Did you ever wonder why God chose John the Baptist and his message of repentance and baptism as the path of preparation for the ministry of Jesus?
His message and ministry marked the culmination of the law and the prophets, but heralded the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. So John was truly a transitional figure, forming the link between the Old and New Testaments. He spans the ages with one foot firmly planted in the Old Testament and the other squarely placed in the New. And John’s ministry was so critical that Jesus acknowledges the central role that John played in God’s plan of salvation. He was the greatest born among women because he had the privilege of pointing to the Lamb of God ( John 1:29-34 ). Yet as the last great prophet of the pre-Christian era, he was the least in the kingdom of God ( Matt 11:11 ; Luke 7:28 ).
John came as a prophet proclaiming the message of God. Indeed, Luke says that John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” ( Luke1:17 ). He goes on to allude to Malachi 4:5, which states that Elijah will return “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord.” In fact, some contemporaries of John inquired if he were Elijah ( John 1:21 ).
The belief that Elijah would return and prepare the way of the Lord can be traced to Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. The Gospels also indicate that many believed that Elijah would come first, and then the Christ ( Matt 11:14 ; 17:10 ; Mark 6:15 ; 9:11 ; Luke 9:8 ).
John flatly denied that he was Elijah reincarnated ( John 1:21 John 1:25 ). Nevertheless Jesus affirmed that Elijah must come first and that he had come in the person of John the Baptist ( Matt 17:11-13 ; Mark 9:12-13 ). John fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy in a spiritual sense, rather than in a literal way.
Keeping the transitional aspect of John’s message in mind, specifically in how it pertains to the Mosaic Law, have you ever taken a good hard look at the various sacrifices of the Mosaic Law to see exactly what they specifically covered or atoned for? Are you aware that intentional or deliberate sins were not covered under the Mosaic Law?
Acts 13:39 NIV “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”
Neither the Tabernacle and later the Temple sacrifice systems were designed to forgive intentional sin. In the Mosaic sacrificial system there were two areas that did deal will sin, one was sacrifices for unintentional sin and the other was the guilt sacrifice, which were sins or crimes dealing with monetary value or theft.
So, what about the intentional sins? For this there was no benefit of an animal sacrifice, the sinner would be cut off from the community. As an example, here are a list of some of the sins from the Torah (Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses) that would have someone cut off:
- Not being circumcised (Genesis 17:14).
- Eating leavened bread during the week of unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15, 19).
- Replicating Holy Anointing Oil (Exodus 30:33, 38).
- Working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).
- An unclean person eating a peace offering (Leviticus 7:20-21).
- Eating animal fat from an offering (Leviticus 7:25).
- Slaughtering without making it an offering (Leviticus 17:4).
- Giving an offering without going to the Tabernacle (Lev. 17:8).
- Eating blood (Leviticus 17:10, 14).
- Unwholesome sexual relationships (Leviticus 18:6-29, 20:5-6,17-18).
- Child sacrifices (Leviticus 18:21,29, 20:3).
- Eating a peace offering after the third day (Leviticus 19:5-8).
- Anyone who is unclean and handles anything Holy (Leviticus 22:1-3)
- Not denying yourself on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:28-30).
- Failing to observe Passover (Numbers 9:13).
- Touching a corpse (Numbers 19:13).
- One who remains unclean (Numbers 19:20).
If any of these and a number of other sins were committed, the offender was to be cut off. It’s interesting to note that while Israel was in the wilderness, after their repeated failures to trust in God, the circumcision of male children had ceased as did their celebrating the Passover (because circumcision was a requirement for males to celebrate Passover). See Joshua 5:2-12. You will recall that not being circumcised and not celebrating Passover were both intentional sins that were punishable by being cut off. See Numbers 14:28-29: “So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.”
And if you are looking for Biblical confirmation on the difference between unintentional and intentional sin, consider Numbers 15:22-31 NIV:
Offerings for Unintentional Sins
22 “‘Now if you as a community unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the Lord gave Moses— 23 any of the Lord’s commands to you through him, from the day the Lord gave them and continuing through the generations to come— 24 and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering. 25 The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have presented to the Lord for their wrong a food offering and a sin offering. 26 The whole Israelite community and the foreigners residing among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong.
27 “‘But if just one person sins unintentionally, that person must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. 28 The priest is to make atonement before the Lord for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made, that person will be forgiven. 29 One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether a native-born Israelite or a foreigner residing among you.
30 “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. 31 Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.’”
And as Hebrews 9:7 indicates, this included the Day of Atonement: “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”
How then, does one receive forgiveness for deliberate or intentional sins?
This is where true repentance or turning away from sin comes into play.
Isaiah 1:27 NIV “Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.”
Ezekiel 18:21-22 NIV “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.”
Ezekiel 18:32 NIV “ For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!“
We see an example of repentance in Numbers 12, where Miriam is gossiping about Moses’ wife, “the Cushite woman”. Not only is this in violation of Leviticus 19:16, but it infuriates God. Consequently, God gives Miriam leprosy thus making her unclean which causes her to be separated or cut off from her peeps. As we read, she did appear sincerely remorseful of her sin. After serving the seven days in quarantine she was allowed to return to her people. There are many examples of both Godly and wicked people committing intentional sin and then repenting throughout the Bible.
So we can see why REPENTANCE does indeed play a critical aspect in obtaining forgiveness.
From what we can tell from the New Testament, much of Judaism was very much in the grip of legalism, as evidenced by the attitude of the Pharisees (Matt 23; Luke 18:9-14). Most of the nation rejected Jesus Christ (John 1:11). They were not willing to own up to the fact that they were sick and needed deliverance (Luke 5:31). Most tried to approach God on their own terms–trying to establish their own righteousness rather than accepting the righteousness which God freely offered (Rom 10:2-3;1 Cor 1:23).
But what part does “faith” play in God’s salvation?
The Old Testament teaches that eternal salvation is by God’s grace and that it is received by man’s response of faith, not by any acts of righteousness or by earning it through turning from any sins (cf. Gen 15:6; Hab 2:4).
While turning away from our sins is a necessary step, this act of obedience in itself is not what makes us righteous in God’s eyes. Galatians 3:6-14 refers:
Galatians 3:6-14 NIV “So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.“
And Hebrews reiterates this reality when it states that without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)
Which correlates perfectly with what Peter said to those who inquired as to what they should do:
Acts 2:37-38 NIV “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The Mosiac Law was designed to make Israel and all of us aware of our sinful nature and for our need of deliverance from the consequences of our sins. And, regardless of how hard we try to follow the Law perfectly, we all, without exception, fail.
The Old Testament no where conditions eternal salvation solely upon turning from one’s sinful behavior. Eternal salvation in the OT was conditioned solely upon turning and remaining steadfast to the Lord in faith.
Eternal salvation has always been and always will be by grace through faith. That is why the Messiah had to die on the cross for the sins of Adam’s race. It’s not about what we did, it’s about what only Jesus could do.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way.
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Does that mean that after trusting in what God’s Son has done for us, that we can then continue to habitually sin? The answer to that is a resounding no. Read Romans 6.
So John the Baptist’s message of true repentance and the proclamation of the coming of the Messiah was indeed pivotal.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!