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.
While the New Testament does not elaborate much on their relationship, we know that there was a relationship between them, as Jesus went to see him, hear from him 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.We can see that John the Baptist's teacher and father, Zechariah, was a devoted priest and servant of the Supreme Being. 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.
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)
After John's birth, Zechariah made this prayer:
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,So we know that Zechariah and thus John the Baptist were 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.
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)
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 the ecclesiastical churches have done to mean that John's purpose was only to introduce Jesus. John was teaching how one can 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.
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: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.
"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)
The interpretation of "prepare the way for the Lord" has been grossly mistranslated by the ecclesiastical teachers 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 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 ludicrous. 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 whisp 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 ecclesiastical teachers, beginning with the mistranslations and misinterpretations begun in Nicene in the fourth century - when scribes and teachers were instructed to copy certain texts into one politically-acceptable document (the Bible) that would in fact, gather all of Europe under the banner of Constantine - like to push that John is referring to Jesus with his statements about "One more powerful than I will come." However, this is not consistent with the rest of the statements regarding John's ability to directly bring people salvation ("the good news").
John was, in fact, 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?
Of course not. 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, they were trying to teach us 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 both the Jews have been awaiting is the Supreme Being Himself.
All they have to do is hear the teachings of the prophets that have already come, and follow in their footsteps, to establish their own personal relationship with the Supreme Being. It is preposterous that for thousands of years, no one in the nation of Israel (or anyone else for that matter) could be saved until some future date when some great "messiah" will come. When will this be? What happens to everyone until that time? Do they just stand by in some mythological "waiting room" awaiting for the "messiah" to come?
It is also ironic that the politically-oriented, ecclesiastical pharisees of the Jewish faith, 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 having a the only savior of the Jewish people, or the world, out into the future, as these interpretations would have. Is God capable of having only one son, or one messiah?
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? That is preposterous.
For the Jews, this means that no one is saved until that messiah comes. For the Christians, this means that Jesus the messiah came already, so they are already saved - as long as they simply proclaim it. For both institutions, it serves to keep people in the camp - attending and tithing to their church or temple - for fear they would be left behind at the big "coming."
This means that, for the Jews, 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 said in vain.
For the Christians, it means 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?
Worse, many ecclesiastical Christian teachings now also say that no one can return to heaven (the spiritual realm) until Jesus comes again. So once again, 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.
These are ridiculous propositions. They are simply preposterous and nonsensical. They are so nonsensical that the Catholic church had to make up a 'waiting room' place called “purgatory,” where all these people would have to wait for the second coming. They created an imaginary location where people supposedly hang out (in their rotting, decomposed bodies?) for Jesus to come again and bring them all home. 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."
The first is what happens when our physical body dies. At this point, we each are faced with God (or His angels) and we are judged for our lives. We might consider this a forced "coming." The second type of "coming" is the voluntary calling and "coming" - appearance - of the Supreme Being. 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.
The third 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.
The irony here is that while both the Jewish ecclesiastical sects and the Christian ecclesiastical sects reject and condemn each other because they disagree about whether Jesus was that only "messiah" (the "coming") they have wordsmithed from the teachings of the prophets. The Jews and the Christians are reading from the same books of the Old Testament, yet the Christians say that this "coming" of the messiah already took place (yet curiously, he still must come again) and the Jews say the messiah hasn't come yet.
This baloney would of course 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 including Mohammad 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. This is the furthest from the truth. Each of these teachers, in fact, has been a messiah in that they have brought us His teachings by words and their lives, to encourage us to turn to the only real Messiah: God Himself.
In fact, "Christ" means "savior" -- and the Supreme Being is our Ultimate Savior. And 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 persons who developed a loving relationship with the Supreme Being and were empowered ("sent") by the Supreme Being (and not by councils of men) into the position as God’s representative is a savior.
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 students would become an empowered representative of the Supreme Being John was not sure if Jesus was, although he had heard some things. This is why John asked his students to visit with Jesus and ask this question. He did not want to go on rumor alone. (This, by the way, also confirms that John was not preaching about Jesus in his teachings. It also confirms that John did not supposedly recognize Jesus during the baptism - otherwise, he would not have needed to send his disciples to ask this question much later.)
In each generation, the Supreme Being sends us (or empowers) a devoted servant or servants as His representative(s) to teach on His behalf. Such an empowered person is typically also a student 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 devotion. One teacher hands the truth to many students, or maybe even one or two. Out of those may arise one or a few devoted student(s) who take the teachings to heart and humbly submit themselves to the Supreme Being. Seeing this submission, the Supreme Being may empower those persons to represent Him, and command those persons to teach on His behalf. By this process those devoted servants then become God’s representative, and ultimately, become "saviors" of mankind, due to their delivering the Supreme Being's message to us.
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 representative 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 as well as physically healing. 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.
Notice also that Jesus is referring to teaching the "good news" just as John the Baptist was portrayed to have been teaching. What is the “good news” anyway?
"Good news" is a poor translation for the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) - which directly relates to the teachings of the prophets - and "the gospel." Jesus and John 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)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 he 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.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)