John the Baptist (also called John the Baptizer) is regarded as a prophet by at least three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Mandaeanism. According to the Gospel of Luke, he was a relative of Jesus. That he was a prophet is asserted by the Gospels of the Christian Bible and the Qur'an (see also prophets of Islam). Eastern Orthodox Christians also refer to him as John the Forerunner because he was the forerunner of Christ.
His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the Daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). According to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainstream Protestantism, he was the last of the prophets. John held the priesthood of Aaron, giving him the authority to perform baptisms of God.
His birth took place six months before that of Jesus, and according to the Gospel account was expected by prophecy (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1) and foretold by an angel. Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of John's circumcision (Luke 1:64).
John was a Nazarite from his birth (Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judea lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1-12). He led a simple life, wearing rope (gamla) fiber clothing and eating "locusts and wild honey" (Matt. 3:4).
As an adult John started to preach in public, and people from "every quarter" were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and turning away from selfish pursuits. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred interest, bringing people from all parts to see him on the banks of the Jordan River. There he baptized thousands unto repentance (see AEnon).
The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Matt. 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfill all righteousness" (3:15). John's special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a close by his being cast into prison by Herod, whom he had reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of Machaerus , a fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded at the instigation of Herodias; later tradition also implicates Salomé. His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave, went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Matt. 14:3-12). John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover of Jesus' ministry.
Jesus himself testified regarding John that he was a "burning and a shining light" (John 5:35). The Eastern Orthodox believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge figure between that period of revelation and Jesus. They also embrace a tradition that, following his death, John descended into Hell and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming.
Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of French Canada. The Canadian cities of Saint John, New Brunswick and St. John's, Newfoundland were both named in honour of Saint John. His feast day is June 24, celebrated in Quebec as the Fête nationale du Québec. He is also counted as the Patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem.
The Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order of the church year which begins on September 1:
February 24 - First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
May 25 - Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
June 24 - Birth of St. John the Forerunner
August 29 - The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
Muslims, like Christians, revere John the Baptist as a prophet (he is known as Yahya). See also similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an.
Zakariyah asks for a son - Qur'anic
Allah the Almighty revealed: 'Kaf, Ha, Ya, Am, Sad, These letters are one of the miracles of the Qur'an, and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings. (This is) a mention of the Mercy of your Lord to His slave Zechariah. When he called out his Lord (Allah) - a call in secret, saying: 'My Lord! Indeed my bones have grown feeble, and grey hair has spread on my head, and I have never been unblest in my in vocation to You, 0 my Lord! And Verily! I fear my relatives after me, since my wife is barren. So give me from Yourself an heir, - who shall inherit me, and inherit (also) the posterity of Jacob (inheritance of the religious knowledge and Prophethood, not the wealth, etc.) And make him, my Lord, one with whom You are Well-pleased!"
(Allah said): "0 Zechariah! Verily, We give you the glad tidings of a son. His name will be John (Yahya). We have given that name to none before (him)."
He said: 'My Lord! How can I have a son, when my wife is barren, and I have reached the extreme old age."
He said: "So (it will be). Your Lord says, It is easy for Me. Certainly I have created you before, when you had been nothing."
(Zechariah) said: 'My Lord! Appoint for me a sign."
He said: 'Your sign is that you shall not speak unto mankind for three nights, though having no bodily defect."
Then he came out to his people from Al-Mihrab (a praying place or a private room, etc.), he told them by signs to glorify Allah 's Praises in the morning and in the afternoon.
(It was said to his son): "0 John! Hold fast to the Scripture (The Torah)." And We gave him wisdom while yet a child, and (made him) sympathetic to men as a mercy (or a grant) from Us, and pure from sins (i.e. John) and he was righteous, and dutiful towards his parents, and he was neither an arrogant nor disobedient (to Allah or to his parents). And Salamun (peace) on him the day he was born, the day he dies, and the day he will be raised up to life (again)! (Surah 19: 1-12)
John was born a stranger to the world of children who used to amuse themselves, as he was serious all the time. Most children took delight in torturing animals whereas, he was merciful to them. He fed the animals from his food until there was nothing left for him, and he just ate fruit or leaves of trees.
