Messianic Prophecies: John the Baptist

Of all the Messianic prophecies mentioned, the New Testament places an emphasis on two prophecies, one from Malachi (Mal 3:1-3) and the other from Isaiah (Isa 40:1-5), which foretell the forerunner to the Messiah. Although separate prophecies, they appear to be understood synonymously as one and appear more than once in all four gospels. Discover why it is so important to validate John the Baptist!

Before he was born, an angel announces to Zacharias that his son John will be a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:13-17). For Zacharias, a priest (Luke 1:8-9), this association to Elijah (Mal 3:1-3; 4:5-6) would have been mind boggling, because it was well known among the priesthood that Malachi was the last genuine prophet of the Old Testament tradition, and roughly 450 years had passed. The association was not the mere mention of Elijah, the angel quoted portions of Malachi's prophecy to indicate the divine purpose of John the Baptist.

"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says Yahweh of hosts. "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a smelter's fire and like fullers' soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to Yahweh offerings in righteousness. (Mal 3:1-3, LSB)

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yahweh. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land, devoting it to destruction." (Mal 4:5-6, LSB)

1. Read the following passages and underline the messianic prophecy. From what you know of John the Baptist, was the prophecy literally fulfilled? What does it mean "prepare the way before the Lord?" Discuss your answer.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will not drink any wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:13-17, LSB)

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go on before the Lord to make ready His ways,
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To direct our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:76-79, LSB)

Calling for repentance and forgiveness, John the Baptist testified of the coming Messiah and the kingdom of God (Matt 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-16; John 1:6). However, John the Baptist did not see himself as Elijah in the flesh; instead, he sees himself as a fulfillment of a prophecy of comfort from Isaiah.

Isaiah prophesized for about 40 years (approximately: 740-701 B.C.) in his attempts to turn Judah back to God. Isaiah's prophetic words of comfort were intended to encourage God's people to persevere in their faith with an expectation of the Lord's return.

"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
"Speak to the heart of Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has been fulfilled,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received from the hand of Yahweh
Double for all her sins."
A voice is calling,
"Prepare the way for Yahweh in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken." (Isa 40:1-5, LSB)

2. Read the following passages and underline the messianic prophecy. From what you know of John the Baptist, was the prophecy literally fulfilled? Whose path does John the Baptist make straight?" What does that mean?

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!'" (Matt 3:1-3, LSB)

And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.
Every ravine will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low;
The crooked will be straight,
And the rough roads smooth.
And all flesh will see the salvation of God.'" (Luke 3:3-6, LSB)

And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." Therefore, they said to him, "Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said." (John 1:19-23, LSB)

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