Why Not John the Baptist?

Why Not John The Baptist?
Have you ever been left out of a gathering or any situation that would have been extremely significant for you? It can be painful, and it will leave you scratching your head and wondering what you did wrong. Perhaps this is what John the Baptist (JB) felt as he languished in Herod’s prison cell. You see, Jesus was setting Israel ablaze with the Good News—the same Good News for which JB was sent by God to herald—but there he was, missing all the fun.

After spending as much as a full year in jail, he finally broke down and had his disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for someone else?” I think that’s a fair question. JB expected that the real Messiah would discern his unfair handling and bust him out of jail.

You see, when Jesus began his ministry, he stood before a synagogue audience and listed the qualifications of the Messiah, and he checked off every one of them: proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim freedom for the prisoners. So, if Jesus is the messiah, why was his cousin, forerunner and friend still in prison? Peter would be miraculously released from jail as well as Paul and Silas—why not JB?

The answer to that question is in Jesus’ response. He quotes his inauguration speech: I proclaim good news to the poor, I heal the blind, deaf and lame (all who are oppressed) (Matthew 11:5).

Now notice the line Jesus left out of his quote: “proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” He left that line out. Why! Because this is one prisoner that will not be busted out of jail—Jesus was simply making that point clear.

Anticipating JB’s bewilderment, Jesus went on to say, “blessed are those who are not offended by me.” In other words, “No offense John; but I’m not coming for you.”

BUT WHY NOT!!! Why won’t he let JB play in any reindeer games? Well, he answered that question too: “whoever is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John (Matthew 11:11).” JB isn’t invited to the party because he isn’t in the kingdom of Heaven—like other folks are.

Jesus gave us a clue what it means to be “in the kingdom of Heaven.” He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” You see, the kingdom of Heaven is the government of God and it is a nonviolent government—entered humbly—not violently. To be “in” it is to be a citizen of it—this means you live by an entirely different set of rules. Violence is out of the question.

JB had a violent spirit—one that would not fit with the meekness required for this kingdom. We see only hints of this violence in the Gospels, but scripture tells us he came in “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), and Elijah was a very violent man.

John the Baptist never grasped the meaning of the new kingdom he ushered in. May we learn from JB’s mistakes and wholeheartedly embrace all the intricacies of this upside down kingdom.


Randy’s book, The Box You Can Put God In, is available on Amazon.

Photo by Pandav Tank on Unsplash, cc.