12 – John Begins His Ministry
Where: Bethany, Perea
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John was being raised to be a priest, but as the years passed and John’s aging parents died, he chose to follow the guiding of God’s Spirit. Dissatisfied with the established religious ideology and practices, John finally left the Jerusalem area and journeyed down into the Jordan River Valley. John came to learn from a Jewish sect called the Essenes, who were found around the Dead Sea, from Qumran in the north, down the west side of the sea, to En-gedi.
The Essenes believed that they must separate themselves from the corrupt society around them and especially the religious leadership in Jerusalem. Then, in the wilderness, they were to “prepare a way” for God. The area they chose, on the western shore of the Dead Sea, was some of the harshest “wilderness” that they could find. There they could keep themselves pure for the coming of the Messiah, and prepare for the great battle that was to be fought between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness”.
Under the guidance of the Spirit, John came to believe that it was NOT a time to “be separated” from the “world”. Instead, it was a time to go into the “world” and warn them of the coming battle. More and more often, John would journey north up the Jordan River Valley, even as far as the Sea of Galilee, warning the people of the coming war. John and others, who believed as he did, would intercept travelers to warn them of the coming of God’s judgment.
On the “Plains of Moab” John found the area around a village called Bethany to be a good place to live. It was in the region of Perea (on the east side of the Jordan River) and just seven miles north of the Dead Sea. It was a short walk to the ford of the Jordan River, where there was plenty of water and there were plenty of people passing by.
Water was important to John because he believed in the need for baptism. The Jews used baptism for foreign converts as a sign of self-dedication. The Essenes used baptism for physical and ritual purification. John seemed to feel that there was more. It was a drowning of the old life, and the birth of a new life dedicated to leading a moral life. To be baptized helped to prepare you for the coming battle. A person must recognize their sin, be sorry, be immersed in water, and to change their “wrong” actions.
John and his disciples had been active for some time now and had become well known in this area. The rule of Lysanias, Antipas and Philip, and the service of Pilate, Annas , and Caiaphas narrows this time of John’s ministry to being between 26 AD to 34 AD. The 15th year of Tiberias Caesar would lead to this date for John as being any time after October 1, 27 AD [3787/780]. John would be 32 years old in October of 27 AD and had now separated himself from the Essenes and had established his home near Bethany, Perea [today].
It was believed that Elijah would return before the “Day of the Lord”. John wanted Elijah to return, so he imitated Elijah as though he were a disciple of Elijah. John lived near the place that the chariots of God had come to take Elijah into heaven. John baptized where Elijah had parted the Jordan River. John even dressed in simple, rough clothes and ate whatever God made available to him, even insects, just as Elijah had done. John was a dedicated disciple of Elijah.
But the Pharisees (those who resisted any foreign influences), and the Sadducees (the rich “purists” that made up the Priestly families), and the Levites (that performed the Temple rituals), sent representatives to observe John. They condemned John’s teaching because they realized that if John spoke the truth, then all people were equal in the sight of God (and the religious leaders would no longer be “special”), and the temple would no longer be necessary.
Yet many of the people, after they were baptized, wanted to know how they should act in relation to the Torah (the Law), and what guiding principle they should use for their lives. John taught that they should help others and not take advantage of each other.
When asked if he were the Messiah, the one sent by God to free the Jews and establish the Kingdom of David over the Earth, he said that he was NOT. When asked if he were either Elijah who was predicted to return or the prophet predicted by Moses that was to return, he again said that he was NOT either of them. He was simply a voice in the wilderness, crying out that the coming Messiah was already living in Israel but that no one recognized it yet.
But John did not understand, at this time, that his spirit WAS the Spirit of Elijah that had come to prophecy doom to unbelievers, and salvation to believers. The ‘coming one’ would “baptize” with the Holy Spirit, to purify the believer and burn the nonbeliever with unquenchable fire. There would be a choice offered, a decision to be made, and consequences to be faced. If you choose to follow God then this would be GOOD NEWS.
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