Hijo de Zacarías y Elisabet; fue el precursor de Jesús. Tanto el padre como la madre de Juan pertenecían a la casa sacerdotal de Aarón. Zacarías era un sacerdote de la división de Abías. (Lu 1:5, 6.)
En el año 3 a. E.C., durante el tiempo de servicio asignado a la división de Abías, le llegó el turno a Zacarías de disfrutar del excepcional privilegio de ofrecer incienso en el santuario. Mientras estaba de pie ante el altar de incienso, se le apareció el ángel Gabriel con el anuncio de que tendría un hijo que se habría de llamar Juan. Este hijo sería nazareo toda su vida, como Sansón. Llegaría a ser grande a los ojos de Jehová e iría delante de Él “para alistar para Jehová un pueblo preparado”. El nacimiento de Juan se debería a un milagro de Dios, ya que Zacarías y Elisabet eran de edad avanzada. (Lu 1:7-17.)
Mientras Elisabet estaba en su sexto mes de embarazo, recibió la visita de su parienta (Lucas 1:36) que Elisabet (Isabel) era prima de María. No obstante, se entiende que esta palabra griega es una forma peculiar del término syg·gue·nes, que muchas versiones traducen por “pariente”. María, que para entonces se hallaba encinta por obra del espíritu santo. Tan pronto como Elisabet oyó el saludo de su parienta, el niño que estaba en su matriz saltó, y ella, llena de espíritu santo, reconoció al niño que nacería de María como su “Señor”. (Lu 1:26, 36, 39-45.)
Cuando nació el hijo de Elisabet, los vecinos y parientes querían llamarlo por el nombre de su padre, pero ella dijo: “¡No, por cierto!, sino que será llamado Juan”. Luego le preguntaron a su padre cómo quería que se llamase el niño. Como había dicho el ángel, Zacarías no había podido hablar desde que Gabriel le hizo el anuncio, de modo que escribió en una tablilla: “Juan es su nombre”. A continuación la boca de Zacarías se abrió y empezó a hablar. Al ver esto, todos reconocieron que la mano de Jehová estaba con el niño. (Lu 1:18-20, 57-66.)
Principio de su ministerio.
Juan pasó los primeros años de su vida en la serranía de Judea, donde vivían sus padres. “Siguió creciendo y haciéndose fuerte en espíritu, y continuó en los desiertos áridos hasta el día de mostrarse abiertamente a Israel.” (Lu 1:39, 80.) Según Lucas, Juan inició su ministerio en el año decimoquinto del reinado de Tiberio César. Para entonces, tendría unos treinta años de edad. Aunque no hay registro de que participase en el servicio sacerdotal en el templo, esa era la edad en la que los sacerdotes emprendían de lleno sus deberes. (Nú 4:2, 3.) Augusto murió el 17 de agosto del año 14 E.C., y el senado romano nombró emperador a Tiberio el 15 de septiembre del mismo año. Por lo tanto, su decimoquinto año abarcaría desde finales del año 28 E.C. hasta agosto o septiembre del año 29 E.C. Dado que Jesús se presentó para bautizarse en el otoño (también hacia los treinta años de edad), Juan, que era seis meses mayor, debió comenzar su ministerio en la primavera de 29 E.C. (Lu 3:1-3, 23.)
Juan dio comienzo a su predicación en el desierto de Judea diciendo: “Arrepiéntanse, porque el reino de los cielos se ha acercado”. (Mt 3:1, 2.) Llevaba ropa de pelo de camello y un cinturón de cuero alrededor de sus lomos, una vestidura semejante a la del profeta Elías. El alimento de Juan consistía en langostas (saltamontes) y miel silvestre. (2Re 1:8; Mt 3:4; Mr 1:6.) Era un maestro, de modo que sus discípulos le llamaban “Rabí”. (Jn 3:26.)
Propósito de su obra.
Juan predicó el bautismo para perdón de pecados para aquellos que se arrepintiesen, y limitó su bautismo a los judíos y prosélitos de la religión judía. (Mr 1:1-5; Hch 13:24.) El que se enviase a Juan fue muestra de la bondad de Dios para con los judíos. Ellos estaban en una relación de pacto con Jehová, pero eran culpables de pecados cometidos contra el pacto de la Ley. Juan les mostró que habían roto el pacto, e instó a los de corazón honrado a que se arrepintieran. Su bautismo en agua simbolizaba este arrepentimiento y fue el primer paso para que reconocieran al Mesías. (Hch 19:4.) A Juan acudieron toda clase de personas para ser bautizadas, entre ellas prostitutas y recaudadores de impuestos (Mt 21:32), así como fariseos y saduceos, contra quienes Juan dirigió un mensaje severísimo del juicio que se avecinaba. No los perdonó, sino que les llamó “prole de víboras” y les mostró que su confianza en que eran descendientes de Abrahán no tenía ningún valor. (Mt 3:7-12.)
