As prophet of the New Covenant, and forerunner of the Messiah, John’s prophetic task is to proclaim the heart of the Gospel
This is the eleventh post in the series The Musical That Changed The World.
As Zechariah answers the question of his friends and neighbors, “What will this child be?” he declares that his son will be a unique prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah. His mandate will be to prepare a people for his coming. The nation who anxiously awaited their Messiah were unprepared for his coming. The prophet Malachi, 450 years ago, warned the nation that the Messiah’s coming will not necessarily be a pleasant experience unless they changed. But nothing changed, in fact, the people grew worse. What did John need to do to prepare them for the coming Messiah?
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
(Luke 1:76-77 ESV)
John was to prepare the people by giving them a knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins. This is exactly what John did, as Luke later tells us.
And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
(Luke 3:3 ESV)
Salvation through the forgiveness of sin is the heart of the New Covenant. Throughout history God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David, but salvation through forgiveness of sin is not found in any of them. The only place it is clearly taught in the Old Testament is in the prophets when they look forward to the promise of the New Covenant, such as in Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)
This New Covenant is what Jesus tells his disciples is the heart of their mission as the church.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
(Luke 24:44-48 ESV)
And this is the mission that drove the Apostles. When they were brought before the Sanhedrin and commanded to stop teaching in Jesus’ name Peter answered:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things,
Paul preached this New Covenant message to the Gentiles.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
(Acts 13:38 ESV)
Even though the nation Israel was occupied by Rome, the preparation most necessary for the people is the same preparation all humanity needs before a holy God — and that is salvation through the forgiveness of sin. The Bible knows no other kind of salvation. Though under the old covenants this was foreshadowed in a variety of ways, under the New Covenant it is now clearly explained.
We don’t like to talk about sin, but without dealing with sin, and the forgiveness that is necessary, we will never experience God’s salvation. And Zechariah’s epic song in the nativity story lays this out clearly even before the Savior was born.
Read the previous post “A Prophet to Prepare an Unprepared People.”