John the Baptist was a notable figure who shows up in both Bible history and Roman historical records from the time of Jesus. Here’s what we know about him:
His father Zechariah was a temple priest, and his mother Elizabeth was a relative of Jesus’ mother, Mary. In that sense, John and Jesus may have been cousins of some sort. He was miraculously born to elderly parents who had been previously unable to have kids, linking him symbolically to Old Testament heroes like Isaac, Samson, and Samuel. His impending birth was announced to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel, the same angel who announced Jesus’ coming to Mary. He lived like a monk in the Judean desert along the Dead Sea, dressed in rough, camel-hair clothing, and ate mostly bugs (locusts similar to our grasshoppers) and honey from wild bees.
John conducted himself in the mold of Old Testament prophets, preaching for people to repent of their sins. As a symbol of repentance, he urged people to be baptized—a ritual he apparently adapted from the Jewish religious practice of a purifying bath before worship. Most importantly, he served as the prophesied “forerunner” who announced the coming of the Messiah to the world (see Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3). John was eventually executed by Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee during the time of Jesus.
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