Thursday, May 10, 2012

John the Baptist - Forerunner of Jesus

Born in the hills of Palestine, John the Baptist is known as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the one who showed the way for the coming of Jesus. John was born to a temple priest, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth, who was not only elderly but also said to be barren. The birth of John was announced to Zachariah by the Angel Gabriel and the priest lost his ability to speak until the birth and naming of the child. By many accounts, Elizabeth was a cousin of the Virgin Mary. The Gospel of Luke relates the story that Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was about six months pregnant. When Mary came to tell her cousin the news, Elizabeth's unborn child jumped for joy in the womb.
There is little history of John's childhood. As a young monk and prophet, he may have been a hermit or may have been a member of the monastic Essene community. He lived austerely, ate wild locusts and honey, challenged sinful rulers and preached repentance. John also announced the coming of the Messiah to his followers. The baptisms he performed in the river Jordan were considered a rite of purification for those repenting their sins. John preached at a time of great conflict and turmoil in the areas of politics, religion and the social morays of the time.
When Jesus came to John for baptism, it is reported that John first refused to do so because he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. However, Jesus insisted and upon his baptism there was a descent of the Holy Spirit and Jesus' mission was begun. Old Testament passages foresee the coming of John to prepare the way for Jesus and represent John as a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus confirms this prophecy. Some of the followers of John the Baptist went on to become disciples of Jesus.
John the Baptist was imprisoned by the ruler Herod for criticizing Herod's illegal and incestuous marriage to his own niece, Herodias. When her daughter Salome pleased the king dancing at his birthday feast, Herod granted her any request she liked. At the instigation of her mother, the head of John the Baptist was demanded, and he was quickly executed. His head was presented to Salome, who passed it on to her mother. There are many legends and claims to the head of John the Baptist, but none have been verified.
John the Baptist is not only celebrated in the Christian world, but also in Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, Gnosticism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and The Unification Church. Saint John is the patron saint of Puerto Rico and its capital city, San Juan is named for him. He is also the patron saint of Jordan, French Canada and Newfoundland. In many Mediterranean countries, summer solstice is dedicated to Saint John and many churches, monasteries and cathedrals bear his name.
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