The Bible says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). Should we consider him as a prophet? Hear the Master’s answer: “Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:7,9). When John was still an infant, his father, Zacharias, was filled with the Spirit and declared to him, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest” (Luke 1:76).
So, this man, identified elsewhere in the New Testament as John the Baptizer, would be a prophet of God. Not only that, but Old Testament prophets actually foretold John’s coming and role. In fact, unless I have forgotten someone, with the exception of Jesus, about Whom there were hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, there are more specific Old Testament prophecies about John than there are for any other New Testament character. Let us take a look at those three Old Testament predictions along with their fulfillment.
Isaiah 40:3-5 (700 B.C.)
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
How can we be 100% certain that this message was about John the Baptizer? The message of Matthew 3 proves it: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching . . . For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight” (Matthew 3:1,3). Thus, Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before the birth of John and Jesus, foretold John’s work.
John himself acknowledged that he was not the Christ (John 1:20), and when he was asked, “What do you say about yourself,” his response was, “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the LORD’” (John 1:22,23). John literally preached in the wilderness (Mark 1:4), the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1). In what sense did he prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah foretold? John’s work was one of preparation, helping to get ready the soil, that is, the hearts of the Jewish people, who were waiting and looking for the Messiah. By declaring God’s word to the Jews, John fulfilled what his own father also foretold: “For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76,77).
Malachi 3:1 (430 B.C.)
the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.
Again, how can we be sure that this is a reference to John? Jesus said so. “Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John . . . For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You” (Matthew 11:7,10).
So, Malachi, like Isaiah, spoke of John’s role of preparing the way of the Messiah. Notice in the text of Malachi 3:1 that the word “messenger” is used twice. In the first case, it refers to John as Jehovah’s messenger. The second time, it points to “the Messenger of the covenant” – that would be the Christ, Who is the Speaker of the new covenant, which He established with His blood (Matthew 26:28).
John himself was not in the Messiah’s kingdom, but he preached the greatness of the One Who would establish that temple/kingdom (Malachi 3:1). How wonderful that John, despite having the great privilege of being singled out and chosen as the one to prepare the path for the Christ, remained humble and satisfied with his role of being, in his own words, “the friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29).
Malachi 4:5 (430 B.C.)
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
How can it be true that John was Elijah, the great oral prophet of Israel who lived over 800 years before John did? As with the two other Old Testament messages about John which we observed, the New Testament gives us a clear explanation. Jesus said, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:13,14). So, John was Elijah? Yes, but not literally – he was not Elijah reincarnated as some have fantasized.
Luke 1:17 sheds light on John being called “Elijah.” There it is written of John, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” So, in some way(s) John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Elijah did miracles, but John did not (John 10:41). But, just as Elijah did, John cried out for God’s people to turn from their sins and come back to Jehovah. And, like Elijah, John was a powerful preacher who, in the spirit of Elijah, spoke with great boldness to an evil king (Elijah to Ahab and John to Herod Antipas).
We marvel at the harmony of God’s word. Let us highly esteem John’s role in God’s plan of salvation.
Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare
— Roger D. Campbell