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John the Baptist and the Prophetic Spirit of Pentecost

Did John the Baptist fully understand the risk he took in bringing God’s prophetic truth to those who stood condemned?

Next, John takes on a sensitive and politically volatile situation—injustice through economic oppression. With tax collectors undoubtedly in the audience, John addresses the oppressive and corrupt taxation of Rome and her Jewish collaborators. As alluded to earlier, tax collectors were given quotas, but were not limited by Rome in what they collected. They determined the policy and rates of taxation. In effect, it was a license to steal. Furthermore, behind them lay the punitive power of Rome to enforce their taxation. John the Baptist was not afraid to tackle the “systemic” evil that oppresses by design through corrupt and oppressive policy.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9

However, the Baptist was not about to let the “arch oppressors” off the hook. To the query of Roman soldiers John responds, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (v.14). His words paint a vivid picture of the brutal and coercive treatment Roman soldiers sent to keep the pax Romana in what amounted to a police state. While Rome prided itself on being an empire ruled by “law,” in reality there was little to curb the extortion and violence of individual Roman soldiers in a conquered and occupied land.

Just when the reader is certain John has offended just about everyone there is to offend, the narrative takes a ‘fatal’ turn.

Just when the reader is certain John has offended just about everyone there is to offend, the narrative takes a “fatal” turn.13 He now turns to condemn the most scandalous example of moral corruption in his day. The marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip was not only adulterous but incestuous (Lev 18:16) as well. It seems that on more than one occasion,14 John had drawn attention to this vulgar violation of the Law. Luke tells us that Herod earned a prophetic rebuke for this sin, “and all the wicked things” that he had done (v. 19).


The Courage of Prophetic Preaching

Modern preachers who avoid raising the issue of sin and repentance, in an attempt to gain a hearing for the gospel by the unchurched, are tampering with the integrity of the Gospel itself. Without mentioning repentance from sin there is no gospel.

It is difficult to imagine the weight of consequences that pressed for John’s silence. In fact, apart from prophetic inspiration there is no explanation for John’s courage and dauntless confrontation of sin. The risks were enormous and the results ominous. By issuing a call of repentance to Annas and Caiphas was an insult to highest religious office in Judaism and tantamount to religious and political suicide. By confronting the multitudes with their sins and hypocrisy (vv. 7-8) John ran the risk of social rejection and the loss of a popular following (v.3; Cf. Mk 1:5). The exposure of the tax collectors in their fraud and oppressive taxation surely risked retaliation by the economic power-brokers of his day. No less dangerous was to directly confront Roman soldiers with their extortion and violence. Certainly it held the risk of violent retaliation by those who unilaterally possessed the power of the sword.15 And finally, it was all but suicidal to publicly denounce the sins of an eastern potentate, especially one notorious for his wickedness (v.19).16

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2005

About the Author: James D. Hernando, Ph.D. (Drew University), is Professor of New Testament at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is author of Dictionary of Hermeneutics (Gospel Publishing House, 2005), the commentary on 2 Corinthians in the Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1999), as well as numerous articles and papers.

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