Juan enseñaba a los que acudían a él a que compartieran sus bienes, a no cometer extorsión, a estar satisfechos con lo que tenían y a no hostigar a nadie. (Lu 3:10-14.) También enseñó a sus seguidores bautizados a orar a Dios. (Lu 11:1.) En aquel tiempo “el pueblo [estaba] en expectación, y todos [razonaban] en sus corazones acerca de Juan: ‘¿Acaso será él el Cristo?’”. Juan negó serlo, y declaró que el que llegaría después de él sería mucho mayor. (Lu 3:15-17.) Cuando los sacerdotes y los levitas hablaron con él en Betania, al otro lado del Jordán, y le preguntaron si era Elías o “El Profeta”, él confesó que no lo era. (Jn 1:19-28.)
Aunque Juan no hizo milagros como Elías (Jn 10:40-42), vino con el espíritu y poder de aquel profeta. Llevó a cabo una obra poderosa al “volver los corazones de padres a hijos, y los desobedientes a la sabiduría práctica de los justos”. Cumplió el propósito para el que se le había enviado: “Alistar para Jehová un pueblo preparado”. En efecto, a ‘muchos de los hijos de Israel los volvió a Jehová su Dios’. (Lu 1:16, 17.)
Juan presenta al “Cordero de Dios”.
En el otoño de 29 E.C., Jesús fue a Juan para ser bautizado. Al principio, Juan objetó, consciente de que era pecador y de la justicia de Jesús, pero este insistió. Dios le había prometido a Juan una señal que le permitiese identificar al Hijo de Dios. (Mt 3:13; Mr 1:9; Lu 3:21; Jn 1:33.) Cuando Jesús fue bautizado, se cumplió la señal: Juan vio el espíritu de Dios descender sobre Jesús y oyó la propia voz de Dios reconocerle como su Hijo. Por lo visto, nadie más estuvo presente en aquel acto. (Mt 3:16, 17; Mr 1:9-11; Jn 1:32-34; Jn 5:31, 37.)
Jesús estuvo en el desierto durante unos cuarenta días después de su bautismo. A su regreso, Juan señaló a Jesús ante sus discípulos como “el Cordero de Dios que quita el pecado del mundo”. (Jn 1:29.) Al día siguiente, Andrés y otro discípulo, probablemente Juan el hijo de Zebedeo, fueron presentados al Hijo de Dios. (Jn 1:35-40.) De ese modo, Juan el Bautista, como “portero” fiel del “aprisco” israelita, empezó a ceder sus discípulos al “pastor excelente”. (Jn 10:1-3, 11.)
Mientras los discípulos de Jesús bautizaban en el país de Judea, Juan bautizaba en Enón, cerca de Salim. (Jn 3:22-24.) Por entonces le informaron que Jesús estaba haciendo muchos discípulos, pero Juan no tuvo celos, sino que respondió: “Este gozo mío se ha hecho pleno. Aquel tiene que seguir aumentando, pero yo tengo que seguir menguando”. (Jn 3:26-30.)
Últimos días de su ministerio.
Esta declaración de Juan quedaría confirmada. Después de un año o más de ministerio activo, fue apartado a la fuerza de su campo de actividad. Herodes Antipas lo encarceló porque Juan había censurado su matrimonio adúltero con Herodías, la mujer que había arrebatado a su hermano Filipo. Antipas, que era un judío prosélito nominal y estaba obligado a cumplir la Ley, temía a Juan, pues sabía que era un varón justo. (Mr 6:17-20; Lu 3:19, 20.)
Mientras se hallaba en prisión, Juan oyó de las obras poderosas de Jesús y que hasta había resucitado al hijo de una viuda en Naín. Deseando que Jesús mismo se lo confirmase, envió a dos de sus discípulos para que le preguntaran: “¿Eres tú Aquel Que Viene, o hemos de esperar a uno diferente?”. Jesús no contestó directamente, sino que, ante los discípulos de Juan, sanó a muchas personas, e incluso expulsó demonios. Luego les dijo que le informasen que los ciegos, los sordos y los cojos eran sanados, y que las buenas nuevas se estaban predicando. Así que el testimonio de las obras de Jesús, no simples palabras, confortó a Juan y le dio la seguridad de que Jesús era verdaderamente el Mesías (Cristo). (Mt 11:2-6; Lu 7:18-23.) Después de que se marcharon los mensajeros de Juan, Jesús reveló a las muchedumbres que Juan era más que un profeta; de hecho, era aquel de quien había escrito Malaquías, el profeta de Jehová. También aplicó a Juan la profecía de Isaías 40:3, como previamente había hecho Zacarías, el padre de Juan. (Mal 3:1; Mt 11:7-10; Lu 1:67, 76; Lu 7:24-27.)
