Author: Ron Graham

Isaiah Lessons

Voice in the Wilderness
—John the Baptizer, the New Elijah

The 40th chapter of Isaiah is very beautiful. It is a poem about the time and coming of Christ (Isaiah 40:1-11), followed by an exhortation to recognize him as the likeness and true image of Almighty God (Isaiah 40:12-31, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). The first part foretells a "voice calling" to prepare the way for the coming of Christ the Lord. (Isaiah 40:3). This will occupy our attention in this lesson.

1 Voice in the Wilderness

Isaiah 40:3 refers to the great John the Baptizer. He was the "voice calling in the wilderness". This is made clear by Matthew who interprets this verse for us (Matthew 3:1-3).

The same interpretation is given by the writers of the other gospel accounts (Mark 1:2-4, Luke 3:2-6, John 1:19-23).

Note — In passing, note two items: (i). WORDS OF ISAIAH: Luke’s description of the document as “the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet” (Luke 3:2-6) shows clearly that the book, including chapter 40, was written by Isaiah, not somebody else. (ii). JOHN: the Gospel According to John was written by John the Apostle, not to be confused with John the Baptizer about whom the apostle is writing.

We observe in the gospel of John that John the Baptizer himself testifies that he is the "voice crying in the wilderness" of whom Isaiah spoke.

John the Baptizer was a special herald of Christ the Lord. His preaching in the wilderness paved the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was of much higher rank than John. John's ministry was to prepare people for Christ, and lead them to Christ. John himself was clear about this (John 1:15,19-23,29-36).

2 John is a Model for Today

The story of John the Baptizer is of great encouragement to us. He was a voice quite literally crying in the wilderness, since he preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1). However it is evident that there was in his time a religious or spiritual wilderness too. The people were in confusion much as people are today.

All who preach the gospel of Christ are voices crying in the wilderness preaching the word "in season and out of season" (2Timothy 4:2). John preached with great spirit and power despite all that was against him. He lost his head (Matthew 13:1-12), but he never lost heart.

You might think it arrogant to compare ourselves to such a great light as John the Baptizer. However, did you not read what Jesus said? We do not compare ourselves in any spirit of arrogance, but with the awe-inspiring understanding that Jesus gives us when he says, "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptizer, yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).

3 Preparing People for the Lord

John the Batist’s preaching turned many sinners to righteousness and made "a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:16-17). He prepared the people for Christ's first coming. It is our job to prepare the world for Christ's second coming (Matthew 28:18-20).


The Elijah to Come

We have looked at the prophecy referring to John the Baptizer as "a voice calling in the wilderness" (Isaiah 40:3). Now we will link it to another prophecy about John.

1 Malachi’s Messenger, the Elijah to Come

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, also prophesies of a messenger of the Lord (Malachi 3:1-3). Jesus himself interpreted this passage for us, and applied it to John the Baptizer (Matthew 11:1-15).

You will notice that Jesus also says of John the Baptizer that "he himself is Elijah who is to come". This is another reference to Malachi —to the closing words in fact, of Malachi and of the Old Testament (Matthew 11:14, Malachi 4:5-6).

Jesus refers to this matter again later in Matthew, in a response to a question from his disciples (Matthew 17:9-13).

2 The spirit and power of Elijah

The angel Gabriel, who appeared to Zacharias also confirms this interpretation, and provides us with more information as to the sense in which John the Baptist was Elijah.

Gabriel says that John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:11-19). John the Baptizer was not Elijah himself, but the antitype of Elijah who preached with the same spirit and the same power as Elijah. In that sense he was the Elijah to come.

The question of whether or not John was Elijah (literally) is settled by John the Baptizer himself. When asked, "Are you Elijah?" he answered, "No I am not".(John 1:19-21)

3 Our power in the Gospel

Just as John the Baptizer preached in the spirit and power of Elijah, so we should preach in the spirit and power of John. For it was from God that both Elijah and John received their power, and it is from God that we will receive ours.

We don't have to worry about whether God has bestowed that power on us, for it is in the very gospel we preach (Romans 1:16). All we have to do is steadfastly preach the gospel, and the power will be in our preaching for it is in the word of Christ that we preach.