Summary: Those who were expecting God’s deliverer, the Messiah, were confused when Jesus came on the scene offering a Kingdom, not of this world as they expected, but a Kingdom to Come of Peace and Trusting Service.
During the Advent Season we sang hymns and read lessons about the promised Christ, the Messiah who would deliver the Children of Israel from bondage.
Many First Century followers of St. John the Baptist as well as followers of our Lord were experiencing confusion as to the nature of the Kingdom of God. When we read the opening lines of the Gospel of John we are reading story of Jesus as it was told one to two generations after the death of Jesus. Judas Maccabaeus and some 50 other leaders of the Jews were thought to be Messiahs by their contemporaries, but proved not to be later. John the Baptist was asked the question, “Are you the Messiah.” It was not an illogical question.
People who seek Christ in our time have in mind the kind of Jesus they want to believe in, as well as the kind of heavenly Father and the type of Church they want to enjoy. First century Jews, subjugated by Rome had their own expectations regarding the way in which the Kingdom of God would be established. Many thought that the Messiah would be a radical political figure who would claim His kingdom through acts of power and
might. It was expected that he would chase out the Roman army of occupation and set up offices in Jerusalem from which place he would rule the world.
This was one of the reasons that St. John the Baptist was asked whether or not he was the Messiah.
Surely one so bold as to openly denounce the king about his scandalous
marriage and to rebuke the religious elite in his fiery sermons had to be
the Lion of the tribe of Judah! But St. John denied the title and pointed to
one Who was to come after Him, the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins
of the world.
We pray in the the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done.”
In that same spirit, John pointed to Jesus as the coming King and announced the Kingdom would be soon coming.
Jesus and St. John the Baptist were cousins. Would it have been unusual for these two spiritual leaders to discuss their mission in life, their part in God’s redemptive work?
The masses of Jews who came to Jerusalem for the feasts and who waited and prayed for the salvation that would come with Messiah’s reign would not know of Jesus and John and their discussions.
As they heard factions in Judaism say “Christ is here, or Christ is there” they would respond in hope and some with fiery zeal would attempt a revolution.
The Zealots could not understand Jesus’ apparent reluctance to confront the
political power of Rome and the puppet authorities they had set up in
Palestine. A peaceful Messiah was totally unexpected.
When John the Baptist was thrown into prison his followers were shocked.
Messiah wasn’t supposed to fail! What a contradictory sign from God. John whom they hoped would deliver Israel from the Romans languished in a prison, while the One he had pointed to had seemingly no interest in following the agenda. When would He stand up to them and fight for the establishment of His kingdom?
To clarify what was happening, John the Baptist, sent his disciples to be instructed by Jesus as to what it meant to be Messiah. Apparently, some of John’s disciples had not understood what he meant when he said that he would decrease, but the Messiah would
John in effect was releasing his Baptist followers to join the Christian soldiers.
The oppressed Jews no doubt liked John’s fiery speeches, his anti-establishment zeal matched their ideas better than those of Jesus Christ.
Jesus words, “love your enemies”; if anyone presses you into service to carry his armor for one mile, go with him twom was more than the nationalistic Jews could bear..
John no doubt knew that his days were numbered and so he sent his
disciples to Jesus Himself with a question. "Are you the Coming One, or do
we (note the plural) look for another?"
I remember hearing and preaching that the question, “Are you the Coming One” indicated that John the Baptist was having doubts about his cousin Jesus.
Although this is possible as none of the biblical characters are ever portrayed
as perfect it “ain’t necessarily so.” Given the relationship between the mothers of these two men, as well as the fact they were cousins, it is unlikely they did not understand their destiny and had discussed.
So, I believe it safe to assume that the fact that Jesus
did not fit the popular image of political zealot would not have effected
the Baptist negatively.but it would have effected his disciples.