The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2


Chapter 4—The Mission of Christ

Christ's life had been so retired and secluded at Nazareth that John had not a personal acquaintance with him, and he did not positively know that he was the Messiah. He was acquainted with the circumstances of his birth, and he believed him to be the promised One. The secluded life of Christ for thirty years at Nazareth, in which he gave no special evidence of his Messiahship, suggested doubts to John whether he was indeed the One for whose coming he was to prepare the way. John, however, rested the matter in faith, fully believing that God would in due time make it plain. The Lord had shown him that the Messiah would be pointed out to him by a distinct sign; when this should be done, then John could present him to the world as the long-expected Messiah, the Lamb of God, that was to take away the sin of the world. 2SP 58.1

John had heard of the sinless character and spotless purity of Christ. His life was in harmony with what the Lord had revealed to him respecting one that was among them whose life was without the taint of sin. John had also seen that he should be the example for every repenting sinner. When Christ presented himself for baptism, John recognized him at once as the superior one revealed to him. He discerned, in the person and deportment of Christ, a character above every other man he had ever seen. The very atmosphere of his presence was holy and awe-inspiring. Although he knew him not as the Messiah, yet never had such a holy influence been realized by John from any one as when in the presence of Christ. He felt the superiority of Christ at once, and shrank from performing the rite of baptism to one whom he knew to be sinless. Many had come to him to receive the baptism of repentance, confessing their sins and crimes; but John could not understand why the only sinless one upon the earth should ask for an ordinance implying guilt, virtually confessing, by the symbol of baptism, pollution to be washed away. He remonstrated with Christ, acknowledging his superiority, and refused to administer the ordinance, saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” With firm and gentle authority Jesus waives the refusal of John and his plea of unworthiness, saying, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” 2SP 58.2

Christ came not confessing his own sins; but guilt was imputed to him as the sinner's substitute. He came not to repent on his own account; but in behalf of the sinner. As man had transgressed the law of God, Christ was to fulfill every requirement of that law, and thus show perfect obedience. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!” Christ honored the ordinance of baptism by submitting to this rite. In this act he identified himself with his people as their representative and head. As their substitute, he takes upon him their sins, numbering himself with the transgressors, taking the steps the sinner is required to take, and doing the work the sinner must do. His life of suffering and patient endurance after his baptism were an example to converted sinners of what they should endure and patiently suffer in consequence of their transgressions and sins. John finally yielded to the request of Christ, notwithstanding his feelings of unworthiness to baptize him, and performed the service. He led the Saviour of the world down into the river Jordan in the presence of a large concourse of people, and buried him in the water. 2SP 59.1

After Christ rose up from the water and from the hand of John, he walked out to the bank of Jordan, and bowed in the attitude of prayer. The eyes of John were fastened upon Christ with the deepest interest and amazement. His heart was stirred with emotion as he looked upon him thus bowed as a suppliant. Christ's hands were raised upward, and his gaze seemed to penetrate Heaven. As the believer's example, his sinless humanity supplicated support and strength from his Heavenly Father, as he was about to commence his public labors as the Messiah. Jesus poured out his soul in earnest prayer. A new and important era was opening before him. His former peaceful, quiet life is to here end. He had been happy in a life of industry and toil, while fulfilling the duties devolving on a son. He was an example to those in childhood, youth, and manhood. His deportment showed that he felt the importance and solemnity of the hour. He knew that trials, toils, conflicts, sufferings, and death, were in the path his feet had entered. He felt the weight of the responsibilities he must bear. He was about to engage in new and arduous duties. A sense of the sinfulness of men, and the hardness of their hearts, which separated them from God, convinced him that but few would discern his merciful mission, and accept the salvation he came from Heaven to bring them. 2SP 60.1

Never before had angels listened to such a prayer as Christ offered at his baptism, and they were solicitous to be the bearers of the message from the Father to his Son. But, no; direct from the Father issues the light of his glory. The heavens were opened, and beams of glory rested upon the Son of God, and assumed the form of a dove, in appearance like burnished gold. The dove-like form was emblematical of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. While the people stood spell-bound with amazement, their eyes fastened upon Christ, from the opening heavens came these words: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The words of confirmation that Christ is the Son of God was given to inspire faith in those who witnessed the scene, and to sustain the Son of God in his arduous work. Notwithstanding the Son of God was clothed with humanity, yet Jehovah, with his own voice, assures him of his sonship with the Eternal. In this manifestation to his Son, God accepts humanity as exalted through the excellence of his beloved Son. 2SP 60.2

As John had now witnessed the heavenly dove resting upon Jesus, which was the promised token of the Messiah, he stretched forth his hand, and with assurance proclaimed before the multitude, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” From this time John had no doubt in regard to Jesus being the true Messiah. 2SP 61.1