Jesucristo también explicó a sus discípulos que la venida de Juan cumplía la profecía de Malaquías 4:5, 6 en la que se anunciaba que Dios enviaría a Elías el profeta antes de la venida del día de Jehová, grande e inspirador de temor. Sin embargo, a pesar de la importancia que tuvo Juan (“Entre los nacidos de mujer no ha sido levantado uno mayor que Juan el Bautista”), no llegaría a formar parte de la clase de la “novia” que participaría con Cristo en su Reino celestial (Rev 21:9-11; Rev 22:3-5), pues Jesús dijo: “El que sea de los menores en el reino de los cielos es mayor que él”. (Mt 11:11-15; Mt 17:10-13; Lu 7:28-30.) Jesús también implícitamente defendió a Juan contra la acusación de que tenía demonio. (Mt 11:16-19; Lu 7:31-35.)
Algún tiempo después, Herodías desató su furia contra Juan. Durante la celebración del cumpleaños de Herodes, la hija de Herodías deleitó a Herodes con su danza, de tal modo que juró darle cualquier cosa que pidiese. Influida por su madre, pidió la cabeza de Juan. Herodes, obligado por su juramento y debido a los que estaban presentes, accedió a su petición. Juan fue decapitado en prisión y su cabeza le fue entregada a la muchacha en una bandeja, que llevó a su madre. Más tarde, los discípulos de Juan se llevaron su cuerpo y lo enterraron, e informaron del asunto a Jesús. (Mt 14:1-12; Mr 6:21-29.)
Tras la muerte de Juan, Herodes oyó del ministerio de Jesús: su predicación, curaciones y expulsión de demonios. Estaba asustado, pues temía que Jesús fuese realmente Juan resucitado. Por eso estaba muy interesado en verle, no para oír su predicación, sino para asegurarse de quién era. (Mt 14:1, 2; Mr 6:14-16; Lu 9:7-9.)
Termina el bautismo de Juan.
El bautismo de Juan continuó hasta el día del Pentecostés de 33 E.C., cuando se derramó el espíritu santo. A partir de entonces se predicó el bautismo “en el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del espíritu santo”. (Mt 28:19; Hch 2:21, 38.) Por tanto, los que después se bautizaron en el bautismo de Juan tenían que volverse a bautizar en el nombre del Señor Jesús con el fin de recibir el espíritu santo. (Hch 19:1-7.) (Biblia Dinámica)
Juan el BautistaO simplemente el Bautista o san Juan, fue un predicador y asceta judío, considerado como profeta por tres religiones: Cristianismo, Islam y la Fe Bahá'í. Considerado mesías por el Mandeísmo.
Juan el Bautista en el cristianismo
Hijo del sacerdote Zacarías y de su esposa Isabel (Lucas 1:5), Juan el Bautista es considerado el precursor de Jesucristo.
Según Lucas 3:1-3, Juan comenzó a predicar y a bautizar en el desierto «el año decimoquinto del imperio del emperador Tiberio, cuando Poncio Pilato gobernaba Judea, cuando Herodes era tetrarca de Galilea, su hermano Filipo tetrarca de Iturea y Traconítide, y Lisanias tetrarca de Abilene, en tiempo del sumo sacerdote Anás y Caifás».
Tiberio sucedió a Augusto el 19 de agosto del año 767 (año 13 d. C.) de la fundación de Roma. Lucas pudo contabilizar los años siguiendo el calendario sirio, que inicia el año 1 de octubre, o bien el calendario romano, que comienza en enero, por lo cual no sabemos si tuvo en cuenta el primer año de la sucesión. Así, la fecha aproximada del inicio de la actividad del Bautista estaría en torno al año 28 de nuestra era.
Juan Bautista se definió a sí mismo como «voz que clama en el desierto: "rectificad los caminos del Señor"» (Juan 1:23), con lo cual cumplía expresamente una profecía de Isaías (Mateo 3:1-4, Lucas 3:4-6, Isaías 40:3-5). Marcos 1:1-4 une a ésta el cumplimiento de otra profecía, de Malaquias 3:1. Esta misma misión general, cumplir unidas ambas profecías, vista como una, fue definida en general por los esenios para ellos mismos, según la Regla de la Comunidad (1QS VIII 13-14; 4Q259 III 3-6), encontrada entre los Manuscritos del Mar Muerto y datada entre los años 100 y 75 a. C. También la liturgia bautismal esenia (4Q14) pudo haber servido de inspiración a Juan.
La diferencia entre el ministerio general de los esenios y el de Juan estriba en que aquellos enfatizaban en el estudio de la Ley, y en general de las Escrituras, y Juan en la predicación y bautismo para la conversión del pueblo. Según los Evangelios, bautizó también a Jesús en el río Jordán (Lucas 3:21-22, Marcos 1:9-11)y lo reconoció como Mesías (Juan 1:25-34, Mateo 3:13-17). Ese momento supuso el inicio de la actividad mesiánica de Jesús. Algunos autores señalan que sería más bien el arresto de Juan por parte de Herodes Antipas el comienzo de la vida pública de Jesús (Marcos 1:14).
Poco después (antes de la muerte de Jesús hacia el 30), fue encarcelado y decapitado por orden de Herodes Antipas en la fortaleza de Maqueronte. Este dato es mencionado tanto por Flavio Josefo (Ant., XVIII, v, 2) como por los Evangelios de Marcos 6:16-29 y Mateo 14:3-12.
