The prophet Malachi gives us the last recorded words we have from God before the 400-year period of silence begins between the Old and New Testaments. No more prophets, no more writings, and no word from God. Only 50,000 Jewish exiles returned to Judah after their captivity in Babylon. And with this last prophet’s words, God closes out the Old Testament history and prophecy.
Malachi 3:1 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.
The prophet Isaiah also confirmed this messenger, or forerunner to the Messiah.
Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.”
How were the people to know when the Messiah was to come, and how would they recognize him? Malachi said a messenger would come first to clear the way for the Messiah. He would be a witness, one to help prepare the way.
Four hundred years later, when all hope seemed lost, an unusual man named John the Baptist arrived on the scene. He lived in the desert wilderness and came preaching a unique message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” He was the forerunner to Christ.
“See, He is coming”, says the Lord of Hosts.
This Christmas season, may you feel the joy and anticipation of the Savior that is Jesus Christ.
Four hundred years of silence from God spans the time between the Old Testament writings and the New Testament. No more prophets, no more prophecy, and no more discipline. Were the people awaiting the Messiah or had they given up? Did they feel forgotten?
Even though there is no further word from God during this period, prophecy is being fulfilled and a lot of activity is happening. Daniel’s prophecy for three of the four major kingdoms is fulfilled with amazing accuracy: Medo-Persia in 539 BC, Greece in 331 BC, and Rome in 63 BC. The area of Jerusalem is now called Judea; the Romans replaced the Persians; and Latin and Greek are the new major languages. The one temple of the Old Testament is now transformed into a new form of Jewish government, by way of synagogues and the positions of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin.
The Jews produce many writings during this period. One is known as the Qumran scrolls, or Dead Sea scrolls. The Qumran society lived around the Dead Sea area when the scrolls were written. They believed in a “new covenant” or messianic theology that looked for the Messiah and followed the prophetic promises. Ironically, these scrolls were discovered by shepherds in a cave in 1947. This happened one year before Israel became a nation again, almost 2600 years after they were first exiled.
Now we come to the New Testament period of the Christmas story, where we have the writings from a Gentile doctor named Luke. Luke is my favorite gospel book to read. I like his style, and much of the Christmas story we hear today comes from Luke. It is a more modern style of writing than what we previously read in the Old Testament. Luke explains things in a very factual and methodical way. Here is his account of what becomes the beginning of the fulfillment of the Messiah, the birth of the forerunner to Christ.
Luke 1:1-24 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.
When Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, it happened that he was chosen by
lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and overcome with fear.But the angel said to him:
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.
“How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making signs to them and remained speechless. When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”
May God bring you comfort and reassurance in these messages of angels and prophets, proclaiming the good news of this Holy season of Christ’s birth.
“For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts. Malachi 1:11
The angel visited both Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth will become the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Her cousin Mary will be the mother of Jesus. Luke, the storyteller doctor, continues the story here.
Luke 1:39-56 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she exclaimed with a loud cry:
“You are the most blessed of women, and your child will be blessed!
How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me! She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!”
And Mary said:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy. His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has done a mighty deed with His arm; He has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; He has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, mindful of His mercy, just as He spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.
And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home.
The one who believes is blessed. May you believe this Christmas season, and experience the blessings of God.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
John the Baptist had a remarkable life. He came to make way for the Messiah and to prepare people’s hearts for salvation, though he did not know ahead of time who the Messiah was to be. He lived a simple and humble life in the wilderness, but was feared by King Herod because of his influence, and was later beheaded by him. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, who wrote Antiquities of the Jews (a history of the Jewish people) acknowledged the life and activity of John the Baptist.
Luke continues his story, with the birth of John, later to be known as John the Baptist.
Luke 1:67-80 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets in ancient times; salvation from our enemies and from the clutches of those who hate us. He has dealt mercifully with our fathers and remembered His holy covenant— the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.
And child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
May you get to know who Jesus is – the way of peace, the light that shines in the darkness, and the One who gives us salvation and forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus is recorded as saying, “the least in the kingdom of heaven will be greater than John the Baptist, who was the greatest person ever born of a woman.”
That is quite a statement. Jesus made some bold statements in his time, recorded in the New Testament. They were things no one else would claim or dare to say. If we focus our attention on these bold, direct statements Jesus said instead of the little details we sometimes squabble over, our priorities might just change. So what did Jesus mean by his statement on John the Baptist?
The kingdom of heaven is a big deal! The honor of being accepted as a child of God who inherits the kingdom of heaven is greater than anything else we can possibly imagine or do on our own. Even the least, most insignificant life here on earth can be greater than the person who was chosen to prepare the way for the Son of God. Heaven is not to be missed for anything!
Something greater was happening. Up until the time of John the Baptist, there was no Savior or Messiah, and prayer and contact with God only came through a high priest. People had to atone for their sins through regular sacrifices. But now, Jesus came as a personal Savior to the world for anyone who wanted it. Christianity was born. No matter what a person may have done (even the least) they will be considered greater than John the Baptist in heaven, because they accepted God’s Son, Jesus Christ!
~ Matthew 11:2-15 John the Baptist ~
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”
As these men went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You; he will prepare Your way before You.
I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. Anyone who has ears should listen!”
No other person or prophet – Mohammed, Moses, or anyone else – has ever had anyone who came before them to announce and authenticate their arrival. Jesus had many witnesses and many prophecies. No one can dispute what he claimed to have said and done. They can only refuse to accept it.