Israel did not have a prophet in its midst for about 400 years. No, not since the time of Malachi where the “old testament ends”. Of his son just after his birth, the priest Zechariah says...
“But as for you, young child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go ahead of Jehovah to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender compassion of our God. With this compassion a daybreak will visit us from on high, to give light to those sitting in darkness and death’s shadow and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)
So Zechariah benefitted from a divine revelation about the role of his son. It would have been of considerable joy that Zechariah was to know the role his son would fulfil so soon after birth. So when we think of John the Baptizer, we should think of him the same as his earthly and heavenly Father did – as a prophet of the Most High. Well worth reflecting on the life and teachings of such an individual.
1. HIS ATTIRE & GROOMING
John the Baptizer was a Nazarite, so just like Samson he could not cut his hair. Thus, when seen in the vicinity of the Jordan preaching, his hair would have been quite long – longer than was socially acceptable then – probably reaching all the way down his back. It was likely the same with his beard, reaching all the way down to his abdomen.
His attire consisted of a camel skin caftan type garment (in those days usually used only for tents). He also had a leather belt. To onlookers, his style may have reminded them of Elijah or Elisha who attired themselves similarly. So his style of dress, rather like his grooming, was not within the normal societal parameters of the time. But does that really matter? In reading the Bible, I cannot discern any censure pertaining to his attire at all. It seemed irrelevant as many thousands flocked to him on the basis of his message and got baptized. Others were sent to him by the then ecclesiastical authorities to identify who he might be and his role. They didn’t take issue with his attire and grooming that I can see.
Of course, John was appointed by the Most High from birth. There is no evidence whatever that the Most High nor his son Jesus, the Christ, were disapproving of John on grounds of his style of dress. No indeed, of John the Baptizer Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist....” (Matthew 11:11) What a really nice testimony. How thoughtful, discerning and kind Jesus was (and still is).
We can learn from John’s peers about focusing on other than a style of dress.
Was James possibly influenced by John the Baptizer in his counsel about “a poor man in filthy clothing” (“vile raiment” – King James version) and associated “class distinctions”? There is such a lot of focus in the organisation as to what one’s apparel is - especially for brothers with platform assignments. It is so prescriptive. Like a neurosis of sorts. No scriptural justification.
In that John’s life and ministry was acceptable to the Most High and his Son Jesus the Christ, what does this say about those in the organisation who may disdain and marginalise individuals as a result of not meeting the standard of dress defined by the modern day ecclesiastical authorities?
Why should the ecclesiastical authorities in the organisation set standards for dress when the standard is already set in 1 Tim 2:9 (modest and well arranged)?
Are there brothers in congregations who wear beards? Do they have “privileges” in keeping with other brothers who are clean shaven? Seeing brothers with beards participating in speaking/teaching assignments is in my experience is extremely rare. In fact, can’t remember any occasion at all!
2. JOHN’S CHALLENGES TO ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY
“When he caught sight of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism, he said to them: “You offspring of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, produce fruit that befits repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The axe is already lying at the root of the trees. Every tree, then, that does not produce fine fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)
This was very courageous on the part of John. Of the above scenario, the WTBTS said the following...
“Among those coming to see John were self-righteous Jewish religious leaders who felt no need to repent. They looked down on the common people who were getting baptized in symbol of repentance. Fearlessly, John exposed those hypocritical leaders...” (WT 08 6/15 7)
John’s role as a prophet here may be familiar in that most prophets before him had to challenge the ecclesiastical and other authorities of their day. There was repeated and mass desertion from the worship which was acceptable to the Most High. Jesus’ relationship with the ecclesiastical authorities was in many respects similar to that of his cousin John.
The ecclesiastical authority in the organisation needs to be challenged. Their response to such and threat against those who do challenge is such that one has to do so very carefully. Many that I know have cancelled their financial contributions. This is known by the local BoE and the WT society of Britain in that many contributed using “Gift Aid” That means that your contributions are added to by the government at the basic rate of tax. The beneficiary uses your volunteered demographic details to claim the extra from the government. When these contributions stop, it is surely noted! “Too bad! Too bad!”
The above excerpt from the 2008 WT is pertinent today. There is no evidence of the GBoJW repenting for their handling of child abuse issues. No declaration of "mea culpa". I do sincerely hope that here in the UK, Justice Goddard will put the "SPOTLIGHT" on them!
Would dissidents like John the Baptizer be tolerated in the organisation? I suspect not? Is the intolerance of a different view (dissent) in the organisation Christian? Is such intolerance acceptable to the Most High? The Most High was never afraid of questions that I can see!
3. INCREASING AND DECREASING
In John 3:25-30 we are informed of John the Baptizer’s response to his disciples who were concerned about other individuals baptizing people. John’s response was put beautifully and humbly where he said: “Therefore this joy of mine has been made full. That one must go on increasing, but I must go on decreasing.” (vs 29,30) Of course, John was pleased to see the work and ministry of his cousin Jesus the Christ increasing.
That he puts it simply is in itself interesting. The Greek verb in the Bible translated as “increasing” is AUXANŌ (GROW) in Vine’s Expository Dictionary. Defined as: “to grow or increase, of the growth of that which lives, naturally or spiritually...” The antonym in the same text is ELATTOŌ (DECREASE) and “signifies to make less or inferior, in quality, position or dignity.... It is used in the Middle Voice in John the Baptist’s ‘I must decrease’ indicating the special interest he had in his own decrease, i.e., in authority and popularity.”
This simple record of John the Baptizer has affected me greatly. It has helped me to see that in the organisation with which I affiliated in the early 1990’s, I am now decreasing. At the same time, the influence of Jesus in my thinking, personality, and behaviour is increasing. I suspect it is the same for many withdrawing, disengaging from the organisation. I get comfort for seeing my withdrawal in such a way.
In the organisation, there are a number of situations with increasing and decreasing. In the latest yearbook, the % increase for Britain is left blank! Same is true of a number of other countries. There’s an increasing in the frequency of correspondence from the WTBTS focussed on financial contributions!
The GBoJW and their helpers are exemplary of individuals in the organisation who are increasing in their authority and contact directly into the congregations. They are individuals whom we might never have heard of and not really known but for their increasing strategy. Whether the audience want to know them or not is something else. Would be better if they adopted a decreasing strategy and magnified the Lord Jesus!