The enlightenment teaching of the Essene was known as the WAY. This teaching became the final interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, as revealed by Yeshua Messiah. The Way became the enlightened transitional teaching into the early church.
John’s foundation principles and his call to righteousness open the way for Jesus’ ministry.
John’s primary teaching was “knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Lk. 1.77 ). John’s repentance message also becomes the preparedness message for the soon to arrive Deliverer. John would walk “before the face of the Lord (God), and to prepare His ways (76). (79) To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of [spiritual] death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God’s plan will soon bring forth the Deliverer. John will announce to him and prepare the people for his coming.
Since the arrival of the Greeks in 332 BC, Judaism writhed in torment, which finally leads to a first-time event. Judaism split into different basic divisions: Pharisee, Sadducee, and Essene (Osseaen & Nazarene). The Osseaens and Nazarenes both accounted themselves as the righteous remnant of the former high priesthood, who were the Zadokites, or the Zadokite Priesthood established under King David (1000 BC). The Sadducees composed the third component of the Zadokites, and remained as the current Temple priests, corrupted though they were.
Both Nazarene and Qumran Essene* viewed, as did John, the coming Jewish Deliverer tied to repentance by the nation of Israel. According to John, the Deliver’s arrival would also include the removal of the Sadducees from Temple control. John’s message becomes a powerful unifying force and cements John in Biblical history as an ascendent transitional figure.
*see Essenes & Jesus the Nazarene
Dedicated to the Nazarite tradition from birth, John’s early training emerged from the group known as the Qumran Essene (Osseaens). Often referred to today as the ‘scribal authority’, it is from this group the biblical reference ‘lawyers and scribes’ derives. However, unlike his Essene brothers, John’s message cannot be considered wholly legalistic, but a higher spiritual call for the repentance of Israel and a return to the fundamentals of righteousness. His is more the teaching of the heart. His water baptism moves past the obedience to the law and accepts the cleansing of sin and the pursuance toward righteousness by direct commitment.
CALL TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
John’s call to righteousness is best described in Lk. 1.72: “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant,” and to v. 75, “In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. (76) And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest.” This pronouncement is included in the prophetic speaking of John’s father, Zacharias. In v. 69, John is given the highest of designations as a prophet— “And has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” Although John is a “horn of salvation,” he is not the Messiah himself but will perform as the forerunner to him.
It is unlikely the members of John’s Essene division, the Osseaens, would view themselves as needing repentance. They viewed themselves as a part of the ‘righteous remnant’ of the Zadokite priesthood, similar in belief to the Nazarenes in that respect. As lawyers and scribes of the law, Qumran Essene believed themselves to be the repository of repentance, and that repentance came by the ever-closer following of the law. From ten commandments they had assembled over two thousand laws, many of which had to do with sabbath observation. They believed themselves the rightful heirs to Temple authority and the Temple itself. Their intellectual challenges to Jesus would define their legalistic-repentance views.
By the nature of law itself, new laws would naturally heighten the Osseaen position of authority. These laws were twofold: first came extra laws concerning cleanliness, ritual, abstention, and celibacy, none of which were pronounced under Mosaic law; the second became a developing commentary of when and how the laws were to be applied. The commentaries on the prophets and Mosaic law would become extensive and minute. By the making and enforcing of these ‘extra’ laws, excepting celibacy, the people were led to believe that holiness would surely follow legal obedience. Within this lawyered embroilment the Osseaens became misdirected and plunged Judaism further into legalism and thus decay. John offers repentance and pathway, clearly a more wholistic vision than that of his own sect’s reliance on the law as foremost.
The Nazarenes, as represented by Jesus, would see repentance as more of a wholesale change of heart and mind. It is they who would teach the Way, essentially an enlightenment teaching dealing with oneness or wholeness with God. This would require a very different relationship with God and toward God, a new form of righteousness. If love is paramount (Mt. 22.34-40)*, then unity and brotherhood cannot be far behind, offering wholeness and love toward God, contributing to oneness with Him (Jn. 10.30).
