Questions and observations for discussion:
1. What do we know of John the Baptist’s background?
In Luke 1:11-38 we find the birth stories John and Jesus intertwined by revelations given by Gabriel. One is born in the priestly line of Levi, the other is born in the royal line of David. A comparison of their relations and destinies is intriguing. John was born in the priestly line of Levi, but became a prophet who died a martyr’s death. Jesus was born in the kingly line of Judah, but ultimately became a priest who ministered on the basis of his sacrificial death as the atonement for the sins of the world.. In fact, many Jews, especially the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls, thought that there would be two messiahs, one priestly and the other kingly! This must have increased the general Jewish interest in John even more than it would have otherwise (See Luke 3:15). However, with regard to the Jewish leaders, neither John nor Jesus followed their prescribed game plan and both were rejected by them. See Luke 7:32-34.
2. What was John the Baptist’s connection with Elijah?
Compare 2 Kings 1:8 and Matthew 3:4. Was John a vegetarian or did he really eat locusts? Compare Lev 11:22 and Matthew 3:4. In the Greek of Matthew and the Greek of Leviticus in the Septuagint the word cannot be taken in any other way than “locust,” a species of grasshopper. It was poor people’s food back than and still is today in the Middle East!
See Mal 4:5-6: “Behold, I will send you Eli”jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
It seems that besides Jesus referring to him as Elijah who had returned in some way in the person of John, John saw himself in this role in the way he introduced Jesus as the inauguration of judgment at this great and terrible day. See Mat 3:11-12.
3. Why did John misunderstand Jesus messiahship? Why did Jesus refer to the least person in the Kingdom of God as greater than John? See Matthew 11:2, 11.
4. What were some of the great themes and focuses of John’s preaching? See Matthew 3:1-12,14:1-5; Luke 3:10-14.
5. What features of John’s character, life-style, and message are exemplary for both the church as a whole and for us as individuals?