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Theology > Jesus > Baptism and Temptations > Centuries of Silence  


For approximately four hundred years before John the Baptist there had been no prophet, that is, no word from God. Since the ministry of Malachi there was no spokesman raised up by God who confronted the nation with its sin and warned of God’s certain judgment; no prophet had been addressed by God and given a specific word for the people.

For the most part religious life was scribal and legalistic, with the people being increasingly burdened with the obligation of keeping not only the original Law but also the enormous corpus of interpretations and legal additions manufactured by the Scribes. The lives of piety for individual Jews were becoming more and more ritualistic and without meaning; thus, the religious life of the people was progressively growing more oppressive.

Roman rule arose and dominated the nation. This period, especially toward the latter part of the intertestamental era, witnessed numerous armed rebellions by the Jews against Rome. By such actions the people felt they were justly seeking independence, coupled with their attempt to restore the fortunes of the nation, especially to revive the times of David and Solomon. The people themselves sought to initiate the Messianic era which had been predicted by the prophets.

Into this situation appeared a lonely and an amazing voice. The long silence was broken when “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Lu. 3:2)—this  statement marks the first time God’s Word had come to a prophet since the prophecy of Malachi. The absence of Revelation was ended; God spoke to His people.

Suddenly, to a people who were chafing under the rule of a pagan nation that had usurped the prerogative belonging to God alone, who were yearning for the coming of God’s Kingdom, and yet who felt that God had become silent, appeared a new prophet with the announcement, “The kingdom of God is near” (Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 35).

Breaking the silence had been determined by God, who predicted through Isaiah that there would be a voice in the wilderness:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of YHWH; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3).

According to the New Testament the “one crying in the wilderness” was John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3; Mk. 1:1-3; Lu. 3:1-6; Jo. 1:19-23); in fact, all four Gospels reference the connection of John with the Old Testament prophecy as is obvious from the texts listed. The centuries of silence were ended with the appearance of John and his announcement of the Messiah.

At times God does not speak—He does not reveal Himself—and His people feel alone and even abandoned. It is possible and frequently the case that the people of God wander in solitude, and seemingly spiritual darkness, with no direction nor communication with or from God. The heavens appear to be hardened, with no word from above. Various explanations could be proffered but the ways of God are inexplicable. The Father knows and does what is best for the children, doing that which prepares and matures the children, and which also functions to conform them gradually to His holy and righteous will.

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