*Verses 34 & 35 provide an encapsulated picture of the mentalities of Sadducees, Pharisees, and lawyers (Osseaen Essene priests). As to the Pharisees & Sadducees specifically, John admonishes to “bear fruits worthy of repentance,” else face the “wrath to come” (Mt. 3.7-8).
John preaches a fundamental shift in the current pathway of Judaism. He does not seem to care much for the political or religious structure of his day: you don’t need a priest, you don’t need one sect or another, you don’t need the synagogue as such, you need only come to God and be baptized and repent. But, the repenting entails removing oneself from the pathway Judaism had been following. In John’s view, all must change. Just as Jews always relied on being sons of Abraham, no longer will that be of advantage. A whole new order will now be established, and you must repent of the old to accept the new. That pathway will be edified upon by Jesus, the teaching of the Way.
Advancing further, Jesus gives us ‘born again’. This phrase has taken on many different nuances, but essentially means to awaken, or the awakening to the spirit of God within. This very radical message leaves behind the current outmoded way of thinking. For example, the law has its place, but the repentance of heart and mind now supersedes. John is essentially formatting a new religion, of which Jesus will complete. This ‘born again’ commitment would require a direct coming forth unto God, rather than only obedience to God’s laws. Clearly, John initiates the repentance message, and to prepare for the Messiah who is nye.
John does not contend with the Messiah as his own sect will later do. John baptizes with water, the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3.16), and John clearly understands his role as forerunner quite well. As he sees Jesus he has no problem recognizing him and immediately announces him, Messiah. Jesus then submits to John, and in doing so both submit to each other’s proper position. In heaven, there is a proper order to all things, and so when John and Jesus meet, the proper order in heaven is reflected on earth.
Is it possible that John was encouraged as a forerunner by the Nazarenes themselves? It is a controversial question but seldom asked. To say that John and Jesus knew one another would be a statement of the obvious. After all, they were cousins, and in those days families remained close. That John establishes some of the fundamentals of the Jesus ministry as well as introducing Jesus, these make for an association of teaching, outlook, and mission, as well as an easy familiarity. John later needs to be consoled that Jesus is the Messiah, but at the time of their first meeting, he seems to have no doubt.
Of repentance, laws may be followed quite closely, but hearts and minds often lag behind, as Jesus later edifies: “committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5.24); and “whoever is angry… without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (22). Both statements lend themselves to the core principle of understanding hearts and minds. “…he knew what was in a man” (Jn. 2.23-25), is not reserved for acts of healing and teaching only, but rather references a much deeper thought-teaching, the teaching of heart and mind, essentially the teaching of the Way.
In short, piecemeal the laws may be followed, but pathway becomes a way of life. John essentially stands in the gap of transference from law into a direct relationship with God, from ancient religious views into modern. This last statement is very important for understanding John. He is not only the forerunner, as orthodoxy often emphasizes, but except for Jesus himself, John is also the pivotal transitional figure into the spirituality that will now begin to move upon the world.
Instead of only following God’s rules or laws, John’s ministry introduces a change in the direction of Judaism. This change begins to remove the more formal adherence to structured Judaism, and through the new vision for repentance, introduces wholeness within the pathway of renewed heart and mind. The pathway concept, as opposed to the strict following of the law, in turn, produces a walk with God. John represents the repentance pathway; Jesus would later redefine it as the love pathway. Even so, God becomes more touchable, more personal through the advent of the new message and the baptismal, and by the nature of his ministry, John subjugates law.
For the common person, John cracks the door into the revelation of God within, which Jesus will later open wide. John is not the man who will accomplish the final task, but he realizes someone must prepare the way for him who will. The structure of the current priesthood must be struck down, and the higher call to righteousness within the individual must be called forth. John the Baptist preached stridently and with an urgency that this change of direction now lay before the Jewish people. This call to spiritual arms, this harsh clanging bell, would keynote John’s ministry.
