John the Baptist had a significant following before Jesus' ministry began, in fact Jesus was evidently one of his followers. Jesus was baptised by John himself according to three of the Gospel narratives (Mt 3:13-17, Mk 1:9, Jn 1:21-34 also Acts 1:22?) although Luke records Jesus' baptism as being after John is arrested by King Herod (Lk 3:19-22).
Evidently John's following must have been wide spread among the Jews even outside of Palestine and long after his death. The following story takes place in Asia Minor some ten to fifteen years after John's death, yet at first glance John's followers are mistaken by Paul for "disciples" of Jesus.
"While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior of the country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples to whom he put the question, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?' They answered, 'We have not so much as heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' 'Well, how were you baptized?' he persisted. They replied, 'With the baptism of John'. Paul then explained, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He used to tell the people about the one who would come after him in whom they were to believe - that is, Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. As Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came down on them and they began to speak in tongues and to utter prophecies. There were about twelve men in all." (Acts 19:1-7)
John the Baptist and Jesus
"When John the Baptizer made his appearance as a preacher in the desert of Judea, this was his theme: 'Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand.'... At that time Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins." Mt 3:1-2,5-6
Jesus' ministry was evidently triggered by John's arrest.
"After John's arrest, Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God 'This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!'" Mk 1:14-15
Note the similarity of Jesus' message to John's above.
"From that time on Jesus began to proclaim this theme: 'Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Mt 4:17
It is not clear if John the Baptist had really ever noticed Jesus among his followers since later he evidently needed to ask who he was.
"When all the people were baptized, and Jesus was at prayer after likewise being baptized, the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the visible form of a dove." Lk 3:21
"I [John] confess I did not recognize him [Jesus], though the very reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel" Jn 1:31
"Now John in prison heard about the works Christ was performing and sent a message by his disciples to ask him, 'Are you 'He who is to come' or do we look for another?' In reply, Jesus said to them: 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see; the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life and the poor have the good news preached to them. Blest is the man who finds no stumbling block in me'" (Mt 11:2-6 also Lk 7:18-23).
Diminution of John the Baptist
While the Gospels pay more respect to John the Baptist then any other person after Jesus, they also assert his inferiority to Jesus. The Gospel authors even place some of these statements in John's own mouth.
"I [John] should be baptized by you [Jesus], yet you come to me!" Mt 3:14b
"The next day, when John caught sight of Jesus coming toward him, he exclaimed: 'Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! It is he of whom I said: 'After me is to come a man who ranks ahead of me, because he was before me'" Jn 1:29-30
John the Baptizer as the end of the Old Testament
"I [Jesus] assure you there is no man born of woman greater than John. Yet the least born onto the kingdom of God is greater than he" Lk 7:28
John the Baptizer as the beginning of the New Testament
"From John the Baptizer's time until now the kingdom of God has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. All the prophets as well as the law spoke prophetically until John." Mt 11:12-13
John the Baptizer as Elijah the prophet returned
"[The Jews asked] 'Who are you?'... [John answered] 'I am not the Messiah.' They questioned him further, 'Who then? Elijah?' 'I am not Elijah'" Jn 1:19-21
"[Jesus said] If you are prepared to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is certain to come." Mt 11:14
The Return of Elijah as predicted in the Old Testament
"Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom." Mal 3:23-24a
The Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha as prototypes of John and Jesus The Elijah Cycle appears in 1 Kgs 17:1 through 2 Kgs 2:14 relating stories very similar to New Testament stories.
1. Elijah goes off into the desert and is ministered by Ravens who bring him food. 1 Kgs 1-6
2. Elijah is ministered to by a widow who shares the little she has, in return Elijah, through God, miraculously extends her feeble supplies indefinitely. 1 Kgs 17:7-16
3. When the widows son dies (stops breathing), Elijah takes him into an upper room and restores him to life. (through mouth to mouth artificial respiration?) 1 Kgs 17:17-24
4. Elijah has a contest with the prophets of Baal (a Canaanite deity) and wins and has them rounded up and their throats slit. 1 Kgs 18:1-40
5. Elijah then flees political retribution for his actions and on a cave on mount Horeb (Sinai) he has a mystical encounter with God and receives instructions. 1 Kgs 18:41-19:18
6. Elijah then recruits Elisha who leaves his parents to follow him. 1 Kgs 19:19-21
7. Later, Elijah delivers God's curse on King Ahab. Ahab repents before God and God postpones the curse until the reign of his son. 1 Kgs 21:17-29
8. Later, King Ahaziah of the Moabites (a people Israel had conquered) rebelled against Israel and returned to the Canaanite religion. When the king is struck down with illness he sends two different captains with fifty men each to fetch Elijah. On both occasions Elijah calls down fire from heaven and destroys them. A third captain and his company come to him on their knees and beg him to come with peaceably. Elijah does so and predicts the kings death. 2 Kgs 1:1-18
9. Elijah is about to be taken up directly into heaven (without dying!) in a whirlwind by God. He crosses the river Jordan by dividing it like the way Moses parted the Red Sea and walking across on dry land. He asks Elisha if there is anything he can ask God for him once he is in heaven. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's prophetic spirit. Elijah is taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot ("Swing Low Sweet Chariot") dropping his mantle behind him. Elisha picks up his mantle, parts the Jordan himself and continues Elijah's work. 2 Kgs 1-18 The Elisha Cycle is found in 2 Kings 2:1-13:21
10. Elisha purifies the drinking water for Jericho by using salt. 2 Kgs 2:19-22
11. While Elisha was on his way to Bethel, some small boys jeered at him "Go up, bald head", he cursed them and then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty two of them to pieces. 2 Kgs 2:23-24
12. Elisha also performs a miracle involving oil for a widow just as Elijah had only this time in stead of extending a meager supply, he creates an endless jug from which the widow is able to sell the oil and pay off all her debts. 2 Kgs 4:1-6
13. Elisha also restores a boy to life (by artificial respiration?) as Elijah had. 2 Kgs 4:8-37
14. Elisha alters some poisoned stew and makes it safe to eat. 2 Kgs 4:38-41
15. Elisha performs a Multiplication of the Loaves miracle, in which twenty barley loaves are spread before a hundred men "They shall eat and there shall be some left over" and there was. 2 Kgs 4:42-44
16. Elisha cures Naaman the army commander of the king of Aram of leprosy and transfers it to his servant after he tried to profit by it. 2 Kgs 5:1-27
17. Elisha performs a miracle in which a lost axehead in the Jordan "floats" up to the surface and is retrieved. 2 Kgs 6:1-7
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