Skip to comments.John the Baptist: In the Spirit and Power of Elijah (Sunday is the Solemnity of John the Baptist!)
Posted on 06/21/2012 5:18:35 PM PDT by Mighty_Quinn
The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah / MarySanctified in the Womb
Addresses Zechariah / Full of grace
He is troubled (1:12) / She is troubled (1:29)
Do not be afraid (1:13) / Do not be afraid (1:30)
you shall call his name John (1:13) / you shall call his name Jesus (1:31)
How shall I know this? / How will this be?
Fails to believe / Let it be done unto me. . .
Notice, being filled with the Holy Spirit here is associated with a confession of faith, Elizabeths. However, given that John is said to be filled with the Spirit even from his mothers womb and given that he leaps inside of her at the arrival of the Mother of the Messiah, it seems clear that his action is best understood as a kind of evidence of faith as well.
Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment, received the Spirit on account of her son. The mother did not inherit the Holy Spirit first. First John, still enclosed in her womb, received the Holy Spirit. Then she too, after her son was sanctified, was filled with the Holy Spirit (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 7.3)Because of this the fathers of the church such as Ambrose recognized that the John the Baptist was given the gift of grace even while still in utero. In short, John was understood to have been sanctified in the womb.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9).Even before he had done anything, God consecrated Jeremiah (cf. Rom 9:11-12). For more on this, see Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae III, q. 27 (here).
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:3133)When Gods people looked for deliverance, Jeremiah was not far from their mind. This is evident in 2 Maccabees. There we read about a mysterious appearance of Jeremiah who is credited with giving the sword to Judas Maccabeus that he used to defeat Israels enemies. As Onias the high priest is praying over the people, he spots none other than Jeremiah in the crowd:
Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. 13 Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. 14 And Onias spoke, saying, This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God. 15 Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: 16 Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries. (2 Macc 15:1216)John the Baptist and the New Exodus
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way (Gk. hodos) of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matt 3:13)Here John is seen quoting from Isaiahs famous New Exodus prophecy. As in the Exodus, God is preparing a way, in Greek, a hodos (note: ex-hodos means the way out) in the wilderness.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:1617)In fact, in Matthew 3, John the Baptist is described as essentially wearing the costume of the Old Testament prophet:
"Now John wore a garment of camels hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey." (Matt 1:4)In 1 Kings we discover, [Elijah] wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins (2 Kgs 1:8).
Behold, I will send you Elijah 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. (Mal 4:5)Sirach also speaks of Elijah in similar terms:
you [Elijah] who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. (Sir 48:10).Notice the similarities here with the angels description of John to his father Zechariah in Luke: he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands. 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matt 17:9-13).Johns Baptism and the Essenes
For instance, in a striking parallel to the speech of John the Baptist recorded in the New Testament, we read in one Dead Sea Scroll text:
When such men as these come to be in Israel, conforming to these doctrines, they shall separate from the session of perverse men to go to the wilderness, there to prepare the way of truth, as it is written, In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God [Is. 40:3] (1QS 6:12-16).Likewise, we know that the Essene community, which is most likely to be identified in some way with the community who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, practices ritual washing, symbolizing cleansing from impurity and entrance into the New Covenant community.
Whether John had direct contact with the Essene community is impossible to know. But we do see John announcing something that many were apparently looking for: the dawning of the messianic age.
Of course, the New Testament points to Johns baptism as only a foreshadowing of Christian baptism. In Acts of the Apostles, Jesus explains after his resurrection to the apostles, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Likewise, Paul explains to those who had only received Johns baptism the need to receive Christian baptism, through which they receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 19:17).
Elijah and Elisha, John and Jesus
Given that Jesus comes after John, it is also worth noting something else about Elijah: he was followed by Elisha. After Elijah is taken up by a heavenly chariot at the River Jordan, Elisha receives a double-portion of Elijahs spirit (2 Kgs 2:915). He in fact becomes a figure much like Elijah, performing several miracles reminiscent of his mentor.**** For example,
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 11:1114).John is the greatest of the messengers sent by the Lord. Yet the New Covenant surpasses the Old. Those who are least in the Kingdom are greater than John.
What does that mean about the dignity and importance of the vocation to the Christian life?! Quite a lot I suspect. But I suppose that is something best taken to prayer.
*On prophetic signs, see W. D. Stacey, Prophetic Drama in the Old Testament (London: Epworth, 1990); Kelvin G. Friebel, Jeremiahs and Ezekiels Sign Acts: Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication (JSOTSup 283; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999). Here I am especially dependent on the work of Scot McKnight. See his, Jesus and Prophetic Actions, Bulletin for Biblical Research 10/2 (2000): 20122.
** Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 5360.
*** The most comprehensive overview of the parallels is found in Allison, The New Moses, 39-50. See also R. A. Carlson, Élie à lHoreb, VT 19 (1969): 432; P. Josef Kastner, Moses im Neuen Testament (Munich: Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, 1967), 30; Frank M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epoch (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard, 1973), 192; G. Coats, Healing and the Moses Traditions, in Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation (Tuck, G. M., et al eds.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 136; R. P. Carroll, The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel, VT 19 (1969): 411; G. Fohrer, Elia (ATANT 53; Zürich: Zwingli, 1957), 57); R. D. Nelson, First and Second Kings (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), 128; Laurence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 301. Many of the similarities between the two figures were spelled out in detail by R. Tanhuma (Pesiq. Rab. 4:2).
