John the Baptist was he saved as a baby?
In the teaching of Calvinism, there is an election to salvation for some men while the rest of mankind are created without a hope of eternal life. In this understanding God has pre-determined from eternity past that all but the elect would remain in their sin and be lost forever. If Calvinism is true, then there is a portion of mankind that has been unconditionally chosen and guaranteed salvation because Jesus died for their sins and His death and resurrection guarantees their salvation without fail. Unconditional election is either true or false when tested by the Scriptures. May I share my view of the most famous of the elect in the Scriptures?
Was John one of the elect?
If I asked this question of a Calvinist, I am sure that he or she would answer “Yes.” After all, John had the Holy Spirit since he was in his mother’s womb. Jesus even said that John was the greatest so if anyone on earth should be one of the elect, it surely would be John. Let’s have a look at John’s election.
The Bible’s witness of John
Malachi 3:1 names John as God’s messenger:
Malachi 3:1 (NASB) “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me…
John preached in the wilderness where he drew great crowds. His work as a messenger of the Lord is prophesied in Isaiah:
Isaiah 40:3 (NASB) A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Matthew 3:3 identifies John as the voice from Isaiah 40:3. John’s birth was special, and it is mentioned in Scripture along with the reporting of the conception and birth of Jesus. John’s mother was barren, and his conception was a work of God. As an unborn baby, he jumped for joy in his mother’s womb when she heard the sound of Mary’s voice. His very own name was conveyed through an angel in Luke 1:13. All who heard the story of his birth wondered about what kind of child he would turn out to be. It was said that the hand of the Lord was certainly with him (Luke 1:66). John’s own Father prophesied that John would be called the prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:76). John was elected as a prophet and one who would prepare Israel to meet their King. John’s mission was to give to God’s people the knowledge of salvation so that they would turn from their sins. His mission was so important because it was absolutely vital to prepare the way for the Messiah. The ground must be plowed with repentance and faith. John not only was born elected to the position of God’s messenger but Luke 1:80 says that he continued to become strong in spirit. John would need this strong character to stand up to the Pharisees and the worldly rulers. John’s place in Scripture alongside the birth of Jesus pre-ordained John to the highest honor as the voice preparing the way for the Lord Jesus.
John receives the witness of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit spoke personally to John and gave to him a unique witness that no one else received.
John 1:32–33 (NASB)
32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.
33 “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
Was John the Baptist predestined to be saved? If it is true that unconditional election to salvation exists, then John the Baptist must be an example of such an election.
Jesus’ witness about John the Baptist
Jesus’ witness about John tells a different story. The story is told in the same book that lists John’s birth along with the birth of Jesus. In Luke 7:14 Jesus raised a young man to life and the crowd gave glory to God by declaring that a great prophet had arisen amongst them and God had visited His people. This great prophet that had arisen was Jesus. The report about Jesus’ miracle went out all over Judea and into the surrounding district and as a result of this the disciples of John the Baptist reported to John all the things that were happening with Jesus. What happened next was an amazing act which seemed totally out of character for John.
Luke 7:19 (NASB) Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?”
It is after John hears about the work that Jesus is doing, that he expresses doubt. His question is a summons for Jesus to provide more evidence about His identity. Are you the Messiah, or should we be looking for someone else to be revealed as Messiah? On top of his doubt, John is now spreading that doubt to his disciples. He includes them in his doubt by saying “should we look for someone else?”
Jesus’ answer to John given through John’s disciples is very revealing.
Luke 7:22 (NASB) And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.
Jesus told John’s disciples to “go and report to John.” The words that come next are meant for John. Jesus said, “report to John what you have seen and heard.” But this is nothing new for John. John has already had the report of Jesus’ works. The report about Jesus healing the dead was given to John through his disciples before he sent his disciples to Jesus. On top of that John already had a witness about what he himself saw and heard:
John 1:32 (NASB) John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.
What else did John himself see and hear?
Matthew 3:16–17 (NASB)
16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,
17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
John both saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus and heard God’s voice testifying about Jesus as God’s Son! What on earth could John’s disciples see and hear that would now convince John that Jesus is the Son of God? If John is no longer convinced that Jesus is the Messiah after he has already seen the Holy Spirit descend and after he heard God speak from heaven, what was left to counteract John’s doubt?
Extraordinary revelations were given to John
Remember what John had as a testimony:
John 1:15 (NASB) John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ”
John not only testified that Jesus was the Messiah, but that Jesus was in existence before John existed. No one but the Holy Spirit could have revealed that to John. This wasn’t all the revelation that John received. John also testified that Jesus takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:29 (NASB) The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Remember this was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and no one else had this revelation. John truly was special. John also was a gospel preacher:
Luke 3:18 (NASB) So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.
What else did Jesus give for John’s disciples to take back to John?
Luke 7:22 (NASB) And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: …the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.
This also is nothing new to John. John also preached the gospel to the people. Nothing that Jesus gives as a message to John is new to John. John’s Father was a High Priest, and John was raised to know God. John would have known the Scriptures about the Messiah who would come with “healing in His wings” for John also knew the Scriptures about his own identity and calling. John also had received the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ last message to John
The next thing that Jesus tells John’s disciples to tell John is the most revealing because of its implications.
Luke 7:22-23 (NASB)
22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John…
23 “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
The Greek word that is translated to take offense, means to cause to sin, cause to believe no longer, be brought to a downfall, to fall away from the faith, to refuse to believe or by becoming an apostate from Jesus a person falls into sin.
