John the Baptist
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matthew 11:7 ESV).
— Jerry Wesol
Our Lord Jesus had been preaching and healing the sick, the blind, the lame and raising the dead back to life. During this time, he was visited by disciples of John the Baptist, when he had been imprisoned. They brought a question from John inquiring if Jesus was truly the long‑awaited Messiah, or should they expect another greater than he? (Matthew 11:3). The multitudes that had gathered and heard this inquiry may have wondered that the question showed a lack of faith. Jesus instructed John’s disciples to go and tell him what they had seen and heard. They were to say, “Happy is the man who never loses faith in me” (Matthew 11:6 Phillips). Certainly, this was meant to be an encouragement to John.
After John’s disciples left, Jesus turned his attention to the multitudes to set them straight concerning John’s importance and faithfulness regarding the preparation for the Jewish people to receive the Messiah. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’” (Matthew 11:8‑10 NASB, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, 4:5).
Jesus undoubtedly read their thoughts and asked why they went to see and hear John. Was it because they thought he was weak and blown about like grass in the wind? The Apostle Paul tells us to stand firm and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Was Jesus asking if they went to hear someone with such a weak commitment to their message that, like a blade of grass, he would change his mind with every whim or new theory of the day? Instead, Jesus was setting the framework to show John’s greatness as a servant of the Lord. John was full of faith and deeply committed to his ministering task.
Perhaps the circumstances of John’s imprisonment caused him to wonder when Jesus would establish his kingdom. The delay may have even raised the question about whether Jesus was the Messiah. But John wisely chose to appeal directly to Jesus. Jesus told John’s disciples to share with John the things they heard and saw in Jesus’ ministry. This evidence would ease the mind of the great prophet. This is what we, of the household of faith, should also do when perplexed by some question or doubt. Bro. Russell writes, “the proper course of all God’s servants when perplexed is the one followed by John, namely, to go to the Lord with the perplexity — not doubtingly, but inquiringly — and be set at rest by his Word. We may not be able to hear the Lord’s words with our own ears, but we can receive it second hand as did John — through the testimonies of the Apostles and prophets, by whose writings God has provided in advance replies to all proper queries” (Reprint 2621).
Jesus asked the people if they went out to the wilderness seeking one wearing luxurious garments. Those who heard John’s message, and believed it, would never expect to see a prophet of God wearing anything extravagant and rich. A true prophet was not influenced by such things. In fact, John himself wore rough and hairy garments. These were typical of the garments worn by a prophet, going back to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8, Matthew 3:4).
John came preaching repentance and was the one prophesied by Isaiah to make Israel’s hearts ready to receive Messiah (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1). Before John’s birth, it was determined that he would be one of strong character and would turn many hearts to the Lord. The angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias, John’s father, saying, “Thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:13‑17).
John’s lifestyle was simple, reserved, full of restraint and abstinence. He ate locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). He did not fancy himself an aristocrat or an aspiring king. Neither did he dwell in palaces but ended his life in the dungeon of one. His preaching was very powerful, perhaps in the same convincing manner as Elijah. Many heard the message, repented, and were baptized (Matthew 3:2‑6, Acts 19:4‑5). The people were humbled by John’s preaching, leading them to repentance and baptism.
Finally, Jesus told all of the observers present, including the unbelieving Pharisees, that John was not only a prophet, but was among the greatest of all the prophets. “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). John was the last of the prophets and the last of the “house of servants.” To him was committed the honorable privilege of announcing the Savior and he discharged his duty with dignity and zeal. None of the prophets was his superior (R4543:1, R4958:1, OV199:1).
Despite the effort put forth by John, he would still have no part in the spiritual reward offered in this Gospel Age. He was content to be a friend of the bridegroom and to announce his First Advent presence, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ASV). This should give us a greater appreciation of the opportunity that grace has provided to be part of the heavenly host, the bride of Christ, and of the grand Melchizedek priesthood.
Those who share in the high calling of this age should value its privileges and opportunities and seek to “make our calling and our election sure” (2 Peter 1:4‑11). If those who were called with an earthly calling to be members of a “house of servants” rendered their reasonable service with such faith and zeal, as did John the Baptist, how much more effort ought we to put forth who have been more highly favored? “What manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11). This high calling to joint‑heirship with our Lord in the kingdom is both a very special and a limited call. It will soon end and never be repeated. In view of these things, let us lay aside every weight, and run with patience the race set before us in the Gospel, looking unto Jesus, the author, until he shall have become the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1, R262).