John loved reading since childhood. When he grew up, Allah the Exalted called upon him: "'0 John! Hold fast to the Scripture (The Torah).' And We gave him wisdom while yet a child". (Surah 19: 12)
Allah guided him to read the Book of Jurisprudence closely; thus, he became the wisest and most knowledgeable man of that time. Therefore, Allah the Almighty endowed him with the faculties of passing judgments on people's affairs, interpreting the secrets of religion, guiding people to the right path, and warning them against the wrong one.
John reached maturity. His compassion for his parents, as well as for all people and all creatures, increased greatly. He called people to repent their sins.
There are quite a number of traditions told about John. Ibn Asaker related that one time his parents were looking for him and found him at the Jordan River. When they met him, they wept sorely, seeing his great devotion to Allah, Great and Majestic.
Ibn Wahb said that, according to Malik, grass was the food of John Ibn Zechariah, and he wept sorely in fear of Allah.
A chain of narrators reported that Idris Al-Khawlawi said: "Shall I not tell you he who had the best food? It is John Ibn Zechariah, who joined the beasts at dinner, fearing to mix with men."
Why John always wept
Ibn Mubarak stated that Wahb Ibn Al-Ward narrated that Zechariah did not see his son for three days. He found him weeping inside a grave which he had dug and in which he resided. "My son, I have been searching for you, and you are dwelling in this grave weeping!" "0 father, did you not tell me that between Paradise and Hell is only a span, and it will not be crossed except by tears of weepers?" He said to him: "Weep then, my son." Then they wept together.
Other narrations say that John said: 'The dwellers of Paradise are sleepless out of the sweetness of Allah's bounty; that is why the faithful must be sleepless because of Allah's love in their hearts. How far between the two luxuries, how far between them?"
They say John wept so much that tears marked his cheeks.
John's love of nature
He found comfort in the open and never cared about food. He ate leaves, herbs, and sometimes locusts. He slept anywhere in the mountains or in holes in the ground. He sometimes would find a lion or a bear as he entered a cave, but being deeply absorbed in praising Allah, he never heeded them. The beasts easily recognized John as the prophet who cared for all the creatures, so they would leave the cave, bowing their heads.
John sometimes fed those beasts, out of mercy, from his food and was satisfied with prayers as food for his soul. He would spend the night crying and praising Allah for His blessings.
When John called people to worship Allah, he made them cry out of love and submission, arresting their hearts with the truthfulness of his words.
John's cruel death
A conflict took place between John and the authorities at that time. A tyrant king, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Palestine, was in love with Salome, his brother's daughter (Ibn Kathir wrote here "Herodias," who was Herod's brother's wife, according to Matthew 14. Their daughter is known by tradition as Salome. According to Matthew 14,New Revised Standard version, Herod wanted to marry his brother', wife, but I believe Ibn Kathir's version makes more sense - Editor). He was planning to marry his beautiful niece. The marriage was encouraged by her mother and by some of the learned men of Zion, either out of fear or to gain favor with the ruler.
On hearing the ruler's plan, John pronounced that such a marriage would be incestuous. He would not approve it under any circumstance, as it was against the Law of the Torah.
John's pronouncement spread like wildfire. Salome was angry, for it was her ambition to rule the kingdom with her uncle. She plotted to achieve her aim. Dressing attractively, she sang and danced before her uncle. Arousing his lust, Herod embraced her, he offered to fulfill whatever she desired. At once she told him: "I would love to have the head of John, because he has defiled your honor and mine throughout the land. If you grant me this wish, I shall be very happy and will offer myself to you." Bewitched by her charm, he submitted to her monstrous request. John was executed and his head was brought to Salome. The cruel woman gloated with delight. But the death of Allah's beloved prophet was avenged. Not only she, but all the children of Israel were severely punished by invading armies which destroyed their kingdom.
(taken out of Ibn Kathir's "Stories of the Prophets").
Mandaeans (who view Jesus and Moses as false prophets) believe John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the prophets.
Unification Church view
Unificationists regard John the Baptist as "the greatest man born of woman" (Mt 11:11), yet they criticize him for his "failure" to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah.
In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a "personification" of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. According to Gnostic theology, John the Baptist was a prophet from the Old Testament who did not know the True God (the God of the New Testament, as opposed to the God of the Old Testament — see the article on Gnosticism for details), and thus had to be reincarnated. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must "come first" to herald the coming of Jesus Christ.
Last updated: 10-15-2005 09:52:36