WHY DID JOHN THE BAPTIST BEHAVE SO STRANGELY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Consider these two verses regarding John the Baptist. “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;…” (Mark 1:6).
John the Baptist certainly did not conduct himself in any ordinary way, did he? Locusts (grasshoppers) and wild honey were his diet. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt. The Bible also says he lived out in the wilderness, far away from people. “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” (Luke 1:80). Some 30 years later, he even conducted his ministry out in the wilderness. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,…” (Matthew 3:1). “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2).
One cross-reference helpful in understanding John the Baptist’s manner of living and ministry is 2 Kings 1:8: “And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.” The Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist are very closely related (see Matthew 11:11-15, Matthew 17:10-13, and Mark 9:11-13). (Be sure to note “Elias” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Elijah.”) Perhaps the clearest verse is Luke 1:17: “And he [John the Baptist] shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This is actually an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6, written about four centuries before John the Baptist: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Elijah’s ministry was managed as apostate King Ahab and Queen Jezebel increasingly polluted the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom with pagan idolatry (Baal worship). Be sure to read 1 Kings chapters 16–22, with Elijah first appearing in chapter 17. Israel has heathen leaders, and the LORD God confronts them through Elijah’s preaching! If you are familiar with the Four Gospel Records—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—you will immediately see the parallel. Apostates here are in the form of chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, Herodians, and so on. They are actively opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ, and do everything they can to malign and discredit Him. Ultimately, it was these “religious” leaders who presided over His trial, deliberately and unapologetically lied about Him, and then demanded Roman Governor Pontius Pilate crucify Him! John the Baptist had rightly titled them “vipers” (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7)—snakes, deceptive souls akin to the serpent Satan!
That being said, John the Baptist is dressed in such a way as to cause the nation Israel to remember their spiritual condition in the days of Elijah. His camel’s hair garment and leather belt are reminiscent of Elijah’s clothes, are they not? The paganism (false religion) that deceived and plagued the Jews in Elijah’s time is exactly the system Satan is operating so as to oppose Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry! As for John eating locusts and wild honey, locusts are nothing but grasshoppers (and the Mosaic Law permitted their consumption in Leviticus 11:22). The honey likely made grasshoppers “tastier!”
John lived out in the wilderness not only to fulfill prophecy (see Isaiah 40:3 cf. Matthew 3:3), but also to call Israel away from the apostate religious system centered in the Jerusalem Temple. Instead of being a priest like his father Zacharias and serving in the Temple (Luke 1:5-9), John the Baptist was out in the desert places because the Temple had been corrupted and converted into the house—yea, had become the headquarters—of a vain, worthless religion that will eventually lead to the Antichrist’s satanic regime and his Whore of Babylon religion (pictured in Ahab and Jezebel)!