“Go back and report to John what you hear and see...” (Matthew 11:4-6)

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)

What does Jesus mean by 'good news'?

Jesus is referring to teaching the "good news" just as John the Baptist taught:
And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:18)
But we should also note that Jesus is practically quoting Isaiah's statement about bringing 'good news to the poor.' Here is Isaiah's statement:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.  (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The core statement about 'good news' by Isaiah includes more of his statement for context. Isaiah is speaking of his being a messenger for God. He is speaking of his teachings providing comfort to those who are empty and saddened by the physical world.

We also find that the "good news" has a root in the more ancient texts:
“My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.” (2 Samuel 18:31)
Even as he was speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in. A worthy man like you must be bringing good news.” (1 Kings 1:42)
Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. (Proverbs 15:30)
So we find there is a tradition in using this phrase to indicate, even metaphorically, that the messenger of God can deliver information to us that will comfort us and bring us spiritual health.

Not only does Jesus' statement reflect this along with Isaiah's sentiment. He also quotes Isaiah's statement during a sermon in a Temple:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
So we find that Jesus is not just stating his role in preaching the "good news" here. He is suggesting that this act of giving people the "good news" is something that comes from a tradition of God's messengers, to give hope to those of us who are lost without that "good news."

But what is the “good news”?

"Good news" is actually a poor translation for the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) - which directly relates to the teachings of the Prophets - and "the gospel." Jesus, John, Isaiah, Samuel and other Prophets weren't paper boys handing out the news: They were preaching God's message. And what was that message?
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38 and Deut. 6:5)

Why did John the Baptist's disciples question Jesus?

This statement of Jesus follows a question from John the Baptist's disciples for Jesus:
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2)
This question from John the Baptist’s disciples reveals a lot about the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, and the lineage of God's representatives. Remember that Jesus is also one of John the Baptist’s disciples. This we know because John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

The New Testament does not elaborate much on their relationship. But we know there was a close relationship between them, as Jesus went to see him. Then he heard his teachings and became baptized by him. We also know that John the Baptist was a teacher of the "good news," and that many people traveled far distances to hear his teachings.

Consider this description of the birth of John the Baptist from Luke 1:5-18:
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:5-18)

Did John have a teacher?

The scriptures indicate that John the Baptist's father, the priest Zechariah, was also John's teacher. This illustrates the lineage of devotion from teacher (in this case also father) to student. We also can see that John was to become empowered by God to deliver people back to God - to save people, in other words.

After John's birth, Zechariah made this prayer:
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
to give His people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
(Luke 1:67-79)

Were Jesus and John part of a lineage of priests?

We know that Zechariah and John the Baptist were ardent followers within the lineage of teachers descending from David. In Luke 1:39 we come to understand that Mary knew Elizabeth because Mary went to see Elizabeth in her home and they sat together prior to the birth of Jesus.

Both families were obviously among a society or tribe that strictly worshiped the Supreme Being, as confirmed by the statements above about Elizabeth and Zechariah. They were strictly following the teachings ("commandments") that had been handed down through generations of prophets, to worship the Supreme Being and devote their lives to the Supreme Being.

This, in fact, is the meaning of "prepare the way for Him." We do not need to wordsmith this as some have done to try to suggest that John's purpose was only to introduce Jesus. John was teaching his followers how to come to love and serve the Supreme Being - to devote one's life to the Supreme Being.

To "prepare" for God means to get our heart and life in order so that we can return to the Supreme Being after the lifetime of this body is over.

How did John become empowered?

We can see this in Luke's description of John's empowerment by the Supreme Being:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for Him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God's salvation.' ".
(Luke 3:1-6)
What is this "word of God" that came to John in the desert? This is certainly the Supreme Being's empowerment to become God's representative. We can see from his statements that the intention was to save people: "God's salvation" means re-establishing our relationship with the Supreme Being.

The interpretation of "prepare the way for the Lord" has been grossly mistranslated by some who miss the entire wisdom contained in John's and Jesus' teachings. To "prepare the way for the Lord" means to redirect our lives towards developing our relationship with the Supreme Being. To "make straight paths for Him" means to focus on God and begin to act in ways that are pleasing to the Supreme Being - by following His commandments.

In direct statements by John the Baptist, we can also see that John's focus was to save people by teaching them about re-developing their relationship with the Supreme Being:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But One more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18)
John is obviously referring to the Supreme Being here, as he describes His "barn" - the spiritual realm.

The ancient historian Josephus characterized John's life in his own historical writings:
[18.116] Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God as a just punishment of what Herod had done against John, who was called the Baptist.

[18.117] For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God. For only thus, in John's opinion, would the baptism he administered be acceptable to God, namely, if they used it to obtain not pardon for some sins but rather the cleansing of their bodies, inasmuch as it was taken for granted that their souls had already been purified by justice.

[18.118] Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.