Juan dudó de Jesucristo a pesar de haberlo reconocido como el Cordero de Dios, pero estando en la cárcel envió mensajeros para asegurarse de que Jesús era realmente el Mesías esperado, Mateo 11:2-4 "Y al oír Juan, en la cárcel, los hechos de Cristo, le envió dos de sus discípulos, para preguntarle: ¿Eres tú aquel que había de venir, o esperaremos a otro? Respondiendo Jesús, les dijo: Id, y haced saber a Juan las cosas que oís y veis". Juan el Bautista es considerado por Jesús como el más grande entre los hombres, aunque el más chico en el reino de los cielos es mayor que él, Mateo 11:11 "De cierto os digo: Entre los que nacen de mujer no se ha levantado otro mayor que Juan el Bautista; pero el más pequeño en el reino de los cielos, mayor es que él".
La Iglesia católica celebra su fiesta principal el 24 de junio (seis meses antes de Navidad, ya que el Evangelio cuenta que su madre Isabel estaba de seis meses cuando el ángel anunció a la prima de ésta, María, que sería madre del Mesías). El 29 de agosto se conmemora su decapitación (Degollación de san Juan Bautista).
San Juan Bautista es uno de los santos más celebrados de Europa, siendo patrón de Florencia, Badajoz, Albacete, Telde y Arucas en Gran Canaria y Puerto Rico, además de serlo de los monjes Cartujos y de la Orden de Malta. La noche del 23 de junio (víspera del día de su fiesta) se realizan las famosas hogueras de san Juan, entre las que destacan las de Alicante declarada de Interés Turístico Internacional y las de La Coruña, declarada ésta de Interés Turístico Nacional.
Según Lucas (1:59-60) Isabel y Zacarías circuncidaron a su hijo a los ocho días siguiendo el precepto que Yavé mandara a Abrahán (Gén 17, 11-12). Los sacerdotes católicos practicarían el rito del bautismo siguiendo el prototipo de Juan el Bautista, aunque sin aplicar el mandato de Yavé de la circuncisión. También, según Mateo (3:6), las gentes confesaban a Juan sus pecados y Juan las bautizaba mientras en el rito católico el bautismo y la confesión son independientes.
[editar] Juan el Bautista en el islam
Juan el Bautista recibe en el Corán, donde es citado una quincena de veces, el nombre de Yahya ibn Zakariya o simplemente Yahya (يحيى). Según la tradición, María (Mariam مريم), al quedarse embarazada de Jesús se retiró a un oratorio, donde vivía sola bajo la tutela del profeta Zacarías (Zakariya زكريا), que la visitaba para cuidar de ella y llevarle alimento. Sin embargo, María no necesitaba que le llevasen alimentos pues el propio Dios la aprovisionaba. Maravillado por el milagro, Zacarías rogó a Dios que hiciera también por él un milagro, dándole un hijo, y Dios accedió a sus ruegos. De este modo, nació Juan. En agradecimiento, Zacarías ayunó y se mantuvo en silencio durante tres días, y Dios dio a Juan sabiduría y conocimiento, haciéndole profeta.
El Corán presenta a Juan como un hombre lleno de cualidades y virtudes, entre las cuales un inmenso respeto por sus padres y una gran sinceridad. Fue uno de los profetas con los que se encontró Mahoma en el Isra, su legendario viaje nocturno a Jerusalén.
La tradición afirma que está enterrado en la gran Mezquita de los Omeyas, en Damasco. (Wikipedia)
St. John the Baptist
The principal sources of information concerning the life and ministry of St. John the Baptist are the canonical Gospels. Of these St. Luke is the most complete, giving as he does the wonderful circumstances accompanying the birth of the Precursor and items on his ministry and death. St. Matthew's Gospel stands in close relation with that of St. Luke, as far as John's public ministry is concerned, but contains nothing in reference to his early life. From St. Mark, whose account of the Precursor's life is very meagre, no new detail can be gathered. Finally, the fourth Gospel has this special feature, that it gives the testimony of St. John after the Saviour's baptism. Besides the indications supplied by these writings, passing allusions occur in such passages as Acts 13:24; 19:1-6; but these are few and bear on the subject only indirectly. To the above should be added that Josephus relates in his Jewish Antiquities (XVIII, v, 2), but it should be remembered that he is woefully erratic in his dates, mistaken in proper names, and seems to arrange facts according to his own political views; however, his judgment of John, also what he tells us regarding the Precursor's popularity, together with a few details of minor importance, are worthy of the historian's attention. The same cannot be said of the apocryphal gospels, because the scant information they give of the Precursor is either copied from the canonical Gospels (and to these they can add no authority), or else is a mass of idle vagaries.
Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest of the course of Abia, the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the priests were divided (1 Chronicles 24:7-19); Elizabeth, the Precursor's mother, "was of the daughters of Aaron", according to St. Luke (1:5); the same Evangelist, a few verses farther on (1:36), calls her the "cousin" (syggenis) of Mary. These two statements appear to be conflicting, for how, it will be asked, could a cousin of the Blessed Virgin be "of the daughters of Aaron"? The problem might be solved by adopting the reading given in an old Persian version, where we find "mother's sister" (metradelphe) instead of "cousin".
