Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic Dictionary




The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John was a few months older than Jesus and destined to become his forerunner (Luke 1:36). Always an austere figure, he was looked upon by the Apostles as a kind of reincarnated Elijah preparing the way for the acceptance of the Lord. Jesus himself said, "I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognize him, but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands." The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:12-13). John lived an ascetic life in the Judaean desert to prepare himself for his ministry in the country about the Jordan. He constantly proclaimed a baptism of penance for the forgiveness of sines (Luke 3:3), and became indeed, in the words of Isaiah, "a voice crying in the wilderness" (Isaiah 40:3). Many were so impressed that they mistook him for the Messiah. He made it clear, though, that "I baptize you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful that I am; I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16). Jesus always spoke of him in the highest terms. "I tell you, of all the children born of women, there is no one greater than John" (Luke 7:28). The common people treated him with reverence, but the Pharisees and the lawyers showed disdain for him and refused to be baptized (Luke 7:30). Surely they had excellent precedent! Jesus himself appeared before John to be baptized. John tried to dissuade him because of his own unworthiness, but Jesus insisted and John baptized him (Matthew 3:13-15). Herod Antipas imprisoned John for boldly denouncing his unlawful marriage to Herodias. Using her daughter to trap Herod into promising her a reward, she demanded and received the head of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12).