Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: John the Baptist
The story in the Old Testament closes with the captivity of the Israelites. The kingdom of Israel had been carried away into. a permanent captivity; the kingdom of Judah had been carried away to Babylon for seventy years (and the number 70 also represents a permanent state). Although the return of the Jews to Canaan was promised by the prophets, yet we learn about their actual return and about the rebuilding of the temple from other books, but, strange as it may seem, not from the Word. There is a reason for this. It is that their whole history represented states of the church, and if their return from Babylon were related in the Word, it would signify that they themselves returned out of the state of evil into that of good. The Jews as a nation never made such a return. And yet a new church was to be established. Mankind were to return to the Lord, and a few of the Jews were to begin this church as a nucleus. This new, or Christian Church, was established by the Lord's own coming into the world. Instead, therefore, of having the story of the return of the Jews from Babylon to Canaan, we have the story of the Lord's coming into the world, and of the institution of the genuine or Christian Church.
Unless we understand this, there would seem to be no continuity between the Old Testament and the New, but a serious gap.
In order that men may return out of an evil state, such as that which is represented by the worship of Baal and other idols, and by the final captivity of the twelve tribes, they must repent. This is the reason why in the beginning of the gospel story we read about a man who told people to repent - namely, John the Baptist. In order- that the church, the Lord's kingdom, may be in you, repent: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
It shows us how closely the New Testament really follows the Old, when we realize that the prophets foretold about John's preaching as in Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi. Indeed, the very last words of Malachi, and thus of the Old Testament, refer to John, who is there called Elias or Elijah: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." And as this prophecy closes the Old Testament, so, its fulfillment is told in the opening chapters of the New.
When people are sinful-when they care nothing for the Lord and for love for Him -when they are utterly selfish - then, no matter how much they may know, how rich they may be, how beautiful outwardly their lives, how splendid their temple, how carefully they observe all the details of external worship, they are nevertheless like a desert - a waste, dreary country, where there is little or no grass, and few, if any bushes or trees. And this is the reason why John the Baptist preached in the wilderness.
In order to become good, people need to learn the truth. In order to become better, they need to learn still higher truths. When people have no truths whatever, they must first be taught the simplest and plainest truths - truths that are very general. And as John was telling sinful people, who had no truths, to repent, he had to teach them the simplest and plainest truths, just such as are in the literal sense of the Scriptures, as in the Ten Commandments. For this reason his dress was very plain and rough. He had on garments of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins. The camel's hair represents the plainest truths we all must first learn to know, some of which sound rough, and the leathern girdle shows that these truths are very general and hold together the deeper and more particular truths. And because the first truths we learn also nourish our spiritual life, and are pleasant, because they lead us to heaven, therefore his food was locusts - the winged insects that are much eaten by the poorer people in the Orient -and sweet honey of the fields. These foods again represent the low, external, but vital, truths that are found in the literal sense of the Word.
And then we are told that they were baptized of John in Jordan confessing their sins, because baptism, which is a washing, of the body, represents the washing of the spirit, that is, removing the evils that make a person spiritually unclean. And the Jordan, running in its low bed, at the boundary of the land of Canaan, also represents the literal sense of the Word, which is the lowest boundary of Divine truth, and also marks the boundary of the church. For, as one crosses the Jordan to enter the Holy Land, so we have to accept the Sacred Scriptures in order to enter the holy church.
We learned that Malachi foretold that John would come, and that unless he did come and convert people, the land would be smitten with a curse. Now we can understand this. For, unless people repent of their evil, unless they are converted by the Divine truth, they remain evil, and to be evil is to be accursed. To be good is to be blessed. The keeping of the Ten Commandments, whereby men turn away from evil and do good, therefore divides mankind into two great classes, the converted and sinners; or sheep and goats; or good and evil. The Word calls such a classification a "judgment." And if you will read carefully what John said, you will find that he spoke of this judgment. Trees mean men. Men who do not listen to the Divine truth, and do not bring forth fruit, are like trees at whose root is the axe which cuts them down, for the axe means truth.
The Lord Jesus Christ was Himself baptized, in order to show by His Divine example, that we must be baptized, and also because there were things in His human nature which He had put on like a garment, from Mary the mother, which were not Divine, and which were again to be put off, as impurities are washed from the body by water.
When you think of your baptism, remember that it means that you were baptized as the Lord was baptized, and that you are to do as He did: fight against evil and overcome, by always doing what the Word of the Lord teaches.