**** For a fuller discussion of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha as well as the literary unity of the narrative in 1-2 Kings see the great discussion and the plethora of references in Thomas Brodie, The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis Kings and a Model for the Gospels (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 1-27
*****See Colin Brown, Miracles, in vol. 3 of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (4 vols; G. W. Bromiley, ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 373, who explains that after Elisha receives a double portion of Elijahs spirit, we read about miracles greater and more numerous than those performed by Elijah. Here he sees more than the Elijah-Elisha succession, but also Moses-Joshua (see below). See also Paul J. Kissling, Reliable Characters in the Primary History: Profiles of Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha (JSOTSSup 224; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 192: The miracles which Elisha performed are far greater in number than those which Elijah performed.
Praise to the Lord for this reading of His holy word.
An excerpt from the ~ Mystical City of God ~, the book is
online to read:
Book 5, Chapter 6
The Mystical City of God, The Divine History and Life of The Virgin Mother of God
BAPTISM OF CHRIST. HIS FAST. MARY’S DOINGS DURING THESE EVENTS.
Leaving his beloved Mother in the poor dwelling at Nazareth, our Redeemer, without accompaniment of any human creature, but altogether taken up with the exercise of his most ardent charity, pursued his journey to the Jordan, where, in the neighborhood of a town called Bethany, otherwise called Betharaba, on the farther side of the river, his Precursor was preaching and baptizing. At the first steps from the house, our Redeemer, raising his eyes to the eternal Father, offered up to Him anew with an infinite love, whatever He was now about to begin for the salvation of mankind: his labors, sorrows, passion and death of the Cross, assumed for them in obedience to the eternal Will, the natural grief at parting as a true and loving Son from his Mother and at leaving her sweet company, which for twenty-nine years He had now enjoyed. The Lord of all creation walked alone, without show and ostentation of human retinue. The supreme King of kings and Lord of lords (Apoc. 19, 16), was unknown and despised by his own vassals, vassals so much his own, that they owed their life and preservation entirely to Him. His royal outfit was nothing but the utmost poverty and destitution.
While proceeding on his way to the Jordan our Savior dispensed his ancient mercies by relieving the necessities of body and soul in many of those whom He encountered at different places. Yet this was always done in secret; for before his Baptism He gave no public token of his divine power and his exalted office. Before appearing at the Jordan, He filled the heart of saint John with new light and joy, which changed and elevated his soul. Perceiving these new workings of grace within himself, he reflected upon them full of wonder, saying: “What mystery is this? What presentiments of happiness? From the moment when I recognized the presence of my Lord in the womb of my mother, I have not felt such stirring of my soul as now! Is it possible that He is now happily come, or that the Savior of the world is now near me?” Upon this enlightenment of the Baptist followed an intellectual vision, wherein he perceived with greater clearness the mystery of the hypostatic union of the person of the Word with the humanity and other mysteries of the Redemption. In the fulness of this intellectual light he gave the testimonies, which are recorded by saint John in his Gospel and which occurred while the Lord was in the desert and afterwards, when He returned to the banks of the Jordan. The Evangelist mentions one of these public testimonies as happening at the interpellation of the Jews, and the other when the Precursor exclaimed: “Behold the lamb of God,” as I shall narrate later on (John 1, 36). Although the Baptist had been instructed in great mysteries, when he was commanded to go forth to preach and baptize; yet all of them were manifested to him anew and with greater clearness and abundance on this occasion, and he was then notified that the Savior of the world was coming to be baptized.
The Lord then joined the multitude and asked Baptism of saint John as one of the rest. The Baptist knew Him and, falling at his feet, hesitated, saying: “I have need of being baptized, and Thou, Lord, askest Baptism of me?” as is recorded by saint Matthew. But the Savior answered: “Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice.”
When saint John had finished baptizing our Lord, the heavens opened and the Holy Ghost descended visibly in the form of a dove upon his head and the voice of his Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matth. 3, 17). Many of the bystanders heard this voice, namely, those who were not worthy of such a wonderful favor; they also saw the Holy Ghost descending upon the Savior. This was the most convincing proof which could ever be given of the Divinity of the Savior, as well on the part of the Father, who acknowledged Him his Son, as also in to the nature of the testimony given; for without any reserve was Christ manifested as the true God, equal to his eternal Father in substance and in perfection. The Father himself wished to be the first to testify to the Divinity of Christ in order that by virtue of his testimony all the other witnesses might be ratified. There was also another mystery in this voice of the eternal Father: it was as it were a restoration of the honor or Son before the world and a recompense for his having thus humiliated Himself by receiving the Baptism of the remission of sins, though He was entirely free from fault and never could have upon Him the guilt of (Heb. 7, 26). ...
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