We have but fragmentary and imperfect accounts of John the Baptist in the Gospels. He was of the priestly race by both parents, for his father, Zacharias, was himself a priest of the course of Abia or Abijah, and Elisabeth was of the daughters of Aaron.
The mission of John the Baptist was the subject of prophecy.
The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
Matthew 3:3 (NLT)
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Malachi 3:1 (NLT)
John the Baptist’s birth was foretold by an angel sent from God, and is related at length in Luke 1. He was born six months earlier than that of our Lord and was ordained to be a Nazarite from his birth.
Dwelling by himself in the wild and thinly-peopled region westward of the Dead Sea, he prepared himself for the wonderful office to which he had been divinely called.
John the Baptist dress was that of the old prophets—a garment woven of camel’s hair, attached to the body by a leathern girdle. His food was such as the desert afforded—locusts, and wild honey.
And now the long-secluded hermit came forth to the discharge of his office. His supernatural birth, his life, and the general expectation that some great one was about to appear, were sufficient to attract to him a great multitude from “every quarter.”
The sum of John the Baptist’s preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a “generation of vipers,” and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges .
Don’t just talk of turning to God; you’d better bear the authentic fruit of a changed life. Don’t take pride in your religious heritage, saying, “We have Abraham for our father!” Listen—God could turn these rocks into children of Abraham!
Luke 3:8 (VOICE)
“As a preacher, John the Baptist was eminently practical and discriminating. Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder.”
John the Baptist’s doctrine and manner of life roused the entire south of Palestine, and the people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto repentance.
We gather also that John instructed his disciples in certain moral and religious duties, as fasting, and prayer.
The fame of John the Baptist reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Matthew 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John, on the special ground that it became him to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
John the Baptist’s special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now “increase” as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
But shortly after he had given his testimony to the Messiah, John the Baptist’s public ministry was brought to a close. In daring disregard of the divine laws, Herod Antipas had taken to himself Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; and when John reproved him for this, as well as for other sins, Luke 3:19 Herod cast him into prison. (March, a.d. 28.)
The place of his confinement was the castle of Machaerus, a fortress on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.
It was here that reports reached him of the miracles, which our Lord was working in Judea. Nothing but the death of John the Baptist would satisfy the resentment of Herodias.
A court festival was kept at Machaerus in honor of the king’s birthday. After supper the daughter of Herodias came in and danced for the king by her grace that he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. Salome, prompted by her abandoned mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist.
Herod gave instructions to an officer of his guard, who went and executed John the Baptist in the prison, and his head was brought to feast the eyes of the adulteress whose sins he had denounced. His death is supposed to have occurred just before the third Passover, in the course of the Lord’s ministry. (March, a.d. 29.)
John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message.
John 5:35 (NLT)
Smith’s Bible Dictionary: Comprising Antiquities, Biography, Geography, Natural History, Archaeology and Literature.
Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.