The BDAG lexicon lists this specific meaning for Luke 7:23 –
Jesus’ message to John is that those who are blessed are the ones who do not take offense at Him. This is conditional. John was taking offense at Jesus, and he was refusing to believe in Him. His unbelief was not because he did not have enough evidence. John also did not believe because he was predestined to be left in his sin. John needed to take personal responsibility for his own response to the message of repentance and faith. John needed to become a follower/disciple of Jesus.
Was John offended because he was a bruised reed?
Some may suggest that John’s apostasy came because he was stuck in prison and in that place he was a tender and broken reed. Jesus addresses this as He turns now to the crowd.
Luke 7:24 (NASB) When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
The answer to Jesus’ question is “No.” The crowd did not go out to see a weak man shaken by the wind. Jesus continues.
Luke 7:25 (NASB) “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!
Jesus asks if they went out to see a man dressed in “soft clothing.” A softie. Someone unaccustomed to hardship. The answer again is “No.” John lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a softie or one easily shaken by the wind. Jesus continues.
Jesus says John is the greatest
Luke 7:26 (NASB) “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet.
Jesus affirms that the crowd went out to see a strong man, someone who was not a weakling, and he is indeed a prophet. Not only is John a prophet, but he is more than a prophet confirmed by Jesus’ own testimony. Jesus said that John is more than a prophet, in that the Scriptures speak about him and show God’s special election to his place as the forerunner of Jesus. How many people can say that they are in the Scriptures in prophecy? John could.
Luke 7:27 (NASB) “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’
Jesus says that not only is John written about in the Scripture, but no one is greater than John.
Luke 7:28 (NASB) “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John;…
Not one man is greater. John’s miracle birth and his being filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, the amazing revelations that were given to him, that he is recorded in the Scriptures, his privilege of being the forerunner of Jesus, makes John the greatest human that has ever been born of a woman. Greater than Isaiah, and David and Abraham. Greater than all. But Jesus has more to say.
Was John in the kingdom because he was a prophet even with his unbelief?
Luke 7:28 (NASB) “…yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Jesus said with all of these privileges, and with this unconditional election to a place of prominence, John is less than the least in the kingdom of God. The only way that John can be less than the least in the kingdom is not to be in the kingdom. Humanly speaking John is the greatest. But because John has fallen from his confession and no longer believes, the offense that John has taken has made him outside the kingdom.
What went wrong?
John had a privileged position, but after he had preached to others, he failed the test himself. There is no evidence that John ever followed Jesus and became a disciple of Jesus. John did his duty and then left when Jesus came on the scene.
John preached to others about repentance and baptism, but there is no record that John ever repented and was baptized. John recognized that he needed repentance and baptism, but he did not take the steps necessary to follow through.
Matthew 3:14 (NASB) But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”
John the Baptist had more than enough knowledge for him to be saved. He knew the Word, and he preached the Word. He had special revelation, and he was given the message of repentance and faith. With all of this and with his election to a special office as the voice preparing the way for the Lord, he failed to repent and believe. He found himself in a position of taking offense at Christ.
After Jesus said His hard saying that the least “in the kingdom” (present tense) is greater than John, verse 29 shows the reaction of the crowd that had just witnessed the public declaration of John’s astonishing doubt. The public words of doubt were coming after John had experienced a successful public life as a witness to Jesus as the Messiah.
Luke 7:29 (NASB) When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.
The fact that Luke includes the “tax collectors” as part of the crowd of people is quite telling as it was the tax collectors and prostitutes who would be in the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders. Jesus gave a parable to show that what one says is not as important as what one does when it comes to doing the will of the Father:
Matthew 21:28–31 (NASB)
28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’
29 “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.
30 “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.
The tax collectors were in the kingdom because of what they did with what they heard. They listened to the message of God through John, and they repented, believed and were baptized. In contrast, the Pharisees who looked outwardly righteous and had all the right “words” did not believe.
Matthew 21:32 (NASB) “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
John the Baptist had to be judged by the same standard. Even though he had the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, he too needed to repent, believe and be baptized. The tax collectors went through the baptism of repentance, but John the Baptist did not. The tax collectors were following Jesus and putting their faith in Him, but John did not follow Jesus. The words he brought and God’s message that he spoke were not good enough for his own salvation. He had to act on what he spoke to do the will of the Father.
So after Jesus’ hard saying, the tax collectors acknowledged God’s justice. They had done the will of the Father and had repented and believed. They were following Jesus. The actions of John that resulted in the words of unbelief showed that John had not followed through with the will of the Father. He had not personally taken the step to be a disciple of Jesus. He was not exempt from needing forgiveness just because he was God’s messenger. Although John was used by God to bring repentance to the nation of Israel, he did not do the will of the Father to repent and be a disciple of Jesus for his own salvation. John’s public ministry as a witness for Jesus ended with a public statement of unbelief.
Did John’s apostasy get turned around in the end?
Jesus gave John no more evidence to believe. John already had more than any other person on the earth to believe in Jesus. There was nothing more to give. John never came out of his prison. He stayed there until he was murdered by Herod. When Jesus got word from the disciples of John that John was dead, Jesus withdrew to a secluded place by Himself.
Matthew 14:13 (NASB) Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself;..
I am reminded of the times that Jesus wept over death and destruction. How often Jesus wanted to gather to Himself. But there was nothing more He could do for John. John was unwilling to use what he had been given by God and there is not a word of testimony from Jesus or any of the apostles that John’s place outside the kingdom as less than the least in the kingdom ever changed.
There was no unconditional election to salvation for John the Baptist.