John the Baptist: The Last Priest
Posted on December 21, 2012 by randywhite
Dr. Randy White
There are two men in Jesus’s life that were chosen by God for a very specific purpose. Joseph was chosen to be the earthly father of our Lord. John the Baptist, a relative of Jesus, was chosen as the forerunner of the Messiah. In a two-part series of articles, I want to determine why God chose these two men to fill these two roles. Were they, as common consensus might portray, chosen simply because they were righteous men in the right place at the right time, or were they chosen because of a position they held, and thus, were the only men alive who could possibly fulfill the assigned roles?
Let’s begin with John the Baptist. Of course, you know and recognize this bigger than life figure, John the Baptist. Yet, I think we somehow have the perception that John was selected because his parents were righteous and he was bold. These two factors together would certainly fulfill the need of the moment for a forerunner of the Messiah who would proclaim that the Messiah has arrived. After all, the Old Testament had prophesied a prophet who would come to proclaim the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. Therefore, in order to fulfill this prophecy, God needed a messenger. I think our perception is that God comes along and says, “Oh, goodness, look at the time! The fullness of time is almost here. I’ve got to get with it! I need to choose a messenger, a forerunner for the Messiah. Who in the world am I going to choose?” It’s as if we believe that God then looked down from heaven and said, “Look! There’s a man and his wife, both righteous, and praying for a child. I’ll bring them together and they will have a son. He will be bold, he will be powerful, and he will be the perfect messenger. I can answer their prayer AND I can bring my messenger, thus killing two birds with one stone!” What a great plan!
I know that no one would word it quite as irreverently, but I think you might agree with me that we haven’t put much thought into why John the Baptist was selected. The story is found in Luke 1:5 – 17. Considering these words, I want to lay down a new perspective, that no one could have been chosen outside of John, and that he was chosen because of a position which he alone held. This means that the prophecy of the Old Testament did not create the need for John, but foretold the man who was John.
In Luke 1:5, we are told that, “in the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a Priest…” Although it may seem an insignificant fact, the priesthood of Zechariah is very important information. John was to be sent as the forerunner or messenger of God to proclaim that the Messiah had arrived. If God is looking for a messenger, someone to speak his word, to prepare the way, to announce what God is doing, to be a “go-between” for the people of God, who would he choose? If you simply follow the pattern given us in the Old Testament, that “go-between” would fulfill one of two offices: he would either be a “Priest,” or a “prophet.” I don’t know what the Jewish equivalent names are, but God didn’t just pick any “Tom, Dick or Harry” to go out as his messengers. He always spoke through a Priest for a prophet. Many times the Priest was also a prophet, such as Zechariah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah. These men were both Priests and prophets. In the Old Testament, if someone spoke on behalf of God, he was always either a Priest or a prophet. So, when the Lord promised that a forerunner of his Messiah would come, we must expect that he would be either a Priest, or a prophet, or both. In Luke 1:5, we learn that our assumption is correct.
The Priest, introduced in verse 5, is a man named Zacharias, and he is serving in the division of Abijah. If you’re reading the first chapter of Luke, you may be thinking, “Luke, you’re awfully detailed. Just give me the big picture!” But Luke is consistently saying, “I want to give you the details, and I believe the details matter.” So, Zechariah is of the division of Abijah. For this to be true, Zechariah was not only a Levite, but also a descendent of Aaron. This made Zechariah an Aaronic Priest. Luke also declares that Zechariah, “had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” So, not only is John’s dad a descendent of Aaron, but his mother is also in the Aaronic family. This makes John the Baptist full-blooded Aaronic, doesn’t it!
In Luke 1:6-8, we learn that Zechariah the Priest is carrying out his Priestly duty in the order of his division. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the High Priest had become a political appointment. (Heaven forbid when the day comes to the American church that the government appoints the preacher then instructs what he will say and what to do.) In the days of John and Jesus, Annas and Caiaphas served as High Priest. These men held the duty by political appointment, so there is a legitimate High Priest somewhere, doing something. He’s not serving in his God-given role because of the politically-appointed High Priest who stands in the way. Not only were there 24 divisions of the Priesthood, but the honor of going into the holy place was selected “by lot.” Zechariah was chosen by the invisible hand of God on that particular day because, it seems, God wanted a particular man to work in the Temple and do the work of the High Priest. When God’s chosen man entered into the holy place to carry out his duty, Zacharias was troubled when an angel appeared to him, and fear gripped him. The Angel instructed Zechariah that his petition had been heard, that his wife would bear a son, and he was to name him John. And, just as promised, Zechariah the Priest and his wife Elizabeth were blessed by God with a son, and they named him John.
Is Luke revealing to us that God is rejecting the man that the Caesar had chosen as High Priest, and He, himself, is choosing Zechariah, a man without a child, fulfilling – even if for a day – his rightful role as High Priest? If so, this would mean we have come to the end of the line in the Aaronic Priesthood, unless Zechariah has a son. But God selects this man, in his old age, to have a child, that is, to produce one last Priest. Luke 1:15 says, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord. And he will drink no wine or liquor. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before him.” Many understand these to be a Nazarite vow, but it is more likely the description of a Priest carrying out his God-given duty under the law. It appears that God has decided that what appeared to be the end of the line would not be the end of the line, after all. God was going to give a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and he would be the last of the High Priests of the order of Aaron.
In Malachi 3:1 God tells us that he will send a “messenger” to prepare the way of the Lord. In the context of Malachi, the messenger is always a Priest. God, through Malachi, is speaking to a group of Priests with whom he is sorely dissatisfied. God promises to these messengers that he is going to send, “my messenger” who will be a “messenger of the covenant.” Is God saying that since the Priests of the order of Aaron are not doing their work, he is going to send his own Priest? That is, a Priest after the order of Melchizedek? And, when John the Baptist arrives, what does he do? He is most known for baptizing. And when Jesus wanted to be baptized, John, at first, refused. He refused on the basis of his unworthiness, that he was baptizing a baptism of repentance, and Jesus had nothing of which he needed to repent. Jesus, however, said “for righteousness, let it be done.” What righteousness is he talking about?
When Aaron was ordained to be the Priest, the ordination service included the “washing” of Aaron, and his sons. The particular Hebrew word for wash that is used in the ordination of the Priest is not a word for rinse, or for sprinkling, or for pouring, but it’s a word that means to get all the way into the water. In Judaism, the Mikva served as the baptistery. A Jew would go into the Mikva and be completely submerged into the water. When the law says that the Priest was to be washed when he was ordained, it is likely referring to a Mikva experience; that is, a baptism by immersion. And when Jesus was ready to begin his ministry, he said, “Let it be, this is for righteousness sake.” I believe that John, the last of the High Priest, according to the order of Aaron, is baptizing Jesus, the High Priest according to the order of Melchisadek! In other words, John is transferring authority to the new order of the Priesthood; the old order of Aaron is passing away, and now is transferred to Jesus, who is our Priest according to the Priestly order of Melchizedek.
If this is true, then who besides John could have been chosen for this task? John had to be chosen, because he was the end of the line for the Aaronic Priesthood legitimately passing authority to the new Priesthood, forever held in Jesus Christ!