Life of John the Baptist

This is a summary of the life of John the Baptist as recorded in the Bible, including a Gospel harmony for the Gospel verses concerning John.

Key:

  • Explicit Association of John with Elijah
  • Explicit Denial by John of Being Elijah
  • Implicit Association of John with Elijah Through Malachi's Prophecies
  • Implicit Association of John with Elijah Through Similarities Between the Two Men
  • Other Things Associating John with Elijah
  • Things Related to the Two Witnesses of Revelation


Most of what is written about John is found in the four Gospel books
of the New Testament (e.g. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The following is a summary of the information given in the Bible about the life of John the Baptist.


Gospel Harmony for John the Baptist


Luke 1:5-25; John 1:6

The angel Gabriel visits the old priest Zechariah in the Temple in Jerusalem. Gabriel tells Zechariah that his old wife Elizabeth will become pregnant with a son, who is to be named “John” (Hebrew, “Yochanan”, meaning “God gives grace”). God considers Zechariah and Elizabeth blameless; nevertheless, John is the first child that God gives them.

In Luke 1:15, Gabriel says that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit at birth; that John will not drink any alcohol; and that the Lord will regard John as a great man.

In Luke 1:17, Gabriel says that John’s coming will precede the coming of the Lord. The angel also says that John will come to the world “in the spirit and power of Elijah”; and also says other things which indicate that John the Baptist’s coming will be a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; and Malachi 4:5-6).

Zechariah has difficulty believing what Gabriel is saying. Because of this, Gabriel makes Zechariah unable to speak until John is born. Nevertheless, Elizabeth does become pregnant.

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that the Holy Spirit will cause her to become pregnant with “Jesus” (Hebrew, “Yeshua”, meaning “Yehovah (God) Saves”), the “Son of God”. Mary is also told that her relative Elizabeth has already been pregnant for six months.

Luke 1:39-56

Mary goes to Elizabeth’s house to spend time with Elizabeth until John is born. When Mary arrives, she gives a greeting to Elizabeth. As soon as Mary does this, Elizabeth’s unborn baby [John the Baptist] jumps for joy inside Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit causes Elizabeth to immediately know that Mary is pregnant and to confess that Mary’s child is the “Lord”.

Luke 1:57-58

Elizabeth’s son is born.

Luke 1:59-63; John 1:6

On the eighth day, when it is time for the baby to be circumcised, Elizabeth tells everyone that her son is to be named “John”. Then they ask Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, what the child’s name is. However, Zechariah still could not speak. So, Zechariah writes “he is John”.

Luke 1:64-79

Immediately Zechariah is able to speak again, and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah prophesies that the “Lord” (Luke 1:76) has come; and that his [Zechariah’s] son, John, is a fulfillment of various prophecies from the past.

In particular, what is written in Luke 1:76 points to Isaiah 40:3-5, implying a connection with that passage in Isaiah; and Luke 1:78 points to Malachi 4:2, which implies a connection to Malachi 4:5-6 and Malachi 3:1. (Please note that the other prophecies mentioned by Zechariah are found in MANY places. As an example, prophecies of “darkness” includes all the prophecies that God will heal the “blindness” of His people.)

Luke 1:80

“As a child, he [John the Baptist] increased and strengthened in the [Holy] Spirit; and was in the desert until the day of his appearance for Israel.”

Luke 3:1-6; Mark 1:2-5; Matthew 3:1; Matthew 3:5-6

John the Baptist leaves the desert and begins his ministry throughout the area around the Jordan River in Tiberius’s 15th year as Caesar. John baptizes with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

In Luke 3:4-6, Luke includes a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3-5, thereby implying that John the Baptist is a fulfillment of that passage from Isaiah.

In Mark 1:2, Mark includes a paraphrase of Malachi 3:1, thereby implying that John the Baptist is a fulfillment of that passage from Malachi.

In Mark 1:3, Mark includes a paraphrase from Isaiah 40:3-5, thereby implying that John the Baptist is a fulfillment of that passage from Isaiah.

In Matthew 3:2, Matthew includes a paraphrase from Isaiah 40:3-5, thereby implying that John the Baptist is a fulfillment of that passage from Isaiah.

Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4

John the Baptist wears camel’s hair clothing, tied on at his waist with a leather belt. John eats locusts and wild honey for food.