A somewhat analogous explanation, probably borrowed from some apocryphal writing, and perhaps correct, is given by St. Hippolytus (in Nicephor., II, iii). According to him, Mathan had three daughters: Mary, Soba, and Ann. Mary, the oldest, married a man of Bethlehem and was the mother of Salome; Soba married at Bethlehem also, but a "son of Levi", by whom she had Elizabeth; Ann wedded a Galilean (Joachim) and bore Mary, the Mother of God. Thus Salome, Elizabeth, and the Blessed Virgin were first cousins, and Elizabeth, "of the daughters of Aaron" on her father's side, was, on her mother's side, the cousin of Mary. Zachary's home is designated only in a vague manner by St. Luke: it was "a city of Juda", "in the hill-country" (1:39). Reland, advocating the unwarranted assumption that Juda might be a misspelling of the name, proposed to read in its stead Jutta (Joshua 15:55; 21:16; D.V.; Jota, Jeta), a priestly town south of Hebron. But priests did not always live in priestly towns (Mathathias's home was at Modin; Simon Machabeus's at Gaza). A tradition, which can be traced back to the time before the Crusades, points to the little town of Ain-Karim, five miles south-west of Jerusalem.
The birth of the Precursor was announced in a most striking manner. Zachary and Elizabeth, as we learn from St. Luke, "were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame; and they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren" (1:6-7). Long they had prayed that their union might be blessed with offspring; but, now that "they were both advanced in years", the reproach of barrenness bore heavily upon them. "And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord. And all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and they wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people" (1:8-17). As Zachary was slow in believing this startling prediction, the angel, making himself known to him, announced that, in punishment of his incredulity, he should be stricken with dumbness until the promise was fulfilled. "And it came to pass, after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months" (1:23-24).
Now during the sixth month, the Annunciation had taken place, and, as Mary had heard from the angel the fact of her cousin's conceiving, she went "with haste" to congratulate her. "And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant" — filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost — "leaped for joy in her womb", as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should "be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb". Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin. When "Elizabeth's full time of being delivered was come. . .she brought forth a son" (1:57); and "on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him by his father's name Zachary. And his mother answering, said: Not so, but he shall be called John. And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made sign to his father, how he would have him called. And demanding a writing table, he wrote, saying: John is his name. And they all wondered" (1:59-63). They were not aware that no better name could be applied (John, Hebrew; Jehohanan, i.e. "Jahweh hath mercy") to him who, as his father prophesied, was to "go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto remission of their sins: through the bowels of the mercy of our God" (1:76-78). Moreover, all these events, to wit, a child born to an aged couple, Zachary's sudden dumbness, his equally sudden recovery of speech, his astounding utterance, might justly strike with wonderment the assembled neighbours; these could hardly help asking: "What an one, think ye, shall this child be?" (1:66).
As to the date of the birth of John the Baptist, nothing can be said with certainty. The Gospel suggests that the Precursor was born about six months before Christ; but the year of Christ's nativity has not so far been ascertained. Nor is there anything certain about the season of Christ's birth, for it is well known that the assignment of the feast of Christmas to the twenty-fifth of December is not grounded on historical evidence, but is possibly suggested by merely astronomical considerations, also, perhaps, inferred from astronomico-theological reasonings. Besides, no calculations can be based upon the time of the year when the course of Abia was serving in the Temple, since each one of the twenty-four courses of priests had two turns a year. Of John's early life St. Luke tell us only that "the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts, until the day of his manifestation to Israel" (1:80). Should we ask just when the Precursor went into the wilderness, an old tradition echoed by Paul Warnefried (Paul the Deacon), in the hymn, "Ut queant laxis", composed in honour of the saint, gives an answer hardly more definite than the statement of the Gospel: "Antra deserti teneris sub annis. . .petiit . . ." Other writers, however, thought they knew better. For instance, St. Peter of Alexandria believed St. John was taken into the desert to escape the wrath of Herod, who, if we may believe report, was impelled by fear of losing his kingdom to seek the life of the Precursor, just as he was, later on, to seek that of the new-born Saviour. It was added also that Herod on this account had Zachary put to death between the temple and the altar, because he had prophesied the coming of the Messias (Baron., "Annal. Apparat.", n. 53). These are worthless legends long since branded by St. Jerome as "apocryphorum somnia".
