John the Baptist: Preaching repentance

TEXT: Mark 1-8

John the Baptist is perhaps one of the most colorful characters in the New Testament. If you ever met him, you certainly would remember him if you saw him again- even if you were far away from him.

And there's one thing for sure - he got everyone's attention when he came to town.


His wardrobe: Camel's hair garments and a leather belt [called a "girdle" in those days] around his waist. And his diet consisted locusts and wild honey, which likely was pretty much all that might have been on the menu in the deserts he came from.

But are the "locusts" actually beans from the Locust tree and the "honey" made from crushed dates? (Read This). Or were the locusts really bugs that were allowed to be eaten under the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Leviticus 11:22)? Even if the locusts John ate were bugs, then, he would have remained faithful to the Law and also renounced worldly pleasures.


John the Baptist wasn't an anonymous man. He had a famous father and mother (famous in the New Testament Scriptures): Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were priestly figures.

Remember when Mary - Jesus' mother - went for a visit with her cousin, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's husband, Zechariaah, after Mary learned she was pregnant? (REFERENCE: Luke 1:39-45)

Elizabeth was also pregnant, you'll recall, and both she and Zecharaiah lived in the hill country (Luke 1:39) . The scripture records that, as Mary spoke, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped for joy (Luke 1:41).

That baby in Mary's womb was John. Yes, that John - John the Baptist. And his parents - Elizabeth and Zechariah were a priestly family, and so John was raised in the hill country where, according to Luke 1:60, he "waxed strong in spirit and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel."

The final confirmation as to John's identity is found in Luke 3:2: "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness."

When the New Testament speaks of John the Baptist, one gets a sense of his call from God as having an Old Testament flavor, with terms like: "waxed strong in spirit;" and "the word of God came unto John." Indeed, John could be the one who, in preparing the way for the Lord, as was his charge, paved the way for a bridge between the "Genesis to Malachi" testament to the "Matthew to Revelation" testament.

Also note the change of the voice when the Gospels begin speaking the account of Jesus - one gets the sense of a whole new way of putting things, beginning with Jesus being baptized by John. A whole new vocabulary appears in the New Testament, with termss like: "rivers of living water"; "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "my sheep know my voice."

God, who spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament, is now speaking directly (in person) through His  Son in a New Testament, and the vocabulary is changing because man needs to know what words and concepts will facilitate the interaction with, and understanding of, the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God.


So, John was not uncivilized, nor was he poor. His focus was on nurturing his spirit to the point that he would be ready for the task before him - a voice crying in the wilderness and getting mankind ready for the  entrance of Jesus (SEE ALSO Zechariah's Holy Spirit-inspired prophecy about John in Luke 1:67-79).

And, like Moses, John's character in God was developed in a desert. It has been important, in our brief look at John the Baptist in the Book of Luke, to color in John's character so that his ministry will have proper context. John, like Moses, wasn't just a "nobody" who walked out of a desert.

Both were on missions from God, and both had lives before their desert experiences. Not only that - but both went in their desert one way, and came out another - and mighty in God.

We see John's Holy Ghost directives, according to the prophecy spoken by Zechariah:

  • (Luke 1:76): "And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
  • (Luke 1:77): "to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
  • (Luke 1:78): "through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring [ dawn or rising of the sun ] from on high hath visited us,
  • (Luke 1:79): "to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."


John preached that all men should repent and turn from their wicked ways. As a sign of that repentance, sinners would confess those sins and - as a witness to "all the world" - the repentant sinners would then be baptized by John in the Jordan river. (REFERENCE: Mark 1:4-5).

We still have John's baptism with us today, and it still symbolizes our turning our backs on sin and making a public exhibition (confession) of our repentance for all the world to see.

Water has always been a type of the Holy Spirit. John's water baptism points to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. John says, In Luke 1:8, "I indeed have baptized you with water: but he [ Jesus ] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."


John the Baptist was, in point of fact, a fiery preacher who didn't take any gruff and demanded repentance from those who would follow God. You are invited to read more about him here:

  • Matthew 3:1-16
  • Luke 1:36-80 and Luke 3:1-22
  • John 1:19-34

In the passages above, you will see John the Baptist take on the Pharisees and Sadducees - calling them a "generation of vipers" and using words in his sermons such as, "wrath", "fire"; "repent"; "the axe is laid unto the root of the trees" and more.

There were even occasions where John the Baptist sounded a bit like Jesus, as in Luke 3:10-15.

In sum, John the Baptist was as harsh on sin as the deserts, from which he emerged, were to travelers and life there.