About the time of the birth of John, the Jews were in a deplorable condition. And in order to keep down insurrection, they were allowed to have a separate government, in name, while the Romans virtually ruled them. The Jews saw that their power and liberty were restricted, and that, in reality, they were under the Roman yoke. The Romans claimed the right to appoint men to the priesthood, and to remove them from office at will. Thus was there a door opened for the priesthood to become corrupt. The priests, not being divinely appointed, abused their office, and were unfaithful in their ministrations. Men of corrupt morals, with money and influence, obtained the favor of those in power, and succeeded in attaining to the priesthood. The whole country felt their oppression, and revolt and dissension were the result of this state of things.
The pious Jews were looking, believing, and earnestly praying, for the coming of the Messiah. God could not manifest his glory and power to his people through a corrupt priesthood. The set time to favor his people had come. The faith of the Jews had become clouded, in consequence of their departure from God. Many of the leaders of the people brought in their own traditions, and enforced them upon the Jews, as the commandments of God. The pious Jews believed, and trusted in God that he would not leave his people in this condition, to be a reproach to the heathen. He had, in time past, raised them up a deliverer when in their distress they had called upon him. From the predictions of the prophets, they thought the time appointed of God had arrived when Messiah would come. And when he should come, they would have a clear revelation of the divine will, and that their doctrines would be freed from the traditions and needless ceremonies which had confused their faith. The pious, aged Jews waited day and night for the coming Messiah, praying that they might see the Saviour before they died. They longed to see the cloud of ignorance and bigotry dispelled from the minds of the people.
“Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They were far advanced in years. Zacharias ministered in the holy office of the priesthood. “And it came to pass that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.”
And when Zacharias saw the angel of God, he was surprised and troubled. This conscientious, God fearing soul questioned whether he had himself offended God, and whether this divine messenger had come to reprove, or in judgment, to condemn. The heavenly messenger cheered him with these words:
“Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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.”
In the above words, the angel Gabriel enjoined upon Zacharias that John should be brought up with strictly temperate habits. This was to secure to him physical, mental, and moral health, that he should be qualified for the important mission of making ready a people for the Lord. In order to accomplish this great work, the Lord must work with him. The Spirit of God would be with John if he should be obedient to the requirement of the angel.
A great work was before John, and in order for him to have a sound physical constitution, and mental and moral power, to do this work, he must control appetite and passion. John was to lead out as a reformer, and by his abstemious life, and plain dress, rebuke the intemperate habits, and the sinful extravagance, of the people. The indulgence of appetite in luxurious food, and the use of wine, were lessening physical strength, and weakening the intellect, so that crime and grievous sins did not appear sinful. The angel Gabriel gave special directions to the parents of John in regard to temperance. A lesson was given upon health reform by one of the exalted angels from the throne of Heaven. John was to reform the children of Israel, and turn them to the Lord. He had the promise that God would work with him. He was “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.”
John was a representative of the people of God in the last days, to whom God has committed important and solemn truths. The world at large are given to gluttony and the indulgence of base passions. The light of health reform is opened before the people of God at this day, that they may see the necessity of holding their appetites and passions under control of the higher powers of the mind. This is also necessary, that they may have mental strength and clearness to discern the sacred chain of truth, and turn from the bewitching errors and pleasing fables that are flooding the world. Their work is to present before the people the pure doctrine of the Bible. Hence health reform finds its place in the preparatory work for the second appearing of Christ.
Zacharias was as much astonished at the words of the angel, as he was at his appearance. He had so humble an opinion of himself that he thought it could not be possible that he was thus to be honored of the Lord. He inquired, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. Zacharias for a moment forgot the unlimited power of God, and that nothing was impossible with him. He did not call to mind the case of Abraham and Sarah, and the fulfillment of the promise of God to them.
Zacharias received a confirmation of the angel’s message: “Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words which shall be fulfilled in their season.” He was soon made to realize the verity of the divine mission. The angel had no sooner departed than he was struck dumb.
The particular office of Zacharias was to pray in behalf of the people, for pardon of public and national sins, and to earnestly pray for the coming of the long-expected Saviour, whom they believed must redeem his people. When Zacharias attempted to pray, he could not utter a word. The people waited long for the appearance of Zacharias, to learn whether God had given them any visible token of his approbation. They began to fear from his long tarry that God had manifested his displeasure. When Zacharias came out of the temple, his countenance was shining with the light which the heavenly angel had reflected upon him. But he could not speak to the people. He made signs to them that an angel had appeared to him in the temple, and because of his unbelief he was deprived of the power of speech, until the prediction of the angel should be fulfilled.
