John the Baptist Misunderstood God

Note this is a supplementary page to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary definition for vengeance and illustrates John’s misunderstanding of God’s vengeance.

Let’s look at a Biblical case of misunderstanding the vengeance of God. Did John the Baptist have a problem with his understanding? Might he have been influenced by passages about the Messiah such as?

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” (Isa 61:1-2)

Was there going to be a day of vengeance?

“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-22)

Those days of vengeance occurred in 70 AD by the Roman army.  It was not God’s direct vengeance but simply His leaving the Jews to experience the results of their rejection of the Messiah:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt 23:37-38)

They would not avail themselves of the offered protection.

The question is what was John’s understanding of the vengeance in Isaiah 61? As John the Baptist preached about the coming Messiah he said things like:

“Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7)

“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.” (Luke 3:17)

Does it seem like, in John’s mind, the Messiah was coming to straighten people out? Wasn’t that close to the common expectation? They were, for example, looking for a Messiah to end the Roman oppression, a military leader.

But when Jesus came and proclaimed His mission He said, quoting Isaiah (compare this carefully with Isaiah 61:1-2):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And …” (Luke 4:18-20)

“And” what? – “and He closed the book … and sat down.”

He quite significantly and purposefully stopped just before the part that says “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Why do you think He did that? This was among Jesus’ first public statements of His ministry. He made it plain from the start that God is not a God of vengeance and that He was not involved in vengeance (as they understood it).

Did He ever proclaim “the day of vengeance of our God”?  Yes, actually He did – later – in Matthew 24/Luke 21 when He spoke of the fall of Jerusalem as discussed above. However, He did not include it in what He said in Luke 4 because that was not part of His mission to the world.

We can see further evidence that John the Baptist had a problem with his understanding.

“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Matt 11:2-6)

What happened in John’s mind?

  • He heard of the words of Christ
  • He perceived a mismatch between Jesus’ actions and his understanding of the work of the Messiah
  • He had doubts in his mind that Jesus was the Messiah
  • He sent two of his disciples to investigate

He had a misconception of the role of the Messiah which Jesus attempted to correct by quoting scripture:

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart …” (Isa 35:5-6)

This showed a correspondence between His work and what was prophesied by Isaiah. Is it possible that John was still looking for the vengeance part?

Here is an interesting point about John the Baptist:

“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt 11:11)

How was it true that John was less than the least in the kingdom of heaven? Those people, with a true understanding of the character of God, would know that He does not use violence to get His way but only the incentive of love. Those who have only heard the standard concept of God’s character and have not carefully investigated for themselves would believe that God often plays His trump card of force to get His way. At that point in his experience, John did not yet understand the role and nature of the Messiah.

Being “in the kingdom” (we could say “in the know about God) refers to having a right concept of and acceptance of God’s character more than physical presence in heaven.

 “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

 Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index

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