Luke 3:7-14; Matthew 3:7-10

John teaches the people about the proper way to treat others. Jesus teaches many very similar things later. For example, Luke 3:7 is very similar to Matthew 23:33. Luke 3:8-9 is explained in more detail by Jesus in John 8:31-59. Luke 3:11 is very similar to Luke 6:29 and Matthew 5:40.

Luke 3:15-16; John 1:7-9; John 1:15; John 1:19-20; John 1:24-28; Mark 1:7; Matthew 3:11a

John the Baptist denies being the Christ, the Messiah that the Hebrews have expected to come. John says that another person [Jesus] will come that is so much better than himself that he [John] does not even deserve to untie the other person’s sandals. According to John 1:8, John the Baptist is only a “witness” for Jesus.

John 1:21

John the Baptist denies being Elijah.

John also denies being “the Prophet”. That the “the Prophet” is not Elijah can be seen by looking at John 1:24-25, when “Christ”, “Elijah”, and “the prophet” are all listed separately. In fact, “the prophet” is that “prophet” which Moses prophesies will come in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

John 1:22-23

John claims that he is the one of which Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 40:3-5.

John 1:29-31

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God”; John also says about Jesus that “behind me, a man is coming that has come to be before me; because before me, He was”. John says that the reason he had been baptizing with water was so that Jesus would reveal Himself [Jesus].

Luke 3:16-18; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34; Mark 1:8-11; Matthew 3:11-17

John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River. After Jesus is baptized, Heaven opens; the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes down upon Jesus; and a voice is heard from Heaven, saying “You are my beloved Son; I delight in You”. John says that he [John] baptizes with water, but that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 4:14-15, John the Baptist thinks at first that it is improper for him [John] to baptize Jesus, since Jesus is better than John. However, when Jesus insists that it is right for Him to be baptized, then John does baptize Jesus.

Luke 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11

Immediately after being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus goes into the desert and fasts for 40 days and nights.

John 1:35-40

John the Baptist again sees Jesus, and again identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God”. Two of John’s disciples leave John to follow Jesus. One of the disciples that leaves is Andrew, the brother of the Apostle Simon Peter (John 1:40; Matthew 4:18).

John 3:21-4:2

John the Baptist is told that Jesus is also baptizing people, and John replies that this is right and proper. Actually, it is the Disciples of Jesus that are baptizing; and they are baptizing more people than John the Baptist is baptizing (John 4:1-2).

Luke 3:19-20; Mark 1:14; Mark 6:17-18; Matthew 4:12; Matthew 14:3-4

John the Baptist criticizes Herod the Tetrarch (the head of the government of the area) for wicked things that Herod is doing; and Herod imprisons John. In particular, John opposes Herod’s marriage to Herod’s sister-in-law Herodias.

Luke 7:16-20; Matthew 11:2-3

John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He [Jesus] really is the Christ.

Luke 7:21-23; Matthew 11:4-6

Jesus sends John’s disciples back to John to tell John the things that they have seen.

Luke 7:24-35; Matthew 11:4-6; Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus says some things about John the Baptist. Jesus declares that John is the one written about in Isaiah 40:3-5. Jesus also states that “among those born of women [humans] there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; yet the least one in the Kingdom of God is greater than him [John].”

Luke 16:16; Matthew 11:12-13

Jesus says that the Law and the Prophets were taught until John the Baptist came; but since John came, the Kingdom of God is taught, and everyone is thronging to get in. (This shift in teaching is the move from prophesying of the coming of Jesus Christ--which the Law and the Prophets did--to teaching that the prophecies of the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.)



Matthew 11:13-15

Jesus says that John the Baptist is the “Elijah” who was prophesied to come before Jesus.

Mark 6:19-28; Matthew 14:5-11

Herodias, the sister-in-law of Herod the Tetrarch whom Herod had married, hates John the Baptist. Herodias finds a way to use her daughter to trick Herod into beheading John; and John is beheaded, and his head is given to Herodias.

Mark 6:29; Matthew 14:12

John the Baptist’s disciples take John’s body and place it in a tomb. According to the verse in Matthew, the disciples went and told Jesus what had happened.

Luke 9:1-9; Mark 6:7-16; Matthew 14:1-2

Herod hears about the miracles occurring in the area he governs. However, Herod does not know that the miracles are due to Jesus’s Disciples; and Herod questions who could be doing the miracles, since he [Herod] has already caused John the Baptist to be beheaded.

John 5:33-47

In John 5:33-36, Jesus says that John the Baptist’s testimony is truthful, but that He [Jesus] has a more important testimony.

In John 5:35, the Scripture says


John 5:35

“He [John the Baptist] was a burning lamp; and you appear still willing to rejoice for a time in his light.”


In John 5:45-47, Jesus speaks about Moses.

Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15; Mark 6:30-44; Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After everyone eats, the disciples pick up 12 basketfuls of food scraps. This is similar to some of the food miracles of Elijah and Elisha (look at the “Food (Including Drinking Water)” subheading of the Miracle Comparison for Elijah and Elisha, which is near the middle of the “Part 5: Elijah and Elisha” page of this Bible study; this page will open in a new window).

Note: a similar miracle is recorded in Matthew 15:32-38. In that case, 4000 people are fed with seven loaves and a few small fish. Seven basketfuls of food scraps are collected afterwards.

John 6:16-21; Mark 6:45-53; Matthew 14:22-34

Jesus walks on water. This is similar to the water miracles of Elijah and Elisha when they cross the Jordan River along it’s dry bottom (look at the “Water” subheading of the Miracle Comparison for Elijah and Elisha, which is near the middle of the “Part 5: Elijah and Elisha” page of this Bible study).

In Matthew 14:28-31, Peter also walks on water, going out to meet Jesus.

Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; 2 Peter 1:16-18

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. While the four of them are on the mountain, Jesus is “transfigured” (means “transformed). Jesus’s face shines (Matthew 17:2), and His clothes become a bright, gleaming white. Also, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, and talk to Him; and Moses and Elijah have a similar “glorified” appearance to that of Jesus (Luke 9:30-32).

In Luke 9:32, Peter, James, and John are sleeping when the Transfiguration begins; but when they awake, they see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together. Peter suggests building shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. However a cloud covers all six men on the mountain; and a voice comes out of the cloud and says “This is My Son… …Listen to Him!” After this, Elijah and Moses are gone, and Jesus is alone.

Mark 9:9-13; Matthew 17:9-13

As Jesus and His Disciples are leaving the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, the Disciples ask Jesus why it is taught that Elijah must come “first” (before Jesus). They ask this because they have just seen Elijah on the mountain with Jesus. In reply, Jesus tells the Disciples that the teaching is correct, and that Elijah must indeed come first; but then Jesus also says that Elijah actually did come “first”.

In Matthew 17:13, Jesus’s Disciples realize that Jesus was telling them that John the Baptist was the Elijah that did come “first”.

Luke 11:1-4

Jesus teaches His Disciples how to pray, just as John the Baptist had previously taught his disciples.

Luke 20:1-8; Mark 11:27-33; Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus questions the chief priests and elders at the Temple regarding whether or not John the Baptist had been authorized by Heaven to baptize people.


Other Scriptures About John the Baptist


The Gospels claim that Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; and Malachi 4:5-6 refer to John the Baptist. Please note that Malachi 4:5-6 is preceded by Malachi 4:4, a verse that mentions Moses. Malachi 4:5-6 speaks about “Elijah” by name. Here is Malachi 4:4-6, included here for convenience:

Malachi 4:4-6

“4 Remember the Law of my servant Moses which I taught him in Horeb, all of the statutes and judgments on Israel.

5 Look! I am sending Elijah the prophet to you, to come before the day of Yehovah [God] the Great and Feared;

6 and he will restore the hearts of fathers towards sons, and sons towards their fathers; otherwise, I will come and hit the Earth with doom.”

In Acts 13:23-25, Paul says John the Baptist proclaimed the baptism of repentance until Jesus was revealed. Paul further says that John had said he [John] was not the One which they were seeking; but that Man would come after him [John], and that the man was so much better than himself [John] that he did not deserve to untie the Man’s sandals.

In Acts 19:1-7, some Christians at Ephesus learn from Paul that besides the water baptism of John the Baptist there is also the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After learning about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, these Christians receive this baptism.


This completes the summary of the life of John the Baptist.


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