Passing, then, with St. Luke, over a period of some thirty years, we reach what may be considered the beginning of the public ministry of St. John (see BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY). Up to this he had led in the desert the life of an anchorite; now he comes forth to deliver his message to the world. "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. . .the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching" (Luke 3:1-3), clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier (Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:24), but in those "of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins"; and "his meat" — he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33) — "was locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6); his whole countenance, far from suggesting the idea of a reed shaken by the wind (Matthew 11:7; Luke 7:24), manifested undaunted constancy. A few incredulous scoffers feigned to be scandalized: "He hath a devil" (Matthew 11:18). Nevertheless, "Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan" (Matthew 3:5), drawn by his strong and winning personality, went out to him; the austerity of his life added immensely to the weight of his words; for the simple folk, he was truly a prophet (Matthew 11:9; cf. Luke 1:76, 77). "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), such was the burden of his teaching. Men of all conditions flocked round him.
Pharisees and Sadducees were there; the latter attracted perhaps by curiosity and scepticism, the former expecting possibly a word of praise for their multitudinous customs and practices, and all, probably, more anxious to see which of the rival sects the new prophet would commend than to seek instruction. But John laid bare their hypocrisy. Drawing his similes from the surrounding scenery, and even, after the Oriental fashion, making use of a play on words (abanimbanium), he lashed their pride with this well-deserved rebuke: "Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-9). It was clear something had to be done. The men of good will among the listeners asked: "What shall we do?" (Probably some were wealthy and, according to the custom of people in such circumstances, were clad in two tunics. - Josephus, "Antiq.", XVIII, v, 7). "And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner" (Luke 3:11). Some were publicans; on them he enjoined not to exact more than the rate of taxes fixed by law (Luke 3:13). To the soldiers (probably Jewish police officers) he recommended not to do violence to any man, nor falsely to denounce anyone, and to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). In other words, he cautioned them against trusting in their national privileges, he did not countenance the tenets of any sect, nor did he advocate the forsaking of one's ordinary state of life, but faithfulness and honesty in the fulfillment of one's duties, and the humble confession of one's sins.
To confirm the good dispositions of his listeners, John baptized them in the Jordan, "saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins [cf. St. Thomas, Summa III.38.2 and 3] as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice" (Josephus, "Antiq.", XVIII, vii). This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed "the Baptist" (i.e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matthew 11:11; by his own disciples, Luke 7:20; by Herod, Matthew 14:2; by Herodias, Matthew 14:3). Still his right to baptize was questioned by some (John 1:25); the Pharisees and the lawyers refused to comply with this ceremony, on the plea that baptism, as a preparation for the kingdom of God, was connected only with the Messias (Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1, etc.), Elias, and the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15. John's reply was that he was Divinely "sent to baptize with water" (John 1:33); to this, later on, our Saviour bore testimony, when, in answer to the Pharisees trying to ensnare him, he implicitly declared that John's baptism was from heaven (Mark 11:30). Whilst baptizing, John, lest the people might think "that perhaps he might be the Christ" (Luke 3:15), did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner's mission: "I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16, 17). Whatever John may have meant by this baptism "with fire", he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come.
Here it will not be amiss to touch on the scene of the Precursor's ministry. The locality should be sought in that part of the Jordan valley (Luke 3:3) which is called the desert (Mark 1:4). Two places are mentioned in the Fourth Gospel in this connection: Bethania (John 1:28) and Ennon (A.V. Ænon, John 3:23). As to Bethania, the reading Bethabara, first given by Origen, should be discarded; but the Alexandrine scholar perhaps was less wrong in suggesting the other reading, Bethara, possibly a Greek form of Betharan; at any rate, the site in question must be looked for "beyond the Jordan" (John 1:28). The second place, Ennon, "near Salim" (John 3:23), the extreme northern point marked in the Madaba mosaic map, is described in Eusebius's "Onomasticon" as being eight miles south of Scythopolis (Beisan), and should be sought probably at Ed-Deir or El-Ftur, a short distance from the Jordan (Lagrange, in "Revue Biblique", IV, 1895, pp. 502-05). Moreover, a long-standing tradition, traced back to A.D. 333, associates the activity of the Precursor, particularly the Baptism of the Lord, with the neighbourhood of Deir Mar-Yuhanna (Qasr el-Yehud).
The Precursor had been preaching and baptizing for some time (just how long is not known), when Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan, to be baptized by him. Why, it might be asked, should He "who did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22) seek John's "baptism of penance for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3)? The Fathers of the Church answer very appropriately that this was the occasion preordained by the Father when Jesus should be manifested to the world as the Son of God; then again, by submitting to it, Jesus sanctioned the baptism of John. "But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14). These words, implying, as they do, that John knew Jesus, are in seeming conflict with a later declaration of John recorded in the Fourth Gospel: "I knew him not" (John 1:33). Most interpreters take it that the Precursor had some intimation of Jesus being the Messias: they assign this as the reason why John at first refused to baptize him; but the heavenly manifestation had, a few moments later, changed this intimation into perfect knowledge. "And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him. And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him. . .And, behold, a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:15-17).
