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Biblical People

Biblical People: John (1) the Baptist

The angel Gabriel says John won’t be just any kid, but a special one. People will celebrate his birth. John’s parents must set him apart for service to God. The Holy Spirit will empower him, and he’ll spark a nationwide revival. In the mold of Elijah, he’ll do amazing things and pave the way for the Savior the Old Testament prophets wrote about. God’s people have waited for this for centuries.

When John the Baptist begins his ministry, he proclaims, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” He preaches repentance and baptizes people who want to show that they’re sorry for the wrong things they’ve done. They desire to make a U-turn with their life.

Even though Jesus is perfect and doesn’t need to repent, he insists John baptize him. Afterward the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and a voice booms from heaven, proclaiming him as God’s son.

Though the main part of John’s work—preparing the way for Jesus—is over, John continues his ministry. One of the things he does proves fatal. He criticizes Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. Infuriated, Herod arrests John and throws him in jail. Despite this, Herod fears John, and is puzzled by what he says, so Herod protects him.

Yet Herod’s wife, Herodias, holds a grudge against John. She looks for an opportunity to silence him for good.

When Herod throws a lavish birthday party for himself, Herodias has her chance. Her daughter dances at the party and impresses everyone. Herod promises to give her anything she wants. At her mother’s prompting, she asks for the head of John the Baptist, served up on a silver tray.

Though he doesn’t want to do this, Herod won’t back down in front of his guests. He orders the execution of John. 

John faithfully does what God tells him to do. He prepares the way for Jesus. And the people in power kill him for it.

If serving God would result in our execution, would we still obey him?

[Discover more about John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1–17, Mark 6:14–29, and Luke 1:11–17, 57–66.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and numerous books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.