The ministry of John the Baptist

Luke 3:1 And in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Yehuḏah (Judaea), and Herodes (Herod) district ruler of Galil (Galilee), and his brother Philip district ruler of Yetur (Ituraea – a region of Israel) and the country of Trachonitis, and Lusanias district ruler of Aḇilene, 2 Ḥanan  (Annas) and Qayapha (Caiaphas) being high priests, the word of Elohim came to Yoḥanan (John) the son of Zeḵaryah (Zacharias) in the wilderness.  3 And he went into all the neighbourhood of the Yardĕn (Jordan), proclaiming an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,  4 as it has been written in the book of the words of Yeshayahu (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of Yahuah make His paths straight.

Luke tells us that John's ministry began in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, during the time when Herod Antipas and his brother Phillip were tetrarchs while Annas and Caiaphas were High Priests..

  • Antipas admired Greek culture and adopted Greek manners, but was also relatively observant of Jewish laws and customs. He reigned until 39 AD, when he was exiled to Gaul having been suspected of storing arms).

  • Phillip (reigned until 34 AD)

 

Given available historical records, we can determine accurately that Tiberius Caesar began his reign in either 12 AD or 14 AD. This would put his fifteenth year at 27 AD or 29 AD. There is a debate of up to 2 years on the actual years, I think that on balance, and taking other factors into account, that the correct date is 27 AD.

We can also determine that Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 AD to 36 AD. Herod Antipas and Phillip were sons of Herod the Great (who was in power at Yahusha’s birth) and began reigning as Tetrarchs over portions of their father's kingdom the year of his death in 2 BC (4 BC was the commonly accepted date, however 2 BC is now the most likely date). Annas was officially High Priest from 6 AD to AD 15 AD when Roman authorities removed him from office. His son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas, served as High Priest from 18 AD to 36 AD.

However, Annas continued to exert his authority in Judaea and through his son-in-law, the High Priest. Further, Annas, in addition to Caiaphas, had five biological sons who would at one point or another hold the office in his stead. Luke, therefore, is justified in listing the Priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas somewhat collectively.

So we can determine that the likely period for John the Baptists ministry was between 27 AD and 29 AD, but we cannot determine the period within years. John's public ministry would probably have lasted only months, certainly less than a year, before Herod arrested and killed him. But during that brief time, John prepared the way for the Messiah, just as he was prophesied to do in Isaiah and Malachi.

Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Yahuah; make straight in the desert a highway for our Aluah.

Malachi 3:1 “See, I am sending My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Master you are seeking comes to His Hĕḵal (temple), even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. See, He is coming,” said Yahuah of hosts.

The records of the birth of John make his role very clear: he was to prepare a people for the the Messiahs coming. He was born into a Israeli phone, grounded in the Scriptures.

The parents of John recognised from the outset the relative greatness of the Messiah over John. And because Mary was related to Elizabeth, the Messiah not only had a tie with the house of David through Joseph, but also with the line of Aaron through both of Johns parents.

What distinguishes John was that he knew his role was to prepare the way for the first coming of the Messiah, it was something that he very ably did. John dressed in a cloak of camel’s hair and for food he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed to all who would hear of the need for repentance and baptism into a new and reborn life. People flocked to hear him which annoyed the priests. His food and clothing indicated his rejection of official Israel. John sought to reform people by his preaching. Johns message was clearly preparing the way for the Messiah, his message was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and repeated in Matthew 3:1

Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Yahuah; make straight in the desert a highway for our Aluah.

Matthew 3:1 And in those days Yoḥanan the Immerser came proclaiming in the wilderness of Judah,  2 and saying, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens has come near!”  3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of Yahuah make His paths straight.’
 

John and his followers welcomed the Messiah and readily gave way to his leadership. The Messiah held the ministry of John to be of the highest importance, and John held the coming of the Messiah with the highest importance.

 

John 1:25 and they asked him, saying, “Why then do you immerse if you are not the Messiah, nor Ěliyahu, nor the Prophet?”  26 Yoḥanan answered them, saying, “I immerse in water, but in your midst stands One whom you do not know,  27 the One coming after me, who has become before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loosen.”

John baptised the Messiah in about 27 to 28 AD when the Messiah first began his public ministry. But Johns message was not readily accepted by everyone. He criticised Herod Antipas, and this ultimately led to his death. By the time of his death, John had well prepared the way for the Messiah.

According to Matthew,

Matthew14: 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had said to him, “It is not right for you to have her.”  5 And wishing to kill him, he feared the crowd, because they held him as a prophet. 6 But as Herodes’ birthday was being held, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herodes,  7 so he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 And she, being urged on by her mother, said, “Give me here the head of John the Immerser on a dish.” 9 And the sovereign was sad, but because of the oaths and the guests he commanded it to be given,  10 and sent and beheaded John in prison.

Herod Antipas, had imprisoned John the Baptist because he publicly reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabataea) and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip. On Herod Antipas's birthday, Herodias' daughter (whom Josephus identifies as Salome) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When Salome asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed in the prison.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death."

When the Messiah heard of Johns death, he withdrew by himself. Matthew goes on to record

Matthew 14:13 Now when Yahusha heard it, He withdrew from there by boat to a deserted place, by Himself. And when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when Yahusha came out, He saw a large crowd and was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.