CONFESSION and the BAPTISMAL
The second great theme of John was to confess sin and receive the ritual cleansing by baptism. For the Essene, baptism was always given in running water, thus the River Jordan, particularly its tributaries, come into prominence. Further, the Essene remained the only division of Judaism known to practice baptism. Those Essene priests who preached a new message often baptized a person into the new order. The baptism itself was usually administered to groups of people, to one and then another and another, somewhat as if standing in a line. Entering into the water for purification was also often repeated.
However, the baptism of Jesus was administered singularly, not within a group, followed by the further anointing of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3.10-17). The transition of baptism into a singular event begins with Jesus. Water requires repeated cleansing; the Holy Spirit requires only a one-time application and acceptance. Water can be seen, but the Holy Spirit is not seen, and so it is that faith in things not seen becomes a preeminent virtue of the early church, for such faith replicates faith in the Holy Spirit.
John’s baptism revolved around the call to repentance. Jews from Jerusalem and Jericho came to hear John, and many accepted his water baptismal. As people would come and go over time,* this might include thousands who were baptized. John, you see, was a nationwide phenomenon.
*John was six months older than Jesus; at the age of thirty, teaching or beginning a ministry was then allowed.
The baptismal is a powerful element, a strong confluence of consciousness representing commitment, for it is intended as a true calling, and a true anointing. Those who come forth and recommit their life to God demonstrate this new or reestablished purity. All would have understood the symbol and the power of John’s baptism, and the people would have received it as a holy event. The baptismal accords as an entering-in, intended to bring new substance to the soul, a new pathway, and broadly intended to extend into the soul of the nation.
Receiving the baptism would not only be in the context of repentance, but those who came would also hear the political/religious message John preached. For example, some Pharisees were more than willing to take the baptism, and so to later say that they had accepted baptismal by John. Other Pharisees may have felt the need and the calling, though not knowing truly what it was all about. Witness Nicodemus. John for his part mostly condemns them, much as Jesus does. John’s denunciations of the current religious order would leave some perhaps wondering. However, the common man would heed the call, and perhaps intuitively understood John very well, that is, the need for great spiritual change in Israel.
Followers after Jesus will reach for the same standard. Some would see John’s ministry as the initial step to rid the land of the Romans; others would see his message as integral to Messiah. The Pharisees themselves later ask John, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Jn. 1.25). Minds were being influenced, and it seems clear a new movement launches within Judaism. Even the religious hierarchy was questioning, then doubting, trying to find their place within this messianic vision.
John’s job was to prepare the way. While others waited, John acted. While others might stand by, John picked up a rock and threw it in your face. Many watched and hoped for a sign, but John baptized and stood up for Messiah’s coming so a reformed Israel could be established. He not only preached repentance, but it was a repentance that would lead to revelation mind, new spiritual freedom and shared enlightenment with God. John’s comprehension of the vision might not have been complete, yet he tells us the process: that the axe is taken to the roots of evil, to repent and produce good fruit, and that the baptism into this commitment should be performed now, done openly before God. With the addition of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Shekinah glory, the early church practiced just these steps.
John leaves no doubt who will be left out of the Deliverer’s Israel, the Pharisees and the Sadducees to name two. These conflicts were not a light dance of disagreement with the powers that be. John condemns the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, to be swept away if they did not repent. Herod and his sinful kingdom must fall. To be replaced with what? This new creation would leave behind the powers that currently reigned. These would become chilling insights for the religious hierarchy.
ARE YOU WORTHY?
A third theme would echo throughout John’s ministry, to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Mt. 3.8). First, John says to verbally or prayerfully confess, second to purify or restore the soul by being baptized into the new, third is to redeem the mind, or to bear fruit. If what you are producing is not fruitful then you chop it up and throw it into the fire to be consumed. This lack of results within the Jewish community John points to as the problem, for it is rooted in unrighteousness. As well, he emphasizes that those who have not produced results are the religious hierarchy of the day, primarily the aforesaid Sadducees and Pharisees. This aspect of the John ministry is often overlooked. John wants the whole of it consumed as if by fire.
