BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE,
HE WILL PREPARE THE WAY FOR YOU
A brief look at the Eschatological Significance of John the Baptizer
Don K. Preston D. Div.
Other than Jesus and Paul, John the Baptizer is the most significant, (yet the most ignored) eschatological figure in the NT. I am in the process of writing a book about his eschatological role, and I hope to be able to show how tragic it is that he is so ignored.
Malachi, the “Messenger” prophet, foretold a future coming of another Messenger, one who would prepare for the coming of the Lord to His temple.
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3.1-3).
The eschatological nature of this coming of the Lord is clear and undeniable. The Lord would come “suddenly to His temple” and no one could stand before Him at that coming. (The concept of “standing” before the Lord in connection with his “coming” is invariably related to the judgment parousia of Christ, in the NT). The word translated as come in Malachi 3, (bow, Strong’s #0935) is a word commonly used in the OT to speak of the coming YHVH in judgment. (There is a beautiful thematic connection between the coming of the Lord to his temple in Malachi and Psalms 24. This connection also serves to confirm the eschatological nature of this coming. We cannot develop it here).
The eschatological nature of this coming of the Lord is reinforced in Malachi, in verse 5:
“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien— Because they do not fear Me.”
Keep in mind that God was saying that this judgment would be at His coming to his temple, when the kingdom arrived. The entrance of the “Messenger of the Covenant” into his temple is an undeniable eschatological “kingdom” doctrine. The language is the language of enthronement.
So, the kingdom would come when Messiah’s Kingdom Temple was perfected and he entered that temple to rule and reign. Of course, this implies that the Old Temple would become passe when the New Temple was fully established, but we will not develop that here. With this firmly in mind, consider the following.
Enter John the Baptizer
Malachi anticipated that before the coming of the Lord in judgment, YHVH would send His “Messenger”: “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming.” Note that there are two “Messengers” here. The messenger would prepare for the way for the Messenger.
We are not left to uncertain speculation about the identity of this first Messenger. Jesus (The Messenger of the Covenant) settles the issue, when he spoke of John the Baptizer:
“For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:10f).
See also Mark 1:1-3 where John is identified not only as the Messenger of Malachi, but, the Voice of one crying in the wilderness of Isaiah 40. The Voice, just like the Messenger, was to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord in his kingdom and in judgment (Isaiah 40:1-11; see also Isaiah 62):
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’s hand
Double for all her sins.” The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength,
Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that the task of the Voice / Messenger was to proclaim impending judgment and the kingdom. This coming would be the Lord’s coming “with his reward.” It would be his coming in his kingdom to rule.
There is nothing in Isaiah 40 or Malachi to indicate that the mission of the Voice / Messenger was to prepare for the Incarnation of Messiah. The coming of the Lord to his temple–when no one could stand before him– is a coming in judgment of the wicked and reward of the righteous (Malachi 3:5, 15-16).
So, there can be no debate:
John the Baptizer was the Messenger foretold by Malachi.
But, the Messenger foretold by Malachi was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord in judgment and reward, at the time of the kingdom.
Therefore, John, as the Messenger foretold by Malachi, was preparing for the coming of the Lord in judgment and reward at the time of the kingdom.
With this in mind, what did John as the Voice / Messenger say about the coming of the Lord, in judgment and the kingdom? The testimony is clear, powerful and unequivocal.
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ …Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?…And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:1-12).
John’s message was powerful: The kingdom was near, the judgment and time
of reward was at hand– all in fulfillment of the prophets.
Note now the direct connection between Isaiah 40 (as well as Isaiah 62) and Matthew 16:27. Jesus said he was coming “in the glory of the father, with his angels, and shall reward every man according to his works.” Jesus is clearly drawing on Isaiah 40 and 62, both of which foretold the coming of the Lord with his reward and in judgment.
Notice that just as in Isaiah 40 and 62 the coming of the Lord in judgment is likewise the coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).
So here is what we have:
The coming of the Lord in Matthew 16:27-28 is the coming of the Lord of Isaiah 40 and 62.
John was the Voice to prepare for that coming and he said, repeatedly and emphatically that the coming of the Lord in judgment was near.
This demands that the coming of the Lord in Matthew 16:27 truly was near. And that is precisely what verse 28 says of course: “There are some standing here that shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Thus, in Matthew 16:27-28 we find all of the elements in Isaiah 40, 62. And John’s message as the Voice and Messenger was (not to mention 16:28) that the judgment coming was objectively near.
The eschatological role of John the Baptizer, as The Voice and the Messenger, is therefore crystal clear. He was the harbinger of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, and he taught that that consummative event was near. Any and all eschatologies that ignore John, his message and his role in God’s end times schema are deficient. We will look closer at his role in the next article.