THUNDER IN THE DESERT!
“In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius – it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis; Lysania, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went through all the country around Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight! Every ditch will be filled in, Every bump smoothed out, The detours straightened out, All the ruts paved over, Everyone will be there to see The parade of God’s salvation.'” Luke 3:1-6.
It was now some thirty years later. Luke was careful to pinpoint the exact time in history, all verifiable facts if one has the historical records to go by. After all, he did assure Theophilus that he had carefully researched his material before presenting it to him.
What was John doing during the formative years of his childhood and youth? We have only a few clues to help us. In his prophetic outburst, Zachariah revealed that he had fully embraced his son’s destiny – prophet of the Highest. He no doubt schooled his little son in the Word and ways of God until John was old enough to attend the Beth Saphar, elementary school where he was taught the Torah – the Teachings of the Lord contained in the Books of Moses.
By the age of twelve, the time of his initiation into manhood, he could recite and knew the meaning of all the words of the Torah. Having passed that phase, he would have spent time debating with the rabbis in an informal kind of discipleship school. There he would have been instructed by an authoritative rabbi, probably Hillel who was also Paul’s teacher. Who knows but that John and Paul might have been in class together!
Tertiary education covered the entire Old Testament which John could recite by the age of thirty. He was now qualified to be a rabbi – a teacher – and one who was authorised to have his own band of disciples because his authority had been recognised and confirmed. We know that because only a rabbi with authority was permitted to have his own followers and John was making and baptising men who were his disciples (John 4:1). He was also addressed as “rabbi” by his followers (John 3:26).
It seems that, after he completed his education and before he began to prophesy, he spent time alone in the wilderness. So did Jesus! What was he doing? I think he was thinking deeply about everything he had learned at rabbi school. He needed to know where he fitted in to the scheme of things. He had heard from his dad often enough the story of his conception and what the angel had told his father about him. Where did he go from there?
Is there a lesson in that for us? How often a young person hears the call of the Lord to “full-time service” (as if being a follower of Jesus isn’t a full-time occupation!), and follows the prescribed ritual; Bible School, then apply to a missionary society; wait to be accepted; deputation work to announce yourself and garner financial support; oh! and prayer, and then off you go to the foreign field to teach the heathen about Jesus.
What did John do? Apparently something quite similar, really; rabbi school, no “missionary society”, only time alone with God. Wait, listen, follow and obey. John’s entire ministry of six months! was encapsulated in these four little words, “Thunder in the desert”. A huge flash of light and then he was gone. Was that what he expected? Probably not but it was God’s purpose for him to light the way for Messiah and he did it!
He earned from Jesus the title, ‘The greatest of all the prophets!” Six months? Yes!