[18.119] Accordingly John was sent as a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I already mentioned, and was put to death. Now the Jews thought that the destruction of his army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure with him.

What is baptism?

The word "baptize" comes from the Greek word βαπτίζω (baptizō), which means to "immerse" or "submerge" and "to overwhelm" according to the lexicon. This is a word that can be used literally, as in immersing in water (or even pickles, as the Greek word has been used to describe) - or may describe an immersion with the Supreme Being - surrendering oneself to the Supreme Being: Taking shelter of God.

The interpretation that John is referring to Jesus in Luke 3:15-18 - "One more powerful than I" is questionable. It is the Supreme Being who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Supreme Being moving within the physical world. In other words, God's baptism - or immersion - with the Holy Spirit and with fire - refers to taking shelter of God and establishing our unique loving relationship with Him. This type of "baptism" is given only by the Supreme Being.

Also, we know from the timing of John's statement, Jesus had already been baptized by John. Therefore, if John was referring to Jesus, he would have said that he had already come, because he had already been born by then and even had been baptized.

Thus John could not be referring to Jesus in Luke 3:15-18.

The Holy Spirit is not some kind of an object or trophy that can be handed to someone. The Holy Spirit is the Supreme Being, a Person. God is an Individual, with Whom we can have a relationship. Why would Jesus say that the first and foremost commandment is to love God if there is no prospect of a relationship between two individuals: ourselves and God? One cannot love a vague wisp of wind. There has to be a relationship for love to exist. This means that God must be an Individual.

Furthermore, God, the Supreme Person, cannot just be given away in a baptism by someone, like one might hand a person a trophy after winning a race. God must come out of His own volition. This means that the Supreme Being makes a decision to extend Himself to us. And what makes Him make this decision? Love. He is attracted by our love. If we come to love Him, He will open up to us, and His true 'baptism' will take place as He embraces us and brings us back to Him.

Many institutional teachers, beginning with the mistranslations and misinterpretations begun in Rome in the fourth century - when Emperor Constantine ordered Bishop Eusebius to put together and translate a collection of texts that fit with the politically-oriented positions of the Roman Empire - in the decade following Rome's legalization of Christianity.

Prior to its legalization in 313 AD, Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire. Anyone practicing it was subject to arrest and persecution by the Roman government. Now, suddenly, Christianity was the darling of the Roman Empire. And the Latin Bible - which fathered other Bibles - was put together for the eventual approval of Emperor Constantine.

This Bible was thus carefully manicured to fit the agenda of Constantine and the Roman Empire - to define Jesus as God (via the Nicene Creed's Trinity) and minimize the Supreme Being that Jesus and John (and all the Prophets) were trying to teach us about.

Who was John referring to as the 'One greater'?

John was referring to the Supreme Being. He was telling the people that once they re-establish their relationship with the Supreme Being, they will have the ultimate salvation.

Consider for a moment those who might not have had the opportunity to hear from Jesus. Would John simply be preaching in order to tell people to go worship Jesus?

Just as every other prophet before John, including his father, and all the way up the lineage of teachers including David, Moses, Abraham, Jacob and many others, John was teaching his followers to re-establish our own relationship with the Supreme Being. They were not playing word games about the coming of some future savior of all humanity. The coming "Messiah" that they have been awaiting is the Supreme Being Himself.

All they have to do is hear the teachings of the prophets that have already appeared (come), and follow in their footsteps, to establish their own personal relationship with the Supreme Being. Awaiting a future "Messiah" is futile if those messengers of God who already appeared gave us the final solution to love and cherish the Supreme Being.

It is certainly ironic that the politically-oriented Pharisees of the institutional temple, whom Jesus was so critical of, were also proposing the future "messiah" concept, theoretically drawn from the sayings of the Prophets.

Consider the consequences of the only savior of the entire world coming at a future time, long after our lifetimes are over. How does that provide hope or resolution?

This is saying that God is impotent. Most any man can have multiple sons and multiple messengers. But the Supreme Being can only have one? 

This means that, for most people, no one, not even Abraham, Jacob, David, Moses, Solomon and so many other Prophets who had an intimate relationship with the Supreme Being (all of whom "walked with God"), has been saved. It means that all their teachings - all their words - were in vain.

This would mean that all those billions of people who worshiped the Supreme Being before Jesus came were not saved. All of these billions of people, regardless of their faith and their spiritual progression, all have to wait for the savior to come? Where will they wait?

Do we all have to wait in purgatory?

Some claim that no one can return to heaven (the spiritual realm) until Jesus comes again. They claim that everyone will have to wait somewhere after they die, until either the savior comes, or the savior comes again. Wasn't it enough that the messiah came the first time? (This proposition implies that Jesus' first coming wasn't enough. He will have to come again for people to really be saved.)

Where is this purgatory location? And how would we wait? In our bodies? What happens when our bodies decompose?

Yes, some also believe in Peter Pan and Santa Claus. Really - they really believe in them. It doesn't mean they exist though.

