“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” (John 1:6–8, NASB95)
For hundreds of years God had spoken through His prophets of a Savior and King who would come to save mankind, and in particular through the Old Testament, the people of Israel—their Messiah. Some had been waiting for this Deliverer to come, while most lived as if it didn’t matter if He ever came. And as time progressed fewer and fewer people listened and things grew darker for the people of the promise. This continued until the last of the prophets recorded in the Old Testament—Malachi. Following Him Scripture is silent for over 400 years.
But Malachi was not to be the last messenger sent by God to speak of the coming of the Lord. Malachi himself wrote as God spoke to him, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1, NASB95) Later he wrote, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5, NASB95) And Malachi was not the only one who spoke what God had told them about this coming messenger who would precede the coming of the Lord. Isaiah wrote, “A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”” (Isaiah 40:3, NASB95)
In Luke’s record of the birth of Jesus he also includes the record of the birth of this coming messenger of God. We read, “And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For 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 their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”” (Luke 1:11–17, NASB95)
Even from the womb we know that John recognized the Lord and His coming. After Elizabeth had conceived John, Mary was told that she also would become pregnant—this time with the Son of God. “The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, NASB95) And after she had conceived she went to spend time with her relative Elizabeth. The Bible tells us, “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39–45, NASB95)
Surely enough John grew up to do as the prophets had said as they themselves were spoken to by God and as the angel had told John’s parents. Then one day… “The next day [after John was questioned as to who he was and whether or not he was the Christ] he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.”” (John 1:29–31, NASB95)
This man John was the final messenger who preceded the coming of Christ, and he went before Jesus telling the world of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God had sent His herald to proclaim the coming King. This herald was not the King, but one who pointed people to Him—He who is the Light in whom there is no darkness.