Saint John The Baptist
1st century. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets and the forerunner of our Lord, was a man of the desert. The son of a priestly line, born of aged parents as if by a miracle, brought up as a Nazarite, that is, dedicated from birth to God’s service with lifelong obligations never to shave, take wine, or indulge in human pleasures. He lived in the wilderness, a rugged and magnetic figure, clothed in the skin of a camel, living on locusts and wild honey.
He is the most startling figure in the Gospel narrative, a man of mystery, not as other men, bronzed by the desert sun, with piercing words of ominous malediction, uncompromising and aggressive. No greater contrast can be imagined than the appearance by the river of this prophet of fire and the figure of Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world.’
Crowds followed him, held by his hypnotic power and rugged eloquence and lashed by his bitter invective. “You offspring of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The axe is laid to the rotten trees.” The wheat is being threshed and the stubble burnt in the empty fields. It was the voice of the old dispensation, the last echo of Moses and Elijah, the final challenge of the fire and thunder of the God of the ancient Jews.
But John also prepared the way for Jesus,and with all his fierceness exercised a vital and realistic ministry. With it went a surprising humility and tenderness, for he recognized his own limitations and that he was but a forerunner and a road-builder; and when the time came, he graciously made way for our Lord. He shrank even from the thought of baptizing Him, and spoke of Him with wonder and devotion. I am not the Christ, he said, I am but a voice. “He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.”
His end was tragic, the result of a squalid intrigue. With characteristic boldness he had denounced the unlawful marriage of the infamous Herodias, and, as a result, had been thrown into the gloomy fortress of Machaerus on the shores of the Dead Sea. Then, to gratify the cruel and frivolous whim of a dancing girl, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who had been prompted by her mother, Herod, to his own disgust, but unwilling to take back his word, put him to death, and there followed the shameful display of his head on a charger.
Thus ended the life of this sublime and extraordinary figure who blazed the trail for our Lord. The disciples gave his body decent burial and then broke the tragic news to Jesus, who, overcome by grief and unable to face the crowds that thronged Him, took a boat and retired for a while to a desert place apart (Gill).
There are many images of Saint John on the Internet. Here are a few:
Anonymous Coptic Icon: The Baptism of Jesus Anonymous Coptic Icon: Saint John the Baptist Anonymous Russian icon: The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist Anonymous Russian icon: The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist Anonymous Russian icon: The Finding of the Head of Saint John the Baptist Anonymous Russian icon (no date): Saint John the Baptist in the Desert Flemish Tapestry (early XVI Century): Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Jerome Saint Andrei Rublev: Saint John the Precursor