After this baptism, while Jesus was preaching through the towns of Galilee, going into Judea only occasionally for the feast days, John continued his ministry in the valley of the Jordan. It was at this time that "the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: Who are thou? And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ. And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No. They said, therefore, unto him: Who are thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias" (John 1:19-23). John denied he was Elias, whom the Jews were looking for (Matthew 17:10; Mark 9:10). Nor did Jesus admit it, though His words to His disciples at first sight seem to point that way; "Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things. But I say to you, that Elias is already come" (Matthew 17:11; Mark 9:11-12). St. Matthew notes "the disciples understood, that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist" (Matthew 17:13). This was equal to saying, "Elias is not to come in the flesh." But, in speaking of John before the multitude, Jesus made it plain that he called John Elias figuratively: "If you will receive it, he is Elias that is to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:14, 15). This had been anticipated by the angel when, announcing John's birth to Zachary, he foretold that the child would go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17). "The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me. . .that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water . . . . And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God" (John 1:20-34).
Among the many listeners flocking to St. John, some, more deeply touched by his doctrine, stayed with him, thus forming, as around other famous doctors of the law, a group of disciples. These he exhorted to fast (Mark 2:18), these he taught special forms of prayer (Luke 5:33; 11:1). Their number, according to the pseudo-Clementine literature, reached thirty (Homily 2.23). Among them was Andrew of Bethsaida of Galilee (John 1:44). One day, as Jesus was standing in the distance, John, pointed Him out, repeated his previous declaration: "Behold the Lamb of God". Then Andrew, with another disciple of John, hearing this, followed Jesus (John 1:36-38). The account of the calling of Andrew and Simon differs materially from that found in St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke; yet it should be noticed that St. Luke, in particular, so narrates the meeting of the two brothers with the Saviour, as to let us infer they already knew Him. Now, on the other hand, since the Fourth Evangelist does not say that Andrew and his companions forthwith left their business to devote themselves exclusively to the Gospel or its preparation, there is clearly no absolute discordance between the narration of the first three Gospels and that of St. John.
The Precursor, after the lapse of several months, again appears on the scene, and he is still preaching and baptizing on the banks of the Jordan (John 3:23). Jesus, in the meantime, had gathered about Himself a following of disciples, and He came "into the land of Judea: and there He abode with them, and baptized" (John 3:22), — "though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples" (John 4:2). — "There arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews [the best Greek texts have "a Jew"] concerning purification" (John 3:25), that is to say, as is suggested by the context, concerning the relative value of both baptisms. The disciples of John came to him: "Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou gavest testimony, behold he baptizeth, and all men come to him" (John 3:26-27). They undoubtedly meant that Jesus should give way to John who had recommended Him, and that, by baptizing, He was encroaching upon the rights of John. "John answered and said: A man cannot receive anything, unless it be given him from heaven. You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above, is above all. He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from heaven, is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth. . ." (John 3:27-36).
The above narration recalls the fact before mentioned (John 1:28), that part of the Baptist's ministry was exercised in Perea: Ennon, another scene of his labours, was within the borders of Galilee; both Perea and Galilee made up the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. This prince, a son worthy of his father Herod the Great, had married, likely for political reasons, the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabathaeans. But on a visit to Rome, he fell in love with his niece Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip (son of the younger Mariamne), and induced her to come on to Galilee. When and where the Precursor met Herod, we are not told, but from the synoptic Gospels we learn that John dared to rebuke the tetrarch for his evil deeds, especially his public adultery. Herod, swayed by Herodias, did not allow the unwelcome reprover to go unpunished: he "sent and apprehended John and bound him in prison". Josephus tell us quite another story, containing perhaps also an element of truth. "As great crowds clustered around John, Herod became afraid lest the Baptist should abuse his moral authority over them to incite them to rebellion, as they would do anything at his bidding; therefore he thought it wiser, so as to prevent possible happenings, to take away the dangerous preacher. . .and he imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaerus" (Antiq., XVIII, v, 2). Whatever may have been the chief motive of the tetrarch's policy, it is certain that Herodias nourished a bitter hatred against John: "She laid snares for him: and was desirous to put him to death" (Mark 6:19). Although Herod first shared her desire, yet "he feared the people: because they esteemed him as a prophet" (Matthew 14:5). After some time this resentment on Herod's part seems to have abated, for, according to Mark 6:19-20, he heard John willingly and did many things at his suggestion.
John, in his fetters, was attended by some of his disciples, who kept him in touch with the events of the day. He thus learned of the wonders wrought by Jesus. At this point it cannot be supposed that John's faith wavered in the least. Some of his disciples, however, would not be convinced by his words that Jesus was the Messias. Accordingly, he sent them to Jesus, bidding them say: "John the Baptist hath sent us to thee, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another? (And in that same hour, he cured many of their [the people's] diseases, and hurts, and evil spirits; and to many that were blind he gave sight.) And answering, he said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to the poor the gospel is preached: and blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me" (Luke 7:20-23; Matthew 11:3-6).
How this interview affected John's disciples, we do not know; but we do know the encomium it occasioned of John from the lips of Jesus: "And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John. What went ye out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" All knew full well why John was in prison, and that in his captivity he was more than ever the undaunted champion of truth and virtue. — "But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are in costly apparel, and live delicately, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke 7:24-28). And continuing, Jesus pointed out the inconsistency of the world in its opinions both of himself and his precursor: "John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and you say: He hath a devil. The Son of man is coming eating and drinking: and you say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).
