All of history has been preparing for the coming of the Messiah. After the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the children of God have been awaiting a savior. The prophets and kings of Israel foretold His coming. The chosen people of God prayed for Him in the hardships of Egypt, the oppression of the Greeks, and the captivity in Babylon. God’s Anointed One would come and free the Jews from their bonds of slavery.
While the priest Zechariah served in the Lord’s temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said:
“Do not be afraid Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him 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. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
Thus, the last of the prophets was foretold. Israel’s redemption was at hand.
Six months later, the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, in the town of Nazareth and announced she would be the Mother of God; that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and carry within her the Messiah. Gabriel told her also that her cousin, Elizabeth was having a baby. Upon hearing this, Mary set out to visit Elizabeth. Upon her arrival to Elizabeth’s house, John leaped in his mother’s womb when he sensed the presence of the Messiah within Mary. This was the first time John proclaimed Jesus as The Anointed One.
As he grew, John felt led to the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. He lived on wild honey and locusts for years, while preparing himself for the mission of preaching the coming of the Messiah. He baptized others and called for repentance of sins, preaching that One greater than him was coming. When Jesus arrived to be baptized by John, he immediately knew that He was the Messiah. Jesus insisted on being baptized by John. After Jesus was baptized, the Bible tells us “And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” Confirmation was given that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah.
John had met the Messiah in the Flesh, and fully realized that his mission was coming to an end, while Jesus would take over “He must increase, I must decrease.” The next moment John sees Jesus, he tells his own disciples “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” After this, John’s disciples followed Jesus. John’s mission of preparing the way of the Lord was done.
John would later lose his life defending God’s law. Jesus said of him “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The importance of John the Baptist cannot be overlooked. He was the last and greatest of the prophets who prepared the people of Israel to receive the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
His feast day is celebrated on June 24th.
For more information about Ein Karem, the birthplace of Saint John the Baptist, click here.