Imagine then what it must have been like to be an ancient Israelite who knew of Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 4:5-6) but also knowing that Malachi’s ministry had taken place 400 years earlier. Over the course of those four centuries your land has been governed by a succession of appointed leaders from super powers such as Greece and Persia. Now you are under the authority of the Romans who, in order to keep the empire peaceful, rule with an iron fist. Generation after generation watches the years go by and remembers the promise, but no prophet appears. Do you think you would lose hope? It appears that some had, but many had not, for when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, he immediately draws a crowd and the people recognize him as a prophet.
The essence of the role of a Biblical prophet is not to predict the future like prophets are expected to do in today’s culture, but in the Bible a prophet’s main role was to speak forth the Word of God. John’s message was in line with the great prophets of the Scriptures. The prophet served as the contemporary voice of God to his generation. As the voice of God, the prophet pointed out religious and social sins and called for repentance.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John is not only a poetic masterpiece (Jn. 1:1-5); it is also a dissertation on the individual roles of Jesus and John the Baptist (Jn. 1:6-13, 19-23). It is interesting to note that all four Gospels make mention of John the Baptist which emphasizes the connection the writers saw between Malachi’s prophecy and John the Baptist’s ministry. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is called a witness to the Light, but not the True Light. That role belongs to Jesus and His title as the True Light not only signifies His authenticity, it underscores His eternal nature as well (v.9).
John the Baptist’s message is a continuation of the great prophets before him. Like them, he was called to his ministry by God (Is. 1:1-2; Jer. 1:1; Lk. 3:2; Jn. 1:6). Like some of them, he preached in the Judean wilderness (Mt. 3:5; Mk. 1:5; Lk. 3:3). He had the same wardrobe and the same diet (2 Ki. 1:8; Zech. 13:4; Mt. 3:4; Mk. 1:6) and resembled Elijah in appearance. Like his predecessors he warned his audience that judgment was on its way. It was time to repent and turn back to God (1 Ki. 18:21; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3). The people also responded to John the Baptist as they had to Elijah (1 Ki. 18:38; Lk. 3:10). However there was confusion as to his actual identity (Lk. 3:15). Was he the forerunner of Malachi or the Messiah Himself? Inquiring minds wanted to know. John was more than ready to tell them the answer (Jn. 1:19-34).
It is with these questions in mind that John (the disciple) writes in his Gospel that although John the Baptist was sent by God, he was only sent to “bear witness of the light” (Jn. 1:7-8). There is an amazing result when we listen to the witness of John the Baptist and accept that Jesus is the True Light. When we are enlightened by the True Light, its everlasting nature brings us into a familial relationship with God the Father. We are now His children, born not of a physical birth but a spiritual one and His light becomes a part of us (Jn. 1:12-13).
One chilly winter night several years ago my friend Elaine and I went driving around the city of Batavia New York in search of Christmas lights for me to photograph. We didn’t have to look too hard! One street in particular was awash in Christmas lights and those blow-up holiday decorations which are lit up from the inside. We parked and I got out for a little while so that I could take pictures without the vibration of the car. House after house was decorated in lights that seemed to cover every square inch of available space. But one house stood out from the rest; not because of its excessive holiday spirit but because of its simplicity. The house was basically dark with small candles in each window, but in the yard there was one simple crèche scene. While holiday lights adorned the other houses, the True Light was celebrated here. It was the brightest spot on the street for me. This year as you are enjoying the lights of the holiday season and anticipating the celebration of Christmas Day, let the lights remind you of the True Light “which coming into the world enlightens every man (Jn. 1:9)”.
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre