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7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About John the Baptist

Zechariah and Elizabeth thought they were too old to have a child. But when an angel of the Lord appeared and prophesied about a son who would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, everything changed.

Their son, who came to be known as John the Baptist, was indeed filled with the Holy Spirit and grew up to be a mighty mouthpiece for God, calling people to repentance and preparing hearts for the arrival of Jesus, their Messiah.

Here are seven interesting things you may never have learned about John the Baptist:

1. Christians recognize John the Baptist as a great prophet… and others do, too.

John the Baptist is a well-known name in Christian households. He ushered in the long-awaited Messiah. He ate locusts and honey while living in the wilderness. He even baptized Jesus. Christians still admire John the Baptist for his zeal and his fascinating lifestyle, but Christians aren’t the only ones admiring.

John, known as Yahya in Arabic, is praised by Muslims as well. He is one of twenty-five prophets mentioned in the Quran, and it is said that anyone who denounces John also denounces Islam.

While both the Quran and the Bible mention John’s miraculous birth and his righteous way of living, only the Bible reveals his greater purpose: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).

As the forerunner and announcer of Christ, John the Baptist stands apart, which leads to the next interesting fact.

2. Jesus declared that there was no one greater than John the Baptist.

Matthew 11:11 recounts Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”

This seems an odd statement, particularly because Jesus was a man himself. Some scholars believe Jesus was honoring John the Baptist by offering a kind compliment. Others say Jesus was referring to John’s unique position and assignment in history, or referencing the fact that John was anointed to preach with the power of Elijah (Luke 1:17).

3. John the Baptist took a Nazirite vow.

Today, we might call a person crazy if they refused to cut their hair and ate locusts in the wilderness. In John the Baptist’s day, he was called a Nazirite. A Nazarite was a person who gave up certain things in order to commune with God in a state of holiness. Nazirites refrained from cutting their hair, drinking alcohol, touching dead bodies, and would sometimes separate themselves from other people in order to eliminate distractions.

The root word of Nazirite, Nazir, means holy or set apart, and a Nazirite’s actions did indeed separate them from the rest of the world. Most Jews only took a Nazirite vow for a set period of time—usually between 30 to 100 days—but there were at least three Nazirites in Scripture who were dedicated from birth: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Although some might have still called him crazy, John the Baptist set his life aside for Jesus and remains an inspiration.

4. Before John was even born, he knew when Jesus was near.

Talk about a womb with a view!

While telling Mary about her future son, the angel Gabriel added: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month” (Luke 1:36).

Mary left to see Elizabeth soon after receiving Gabriel’s message, and when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, “the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41).

How did John, still in his mother’s womb, recognize Jesus? As prophesied by the angel of the Lord, John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born (Luke 1:15). And the Holy Spirit in John bore witness to the fact that the Messiah was nearby.

How fitting that the forerunner and announcer of the coming King would be the first to recognize Him—and do it even before being born!

5. Speaking the truth got John the Baptist killed.

Considering his lifestyle, John the Baptist clearly didn’t care what others thought of him, even when those others had great power. When Herod Antipas, the Roman ruler of Galilee, took his brother’s wife as his own, John the Baptist spoke out against it.

John was placed in prison for speaking against the unlawful marriage, and it wasn’t long before Herod’s new wife, Herodias, got her revenge. When Herod promised the daughter of Herodias anything her heart desired, Herodias instructed the girl to ask for John’s head on a platter, literally.

Despite a traumatic end, John’s birth, death, and everything in between reminds us to be bold declarers of the truth at any cost.

6. Herod Antipas, who executed John the Baptist, liked listening to him and tried to protect him.

Herod Antipas may not have wanted to execute John the Baptist. In fact, he tried to protect him.

Originally, Herod’s motives for trying to protect John seemed to be out of fear, since John was so loved by his followers that Herod feared an uprising (Matthew 14:5). But after imprisoning John, it’s possible that something shifted in Herod.

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested . . . . He did this because of Herodias. So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:17-20).

When Herodias tricked her husband into murdering John the Baptist, “the king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her” (Mark 6:26).

If he hadn’t been so afraid of what his dinner guests might think, would Herod have eventually embraced the message of John the Baptist—and ultimately the message of Jesus the Messiah? We’ll never know, but it’s a thought-provoking question.

7. John’s head is claimed to be located in four different locations around the globe.

Oddly enough, John the Baptist’s head is considered a relic by many. So much so that four different locations are said to provide the final resting place for the head of John the Baptist.

The first is the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The mosque was built on the remains of an ancient Christian church, and John the Baptist’s head is claimed to be buried there in a shrine.

Similarly, the Residenz Museum in Munich, Germany claims to have John’s head among other relics collected by Duke Wilhelm V in the 16th century.

And if you happen to visit Rome, you may come across his alleged skull at the Church of San Silvestro in Capite.

Finally, the 13th century cathedral in Amiens, France was built for the sole purpose of housing John’s head. Supposedly, a Crusader carried it from Constantinople in 1206.

The world may be confused about the final resting place of John the Baptist, but considering he was a man who cared nothing for himself, maybe we’re missing the point.

So what do you think? Did you learn anything new? What do you think about the fact that the man who beheaded John the Baptist seemed to have respected and protected him? What do you think about Jesus’ words (Matthew 11:11) about the greatness of his cousin John? Is Jesus’ statement merely a compliment, or something more? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Karen Scalf Bouchard

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