What are the signs of Christ’s ministry? From a prison cell, John the Baptizer asked the same question. Here’s what Jesus told him—and what I believe will happen someday.
John lands in prison
John did his ministry in the Galilean wilderness. He called people to repentance—a change of heart by turning away from dead religion and worldliness that was confirmed by public water baptism (Matt. 3:1-3).
But John paid the price when he denounced Herod Antipas. Antipas had divorced his wife Phasaelis and married a woman named Herodias, who was previously married to his brother Herod Philip I (Matt. 14:3-4).
Herod Antipas was a tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) of the kingdom he’d inherited from his father Herod the Great, who had years earlier ordered the massacre of all male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18).
In the fashion of his father, who disliked contention from the New Age movement (the Magi), Herod Antipas wouldn’t stand for it from the Religious Right (John the Baptizer). So he threw the prophet in prison (Luke 3:20).
Jesus raises a boy from the dead
One day when Jesus and His disciples reached the town of Nain, they met a funeral procession. Men were carrying out on a bier a widow’s only son.
Jesus stopped the procession and commanded the young man’s corpse to get up.
And he did.
The mourners were gripped with fear and said things like, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” (Luke 7:11-17)
Without the help of radio, television, newspapers, email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, the astounding news spread throughout Judea. Even John heard about it in prison.
John questions Jesus
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples
19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
–Luke 7:18-19 NRSV
John’s ministry was very different from Jesus’. Although John came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), no miracles are recorded in his ministry.
John’s basic message was, “Change your heart and get your life right. Be born from above.” He did a lot of fasting, denouncing, and baptizing.
When Jesus arrived to be immersed, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29-30).
Jesus, however, came eating and drinking, feeding the multitudes, and changing water into wine. Religious leaders called Him a glutton and a drunkard (Matt. 11:19).
Perhaps John thought that, if his cousin really was the Christ, Jesus should have some other kind of ministry. Still stuck in prison, John apparently expected different results from the Messiah he had spent his life preparing people to receive (Matt. 3:1-3).
Jesus answers with evidence of anointed ministry
Since raising the widow’s son at Nain, Jesus was busy curing many people of diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits—even opening the eyes of the blind. John’s disciples met Him and relayed the Baptizer’s query.
22 And [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
–Luke 7:22-23 NRSV
“Are you the Christ?”
Jesus did not answer John’s question directly. Instead, He told John’s emissaries to deliver an eyewitness account of the results of his ministry:
- Blind eyes are opened.
- Physically disabled people—paraplegics and quadriplegics—are walking again.
- Lepers and those with skin diseases are cleansed and accepted back into society.
- The deaf hear once more (or for the first time ever).
- The dead are even coming back to life.
- The poor get the good news delivered to their doorstep.
The theme of these supernormal deeds is freedom for captives. As John had preached deliverance from sin and false religion, his message was only to prepare people for greater freedom that would come through the ministry of Christ.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ good news would not set John free; he was beheaded in prison (Mark 6:17-29). Perhaps this is why Jesus told him not to be offended with Him.
John vs. Christ today
With the rise of the Religious Right in recent years, we’ve witnessed the militant exaltation of a narrow set of religious values (and an even narrower set of “family values”).
These views march lockstep with the condemnation of every class of people who do not conform to their constricted code of morality, one that is often hypocritical—like legislators campaigning on a ticket of family values and the sanctity of marriage while they have had multiple affairs and divorces.
The purity of John’s ministry, though harsh, is corrupted in today’s political right-wing religiosity.
Like the ministry of John the Baptizer, this contemporary hardline stance has served a purpose. Yet it will not last forever; it will fail to usher in a right-wing “kingdom of God.” One day soon, it will overstep its bounds, backfire, and find itself in prison.
Many dispensationalist Christians—both evangelical and Pentecostal—believe that there will be a great persecution of the faithful before Christ returns to rapture them.
Indeed, the persecution will come.
What they don’t understand is that some will have earned it for all of them by making themselves a stench in the nostrils of everyone else in the world through self-righteous rejection of outsiders. The tide will suddenly turn, and they will find themselves in the minority.
(I’m not talking about those who are truly meek and loving like Christ. I’m referring to those who take part in a churchianity that seeks to impose their views on everyone else through political manipulation and governmental legislation. I’m talking about false religion that rejects the marginalized and cares not for widows and orphans [James 1:27].)
Soon, those Americans who want to unfairly enjoy financial and societal benefits for themselves while denying them to all those outside their religious comfort zone will find these roles reversed.
When the ministry of John is fulfilled in this present age, it will be decapitated so that the ministry of Christ may come forth to heal and deliver those who have been damaged and rejected by God’s self-appointed “chosen few.”
Militant religious conservatives will languish in a prison of misunderstanding and betrayal while the Spirit of Christ is poured out on those they sought to socially marginalize and politically squash for so long. As Jesus told John, please don’t be offended.
To the “outsiders,” Jesus’ flock of another sheep pen (John 10:16), the Lord says:
6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon
those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
–Isaiah 42:6-9 NIV