From Prophecy to Proclamation

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. (John 1:6-8 ESV)

Advent 3B – John 1:6-8, 19-28

To most contemporaneous observers, John the Baptizer would have appeared as an old-time nabi, a prophet. Like the ancient prophets, John used dramatic actions, strong images and tough words to announce the coming judgment of God. The institution of prophecy had ceased to exist as a significant element in Jewish life in the inter-testamental period. Although there were occasional charismatic outbursts, the living spirit of the prophets had died out a force in national life. John’s appearance signaled a renewal of the prophetic spirit.

When the early Christians looked back on John’s ministry, they saw him not only as a prophet in the mold of Elijah, Amos and Jeremiah, but as the prototype for Christian evangelism. The Fourth Evangelist casts the Baptizer in this way. John the Baptizer points away from himself and toward the one whose sandals he is unworthy to untie (1:27). Later he will proclaim that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1:29). He will “bear witness” that Jesus is the who bears and baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:32-33). He announces that Jesus is the “Son of God” (1:33), and that “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). Those who hear John’s message become Jesus’ disciples (1:35-37). Like many first century evangelists, the Baptizer will be imprisoned (3:24). John the Baptizer foreshadows the evangelistic ministry of proclamation.

The writings of Paul and Luke demonstrate that the office of prophet continued to exist in the early church. The gift of prophecy was one of the charismatic gifts. Unlike Old Testament prophets, however, Christian prophets spoke to the Church, not to kings and society at large. The gift of prophecy helped shape and lead the Christian community.

To the outside world, however, the primary message became one of proclamation: behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He is both the bearer and bestower of the Holy Spirit. With John and the prophets of old, the Church called men and women to repentance. To that call, the Church adds, “Believe the Good News” and “Be baptized (adopted and grafted into the Church as a disciple of Jesus)”.