Soon after the birth of John, “the tongue of Zacharias was loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them; and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all that heard them, laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be? And the hand of the Lord was with him; and his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel.”
The prophet John separated himself from his friends and kindred, and made his home in the wilderness. He denied himself of the ordinary comforts of life. His food was simple. His clothing was a garment made of hair-cloth confined about the waist with a leather girdle. His parents had in a most solemn manner dedicated him to God from his birth.
The life of John, although passed in the wilderness, was not inactive. His separation from society did not make him gloomy and morose, neither was he unreconciled with his lonely life of hardship and privation. It was his choice to be secluded from the luxuries of life, and from depraved society. Pride, envy, jealousy, and corrupt passions, seemed to control the hearts of men. But John was separated from the influence of these things, and, with discerning eye and wonderful discrimination, read the characters of men. He lived in the quiet retreat of the wilderness, and occasionally he mingled in society; but would not remain long where the moral atmosphere seemed to be polluted. He feared that the sight of his eyes and the hearing of his ears would so pervert his mind that he would lose a sense of the sinfulness of sin. A great work was before him, and it was necessary that he should form a character unbiased by any surrounding influence. It was necessary that his physical, mental, and moral conditions should be of that high and noble type that would qualify him for a work which required firmness and integrity, that when he should appear among men he could enlighten them, and be instrumental in giving a new direction to their thoughts, and awakening them to the necessity of forming righteous characters. John would bring the people up to the standard of divine perfection. He studied the peculiarities of minds, that he might know how to adapt his instructions to the people.
John did not feel strong enough to stand the great pressure of temptation he would meet in society. He feared his character would be molded according to the prevailing customs of the Jews, and he chose the wilderness as his school, in which his mind could be properly educated and disciplined from God’s great book of nature. In the wilderness, John could the more readily deny himself and bring his appetite under control, and dress in accordance with natural simplicity. And there was nothing in the wilderness that would take his mind from meditation and prayer. Satan had access to John, even after he had closed every avenue in his power through which he would enter. But his habits of life were so pure and natural that he could discern the foe, and had strength of spirit and decision of character to resist him.
The book of nature was open before John with its inexhaustible store of varied instruction. He sought the favor of God, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him, and kindled in his heart a glowing zeal to do the great work of calling the people to repentance, and to a higher and holier life. John was fitting himself, by the privations and hardships of his secluded life, to so control all his physical and mental powers that he could stand among the people as unmoved by surrounding circumstances as the rocks and mountains of the wilderness that had surrounded him for thirty years.
The state of public affairs when John’s work commenced, was unsettled. Discord and insurrection were prevailing, when the voice of John was first lifted up, like the sound of a trumpet pealing forth from the wilderness, thrilling the hearts of all who heard with a new and strange power. John fearlessly denounced the sins of the people, saying, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Multitudes answered to the voice of the prophet, and flocked to the wilderness. They saw, in the singular dress and appearance of this prophet, a resemblance to the description of the ancient seers; and the opinion prevailed that he was one of the prophets risen from the dead.
It was the purpose of John to startle and arouse the people, and cause them to tremble because of their great wickedness. In simplicity and plainness, he pointed out the errors and crimes of men. A power attended his words, and, reluctant as the people were to hear the denunciation of their unholy lives, they could not resist his words. He flattered none; neither would he receive flattery of any. The people, as if with common consent, came to him repenting, and confessing their sins, and were baptized of him in Jordan.
Kings and rulers came to the wilderness to hear the prophet, and were interested and deeply convicted as he fearlessly pointed out their particular sins. His discernment of character and spiritual sight read the purposes and hearts of those who came to him, and he fearlessly told, both rich and poor, the honorable and the lowly, that without repentance of their sins, and a thorough conversion, although they might claim to be righteous, they could not enjoy the favor of God, and have part in the kingdom of the Messiah, whose coming he announced.
In the spirit and with the power of Elijah, John denounced the corruptions of the Jews, and raised his voice in reproving their prevailing sins. His discourses were plain, pointed, and convincing. Many were brought to repentance of their sins, and, as evidence of their repentance, were baptized of him in Jordan. This was the preparatory work for the ministry of Christ. Many were convicted because of the plain truths uttered by this faithful prophet; but, by rejecting the light, they became enshrouded in deeper darkness, so that they were fully prepared to turn from the evidences attending Jesus, that he was the true Messiah.1White, Ellen Gould. “Life and Mission of John.” Ellen G. White Writings. 7 Jan. 1873. Web.
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|1.||↑||White, Ellen Gould. “Life and Mission of John.” Ellen G. White Writings. 7 Jan. 1873. Web.|