There are three types of "comings" described among the books of the New Testament - translated to "coming" from the word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) - which actually means "to appear" or "to make one's appearance."

This expression is used metaphorically to describe different spiritual scenarios.

One occurs when the physical body dies. At this point, our spirit-persons leave our body and appear in the spirit world and embrace our spiritual connections with God and His angels. At this point, we are judged for our lives. This is when the spiritual self comes out of the physical body and arrives in the spirit world.

The second type of "coming" is the appearance of the Supreme Being in our hearts. This takes place when each of us individually surrenders our lives to the Supreme Being. Upon this surrender, the Supreme Being "comes" into - appears in - our lives, and our lives become driven by this renewed relationship with the Supreme Being. In other words, when we surrender our lives to the Supreme Being, God comes into our lives.

Another type of "coming" relates to the Supreme Being empowering one of His loving servants to become His representative. Here the reference is derived from the notion of the Supreme Being sending someone to teach us His message. When the Supreme Being sends someone to teach, we are at the receiving end. Therefore we can refer to this empowered representative of God as "coming" (appearing) from the Supreme Being.

There are many disagreements between different sects about whether Jesus was the only "messiah" (the "coming") they have wordsmithed from the teachings of the prophets. These two sects are reading from the same books of the Old Testament, yet those who claim to follow Jesus say that this "coming" of the Messiah already took place (yet curiously, he still must come again) while Talmud priests teach that the Messiah hasn't come yet.

Both of these positions would mean that every prophet and teacher, from Jesus to John the Baptist, to Zechariah to Moses, to Abraham, to Noah, to David, Solomon and many others who tried to teach us and show us by example that our happiness lies in loving and serving the Supreme Being, has all been in vain.

Each of these teachers has been a messiah in true sense of the word. They have delivered to their time and society God's teachings - by their words and their lives, to encourage us to turn to the only real Messiah: God Himself.

What does 'Christ' mean?

The Greek word Χριστός (Christos) - used only four times in the four Gospels - also means "messiah." But it also means "savior" according to Thayer's lexicon. 

Ultimately, the Supreme Being is our Ultimate Savior. But those who represent the Supreme Being are also saviors, in that they can deliver God's invitation to us to return to Him.

John the Baptist was also a savior. And so was Moses. And so was David. And so was Abraham. Those messengers of God had developed a loving relationship with the Supreme Being and were empowered ("sent") by the Supreme Being.

With this in mind, we can better understand the question John's disciples asked Jesus and Jesus' answer.

The fact that John sent his disciples to ask Jesus the above question indicates that there was an expectation and hope by John that one (or more) of John’s followers would become an empowered representative of the Supreme Being.

This journey and question by John's disciples indicate that John was not sure if Jesus was empowered. He may have heard some things. This is why John asked his followers to visit with Jesus and ask this question. He did not want to go on rumor alone.

This also confirms that John was not preaching about Jesus in his teachings. It confirms that John was referring to the Supreme Being when he said:
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)
Besides, there is no evidence that Jesus would have a "winnowing fork" and a "threshing floor" where he would be "gathering his wheat." These are all metaphors used to describe how God separates those who worship Him from those who do not.

Periodically the Supreme Being sends us (or empowers) His messengers to teach on His behalf. Such an empowered person is typically also a follower within a lineage of teachers, illustrating the relationship between the Supreme Being and those with whom He has a relationship.

This forms of lineage of loving teachers throughout time. Each teacher hands the truth to followers, some of whom may decide to take the teachings to heart and humbly submit themselves to the Supreme Being. Such a submission may prompt the Supreme Being to empower those persons to teach on His behalf.

So the question being asked by John’s disciples is whether Jesus (as Jesus also was one of John's disciples) had become an empowered messenger of God, as John had been.

Jesus answers the question of John’s disciples by describing his trying to heal people and teach people “the good news” (as did John, remember the above?). He indicates the "dead are raised," and so on. This has a double meaning to some degree, as Jesus indicates that he is enlightening people by teaching the Truth. With respect to the "dead are raised," consider this statement of Jesus:
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:22)
Then Jesus humbly states to John's disciples, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Why?

Jesus is saying here to his fellow disciples of John that he hopes his teachings will help people. This might be akin to the modern-day saying, “we’ll be lucky if I don’t mess things up.” This indicates that Jesus thought of himself not as the savior of the world, or as if he was God. But he thought of himself as a humble teacher, trying simply to do God’s will.

One final note about John. One might wonder why he was in jail. John was in jail because of his devotion and commitment to teaching this message. He too was telling people to love and serve God, and that we will never be happy without our relationship with the Supreme Being. 

For this reason, John was jailed, and eventually beheaded. In other words, like Jesus, John sacrificed his physical life to bring us those teachings. He gave his life for God and for others, illustrating a tradition of service and sacrifice to the Supreme Being that was also illustrated in Jesus’ life.