Summary: We, like John are called to prepare the way of the LORD, for His return.
Prepare Ye the Way of the LORD.
About thirty years had passed since the flurry of excitement over the birth of John the Baptist and the strange reports from the shepherds of Bethlehem about another birth. The world soon forgets and returns to its normal drudge. Many of those who had witnessed those times were dead. Israel had returned to its gloomy sleep. But things were about to change.
No one really knows much about the early life of John the Baptist until this point. Speculation suggests that his parents died, and he was adopted by the people of the Dead Sea community at Qumran. There may be some merit to this, but who really knows. But John, like those of Qumran was a man of the desert. Whoever raised him, had to make sure that John kept the strict vows of a Nazarite. He could not drink wine or strong drink. Neither could he cut his hair. In thirty years, it would have become quite long. He lived in the wilderness area of Judea clothed in animal skins like Elijah the prophet, and ate wild honey and honeycomb, or perhaps locusts. So the appearance of this John must have been shockingly different than the average church member of his day.
I can remember as a child back in the late 1960’s going to the Methodist Church with my grandmother. This was at the rise of the Hippie movement, and the pastor preached on this passage and called John the Baptist the first Hippie. That was more than my Victorian grandmother could stand, but over time, I came to understand that John the Baptist would have created a similar impression on the polite society of his day.
But it was he of strange appearance who had been called by God for a very special mission and not some respectable religious person like Nicodemus the Pharisee. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. And when the time came, he appeared suddenly on the scene. It would be a wake-up call of the first magnitude, nothing short of a spiritual earthquake.
John was a few months older than Jesus, the one who John was to announce the coming of. Luke, who was a careful historian states that Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judaea, which would put the date at 26 AD or later. He also dates it in the 15th year of Tiberius. As Augustus died in 14 AD, then the 14th year would have been around AD 28. But as Tiberius may have been co-regent with Augustus before the death of Caesar Augustus, it could have been earlier, but not later than AD 28. With the other people mentioned by Luke, it seems that AD 28 is the best guess for the year of John’s appearance. This would make John the Baptist in his early to mid-thirties. The mention that Jesus was about thirty years old when He came on the scene would allow for this age as it does not say thirty but “about thirty.” Luke gives exact dates here for John in Roman reckoning but also uses “about” when the exact age can’t be determined. We know from Matthew that Jesus, and therefore, John the Baptist was born before the death of Herod the Great in 4BC, so one can do the math here.
Far more important than this, or course, is the reason why John the Baptist came. Hundreds of years ago, the prophet Isaiah had made a prophecy by the Holy Spirit about this day. Some think Isaiah was writing about the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity as Cyrus is mentioned later. Other critics think that a later person made this “prophecy” after the fact, and this was added to Isaiah. These do not think that not even God knows, if there is a god at all, or can prophesy the future. But since God is sovereign over history and knows the end from the beginning, there is absolutely no reason that Isaiah could not have made this prophecy in about 750 BC. It became obvious that this return from Babylonian captivity was any kind of great restoration of Israel. Most of the Israelites stayed in Babylon, and the Book of Esther shows that the Jews were scattered all over Persia. In Jesus’ day, they were also scattered throughout the entire Roman Empire. Other than for a short period of independence under the Maccabees, they were the political subjects of a foreign power, either Persia, Greece, or Rome. And they were still in subjection when John the Baptist came. God obviously had something else in mind concerning this prophecy in Isaiah.
The Dead Sea community understood that there was something “other” about this prophecy. They took the words “in the wilderness” as the place where they were to build a new way. They separated from the corrupt High Priesthood in which the Hasmoneans had made the Judaean leader the high Priest rather than the sons of Aaron. And it was even worse when the Romans appointed the High Priest which resulted in Annas and Caiaphas.