3:10-12). Again, just like Jesus.
- He explicitly announces that the messiah is still to come and that he will be a much bigger deal than John himself (3:15-17).
Setting the Stage
Even the broader outline of John's life anticipates what will happen to Jesus. Let's take a look.
John's birth is a miracle for his mom, Elizabeth, who's an old barren woman; and the angel Gabriel stirs up plenty of hype regarding his future (1:5-18). You may or may not remember that Jesus's birth was also kind of a big deal. If you don't remember, you might want to do some rereading right about now.
Later in life, John is a big success and highly popular with the Jewish people in general. Still, both the religious and political leaders oppose him (3:19-20; 20:1-8), and this results in John's execution (9:7-9). Sound familiar? Yep, just like Jesus.
John has it tough, showing us the resistance that God's purposes meet in the human world. But his life also gives Luke another chance to demonstrate that God does things a little differently.
Put simply, John's story is Jesus's story—in a nutshell.