WE all remember John the Baptist who came to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. We remember how the angel in the temple foretold his coming; how he was born in the hill country of Judaea, and how his father wrote, “His name is John.” We remember how he lived in the deserts, and how he taught repentance and baptized at the Jordan. The Lord came and was baptized, and John said of Him, “Behold the Lamb of God!” But we read that “Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,added yet this above all; that he shut up John in prison.” The Herod who did this was the one that we learned of when we read about the centurion in Capernaum. It, was Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and of Peraea, a district east of Jordan, a son of the Herod who was king in Jerusalem when the Lord was born.
The old historian Josephus tells us that John was imprisoned in the castle of Machaerus, which was a stronghold among the mountains east of the Dead Sea. The mountains here are very rough and wild. There are deep gorges between them, with walls of black and many-colored rocks. On one of the steepest and roughest of the mountains, a, strong fortress had been built, defended by high towers. Parts of the walls are still standing, and under the fortress are dungeon cells cut in the rock.
From the towers of the fortress and the palace there was a wide view over the wild mountains near at hand, across the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley, over the wilderness of Judaea to Hebron and Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Perhaps John may have seen from his prison the Jordan where he had baptized, and the wilderness where he had lived as a young man, and his first home in the hill country of Judaea. Far in the northwest were the hills of Galilee where the Lord was living and teaching, and doing His wonderful works of healing. John had disciples, faithful men who followed him and learned from him. They came and went from the prison and brought word of the Lord, and of the wonderful works that He was doing.
And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written,
Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
Which shall prepare thy way before thee.
I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children. Luke 7:18-33
There is only little more to read about John the Baptist, and it is a sad story.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.—Matthew XIV. 1-12.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
John >> Literal truth of the Word
John in prison >> The literal truth of the Commandments and of the Word rejected by the spirit of selfish indulgence which finds itself rebuked
Reed >> Truth that is literal and superficial, truth of the letter of the Word
John likened to a strong reed >> The letter of the Word is strong from the Divine spirit in it
Raiment >> Truth which clothes and expresses the living things of love
Soft raiment on those who are in kings’ courts >> Spiritual truth of the Word, such as angels have in heaven
John’s raiment of camel’s hair >> Plain literal Truth
John was a prophet >> The letter of the Word teaches and points out the way to heaven
Parable of the children’s plays >> Literal truth and repentance are severe, requiring self-sacrifice while heavenly life is joyful
Acceptance of John the Baptist must come before acceptance of the Lord >> Necessity for literal keeping of the Commandments and repentance before one can enter into the free and happy life of heaven
Daughter of Herodias >> Selfish indulgence
He promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask >> Worshiping self-indulgence
John was killed by Herod >> Selfish indulgence leads to utter hatred and denial of the Truth
DEATH OF JOHN.
NOW Herod says of Jesus, ” This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him,” which, in an important sense, was the truth.
A study of his genealogy I think will show that “that fox,” Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, stands for and was the lust of falsifying, deceiving, for the sake of evil pleasure ; that Herodias was and stands for love for living the evil according to such deceitful falsity ; and that her daughter Salome, the Peaceful, stands for entirely shameless, unrestrained, enjoyment in evil.
Herod was a fox, with no real regard for the Divine law except for the sake of appearances. As a Roman governor he must pretend to esteem it ; and on this account, as is said in another Gospel, “feared John, and kept him safe,” and “was perplexed” turning as a fox does; and though he “would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.” But the day of the glorification of his self-intelligence arrived, when, intoxicated by flattery, the delight of unrestrained enjoyment of evil carried him away, and he promised to share his kingdom with it. The price of such enjoyment was the total rejection of the Divine commands as of any restraining authority. There was some regret in yielding the appearance of regard for them for hypocrites give up their pretences reluctantly; it leaves the fox without a hole but evil and flattery carried the day, and John was beheaded.
His disciples burying the body, and going and telling Jesus, meant that the truth of the Divine law of life, thus rejected by the world, the Lord would raise up. For it is a necessity, in order that the human race may exist upon the earth, that somewhere the Divine Commandments should be known and kept as the laws of God.
JESUS REVIVES JOHN’S WORK.
“THEREFORE immediately Jesus departed into a desert place apart. It was into the wild land of Bashan that He went, in the borders of which at Beth-abara, or Bethania (Roman, Batanea) John had baptized, and Jesus had been baptized by him. And here in His Divine way He reoccupied the field from which John had perished.
John had come neither eating bread nor drinking wine. The Son of Man came eating and drinking. John purified this natural plane of rest and refreshment, from its self-indulgent excesses. The Lord also had in this same country subdued the swinish spirits. And now the Lord taught of the kingdom of heaven and the order of heaven, and fed the multitude with bread from heaven. He filled the natural plane of life with its orderly enjoyments, that it might give proper and full support to the spiritual life.
From the account in John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus perceived that the people, excited by the miracle, would come and take him by force to make Him a King. The Lord “constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side while He sent the multitudes away.” The wind was contrary, and the ship was tossed with waves, the disciples laboring vainly to bring it to land. The tumult of their own natural hopes was imaged thus ; and the Lord’s labor to quiet the tumult, by His praying alone on the mountain. With His own heart quiet, He came to them in the end of the night, walking upon the sea. The disciples’ faith and the limits of it were shown by Peter’s attempt to go to Him on the sea. He believed in Him as the Messiah Who was to come into the world ; but this was not enough to save him from the sea of worldliness. The power that lifted him out of this was “of a truth . . . the Son of God.”
They came to the land, and more wonderful powers of healing than ever went forth from Him.
But it was a Passover time, which is a time of judgment as well as of deliverance. And we learn from John that when the people heard that it was only the bread of heaven that He would give them, and not the riches of the world separate from heaven, “many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him ” (JOHN vi.). It was the beginning of the end in Galilee.
It is characteristic of Matthew’s account to present here the irreconcilable conflict between the traditions of the elders and the commandments of God. The “scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem ” were the representatives of the traditions as received from Jerusalem in Galilee. They blamed His disciples for their neglect of the formal washing of the hands, by which they themselves preserved their supreme holiness ; but they made the command to honor father and mother of none effect by their tradition both as regarded natural parents and the love of God and the truth of the church which are the spiritual Father and Mother. They made no account of the evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, which proceeded out of the heart; but condemned for eating with unwashen hands. They were a plant which the Heavenly Father had not planted, and which should be rooted up. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew’s Gospel.)