As John says to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” Jesus also speaks of bearing good fruit in Lk. 13.1-9. James mentions faith without works (more correctly, ‘actions’) is no kind of faith at all (Jm. 2.17). True repentance may begin with prayer, even baptism, but the redemptive process should bear the fruit of the new pathway as well. This concept of presenting the teaching, but walking in the pathway, is integral to the Way. Teaching and pathway must always work together, else something is bound to go amiss.
Throughout John and Jesus’ ministries, the willingness to demonstrate is far more emphasized than most people take note. How this demonstration will later be done, Jesus will teach us. A portion comes to us as loving your neighbor as your own family (repentance of anger, redemption by love). This fruit brings us to a much greater extended family, or brotherhood, and demonstrates love in the more universal sense. Jesus speaks of a lantern shedding its light within the room, and the city on the hill. These examples are given to demonstrate spirit illuminating the mind, unification of teaching and pathway, and of a nature the manner we should go about our daily business. These concepts reflect the new enlightenment Jesus brings.
WHAT ARE YOUR ROOTS?
Fourth, “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,” Matt. 3.10 NIV. Although already mentioned in reference to Pharisees and Sadducees, this is John’s personal call to action, a call to participate. The mind must expunge itself and in doing so symbolically burn that which is not useful: to “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” Lk. 3.17. (18) “And many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” These last statements have a very Essene quality, black and white, rousing, but also final.
To some extent, John gives us himself: enlightened, dedicated, and whole within his purpose. He gives us the proto-version of the Way: lay down that which does not bear fruit, burn it, and move into the spirit of God. Doubt and halting steps do not measure up to John’s calling. Make a commitment, he admonishes, that the burning fire of the spirit consumes impatience and weariness—Messiah comes to give the final interpretation on the Law and the Prophets. John has put himself on the line for the nation and the Jewish people. John’s cogent enlightened mind pronounces Jesus as one whose sandal he is not fit to unloose. John lays himself down and defers to him who has arrived, Messiah Jesus.
The greater enlightenment of the Way provides one more important point. With previous prophets, the concern had always been with the Jewish nation or people as a whole. John’s message will not only apply to the Jew but will also apply to the heathen, meaning anyone and everyone. He speaks to the Roman soldiers, and tells them to take only what is proper, and not to steal for themselves. This implies the message that everyone, even the heathen is under God’s authority and that the new message includes all. Thus, he begins the fountainhead of not separating one man from another but includes all mankind. His message goes to anyone, an appeal without limits.
The appeal to those outside Judaism is borderline heretical for this day and time. Although loving outsiders was not unknown, the tendency to view the world as ‘them or us’ remained the Judaic standard, with the ‘us’ part giving evidence to the chosen or protected people of God. The omnibus enlightenment message now begins to take form. Jesus would later decree, this message must come home to the heart and mind of every man.
A fifth emphasis is an urgency to wake up now, and one mightier than I is coming (Lk. 3.16). Some intent, some preparedness always precedes great change. Beside the Jordan River, a powerful and anointed prophet heralds change and the coming of Messiah. It is clear that many people are hungry for his message. Accompanying John a sense of rushing change presents itself, even in the midst of God’s anointing power. Whispers of Messiah abound, but John says it is not himself. The Sanhedrin has sent Nicodemus to inquire, perhaps to spy, and then return with his verdict. This fomentation, this spiritual light that seems to abound, people changed in their lives, making new commitments and being willingly baptized—to the Sanhedrin the locusts had emerged from the desert soil.
John was beginning to wield a powerful and influential ministry. This is a religious/social movement stumbling out of itself and spilling over the countryside: brawny, raw, loud and in your face. It is unremitting, forceful, pushy, willing to point fingers and dare you to strike. If you try to contain it, it will smash itself out of the box; if you try to grab it, it will turn and bite you; if you think to limit it then you have yet to deal with Jesus. Most Christians today have trouble grasping the power and threat of John’s message.
Why was there a way finally found to murder John? For Herod the intent and need to silence John became absolute. John’s ministry was already reaching many thousands. The roar of the people emerged from the bowels of Herod’s kingdom. Nonetheless, Jesus would soon be arriving. With him would come the announcement that the spirit of God is alive in you, His kingdom is within, walk with me and I will show you the Way.