St. John languished probably for some time in the fortress of Machaerus; but the ire of Herodias, unlike that of Herod, never abated: she watched her chance. It came at the birthday feast which Herod, after Roman fashion, gave to the "princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias [Josephus gives her name: Salome] had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee. . .Who when she was gone out, said to her mother, what shall I ask? But she said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: but sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish: and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother" (Mark 6:21-28). Thus was done to death the greatest "amongst them that are born of women", the prize awarded to a dancing girl, the toll exacted for an oath rashly taken and criminally kept (St. Augustine). At such an unjustifiable execution even the Jews were shocked, and they attributed to Divine vengeance the defeat Herod sustained afterwards at the hands of Aretas, his rightful father-in-law (Josephus, loc. cit.). John's disciples, hearing of his death, "came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb" (Mark 6:29), "and came and told Jesus" (Matthew 14:12).
The lasting impression made by the Precursor upon those who had come within his influence cannot be better illustrated than by mentioned the awe which seize upon Herod when he heard of the wonders wrought by Jesus who, in his mind, was not other than John the Baptist come to life (Matthew 14:1, 2, etc.). The Precursor's influence did not die with him. It was far-reaching, too, as we learn from Acts 18:25; 19:3, where we find that proselytes at Ephesus had received from Apollo and others the baptism of John. Moreover, early Christian writers speak of a sect taking its name from John and holding only to his baptism.
The date of John the Baptist's death, 29 August, assigned in the liturgical calendars can hardly be relied upon, because it is scarcely based upon trustworthy documents. His burial-place has been fixed by an old tradition at Sebaste (Samaria). But if there be any truth in Josephus's assertion, that John was put to death at Machaerus, it is hard to understand why he was buried so far from the Herodian fortress. Still, it is quite possible that, at a later date unknown to us, his sacred remains were carried to Sebaste. At any rate, about the middle of the fourth century, his tomb was there honoured, as we are informed on the testimony of Rufinus and Theodoretus. These authors add that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate (c. A.D. 362), the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria; and there, on 27 May, 395, these relics were laid in the gorgeous basilica just dedicated to the Precursor on the site of the once famous temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to the miracles there wrought. Perhaps some of the relics had been brought back to Sebaste. Other portions at different times found their way to many sanctuaries of the Christian world, and long is the list of the churches claiming possession of some part of the precious treasure. What became of the head of the Precursor is difficult to determine. Nicephorus (I, ix) and Metaphrastes say Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus; others insist that it was interred in Herod's palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. In the many and discordant relations concerning this relic, unfortunately much uncertainty prevails; their discrepancies in almost every point render the problem so intricate as to baffle solution. This signal relic, in whole or in part, is claimed by several churches, among them Amiens, Nemours, St-Jean d'Angeli (France), S. Silvestro in Capite (Rome). This fact Tillemont traces to a mistaking of one St. John for another, an explanation which, in certain cases, appears to be founded on good grounds and accounts well for this otherwise puzzling multiplication of relics.
The honour paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint. But why is the feast proper, as it were, of St. John on the day of his nativity, whereas with other saints it is the day of their death? Because it was meant that the birth of him who, unlike the rest, was "filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb", should be signalized as a day of triumph. The celebration of the Decollation of John the Baptist, on 29 August, enjoys almost the same antiquity. We find also in the oldest martyrologies mention of a feast of the Conception of the Precursor on 24 September. But the most solemn celebration in honour of this saint was always that of his Nativity, preceded until recently by a fast. Many places adopted the custom introduced by St. Sabas of having a double Office on this day, as on the day of the Nativity of the Lord. The first Office, intended to signify the time of the Law and the Prophets which lasted up to St. John (Luke 16:16), began at sunset, and was chanted without Alleluia; the second, meant to celebrate the opening of the time of grace, and gladdened by the singing of Alleluia, was held during the night. The resemblance of the feast of St. John with that of Christmas was carried farther, for another feature of the 24th of June was the celebration of three masses: the first, in the dead of night, recalled his mission of Precursor; the second, at daybreak, commemorated the baptism he conferred; and the third, at the hour of Terce, honoured his sanctity. The whole liturgy of the day, repeatedly enriched by the additions of several popes, was in suggestiveness and beauty on a part with the liturgy of Christmas. So sacred was St. John's day deemed that two rival armies, meeting face to face on 23 June, by common accord put off the battle until the morrow of the feast (Battle of Fontenay, 841). "Joy, which is the characteristic of the day, radiated from the sacred precincts. The lovely summer nights, at St. John's tide, gave free scope to popular display of lively faith among various nationalities. Scarce had the last rays of the setting sun died away when, all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain-top, and in an instant, every town, and village, and hamlet was lighted up" (Guéranger). The custom of the "St. John's fires", whatever its origin, has, in certain regions, endured unto this day. (New Advent)