After this, Jesus withdrew into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil forty days. His long fast ended, the victory won, he returns to the banks of the Jordan, mingling again with the disciples of John, yet giving no outward evidence of his special work, and taking no measures to bring himself to notice. 2SP 61.2

Men were sent from the highest authority in Jerusalem to inquire in regard to the great agitation John was creating. He was calling whole cities and towns to listen to his voice of warning; and they would know the prophet's authority for thus claiming the attention of the people, and turning the world upside down. These messengers challenged John to tell them certainly if he was the Messiah. John confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. John is then questioned as to his authority for baptizing, and thus agitating the people, when he does not claim to be Christ, or Elias, neither that prophet. The words, “That prophet,” has reference to Moses. The Jews had been inclined to the belief that Moses would be raised from the dead, and taken to Heaven. They did not know that Moses had already been resurrected. 2SP 62.1

When John came, baptizing with water, the Jews thought that he might be the prophet Moses risen from the dead; for he seemed to have a thorough knowledge of the prophecies, and to understand the history of the Hebrews and their wanderings in the wilderness in consequence of their unjust murmurings and continual rebellion. They also called to mind the peculiar circumstances of John's birth, and wonderful manifestation of God to Zacharias, his father, in the temple, by the visitation of the angel from the presence of God, and the power of speech, being taken from Zacharias, because he did not believe the words of the angel, and the unloosing of his tongue at the birth of John. These important facts had in the past thirty years been measurably forgotten. But when John appeared as a prophet, the manifestation of the Spirit of God at his birth was called to mind. 2SP 62.2

When the messengers from the highest authority in Jerusalem were communing with John in reference to his mission and work, he could have taken honor to himself, had he been so disposed. But he would not assume honors that did not belong to him. While conversing with the messengers, suddenly his eye kindled, his countenance lighted up, and his whole being seemed stirred with deep emotion, as he discovered the person of Jesus in the concourse of people. He raised his hand, pointing to Christ, saying, There standeth One among you whom ye know not. I have come to prepare the way before him whom ye now see. He is the Messiah. He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 2SP 63.1

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me; for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not. But he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record, that this is the Son of God. Again, the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, behold the Lamb of God!” And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? The disciples confessed that they were seeking Christ, and that they desired to become acquainted with him, and to be instructed by him at his home. These two disciples were charmed with the deeply impressive, yet simple and practical, lessons of Christ. Their hearts had never been so moved before. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of these disciples. He was interested for his friends and relatives, and was anxious that they also should see Christ, and hear for themselves his precious lessons. Andrew went in search of his brother Simon, and with assurance claimed to have found Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. He brought his brother to Jesus, and as soon as Jesus looked upon him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone. The next day Christ selected another disciple, Philip, and bade him follow him. Philip fully believed that Christ was the Messiah, and began to search for others to bring them to listen to the teachings of Christ, which had so charmed him. Then Philip found Nathanael. He was one of the number who heard John proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” He felt deeply convicted, and retired to a grove, concealed from every human eye, and there meditated upon the announcement of John, calling to his mind the prophecies relating to the coming of the Messiah and his mission. He queried thus: Could this indeed be the Messiah for whom they had so long waited, and were so desirous to see? Hope sprang up in the heart of Nathanael that this might be the one that would save Israel. He bowed before God and prayed that if the person whom John had declared to be the Redeemer of the world was indeed the promised deliverer, that it might be made known to him. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon Nathanael in such a special manner that he was convinced that Christ was the Messiah. While Nathanael was praying, he heard the voice of Philip calling him, saying, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.” 2SP 63.2

Nathanael's wavering faith was now strengthened, and he answered and said, “Rabbi, thou art the son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 2SP 65.1

In these first few disciples the foundation of the Christian church was being laid by individual effort. John first directed two of his disciples to Christ. Then one of these finds a brother, and brings him to Christ. He then calls Philip to follow him, and he went in search of Nathanael. Here is an instructive lesson for all the followers of Christ. It teaches them the importance of personal effort, making direct appeals to relatives, friends, and acquaintances. There are those who profess to be acquainted with Christ for a life time who never make personal effort to induce one soul to come to the Saviour. They have left all the work with the minister. He may be well qualified for his work; but he cannot do the work which God has left upon the members of the church. Very many excuse themselves from being interested in the salvation of those who are out of Christ, and are content to selfishly enjoy the benefits of the grace of God themselves, while they make no direct effort to bring others to Christ. In the vineyard of the Lord there is a work for all to do, and unselfish, interested, faithful workers will share largely of his grace here, and of the reward he will bestow hereafter. Faith is called into exercise by good works, and courage and hope are in accordance with working faith. The reason many professed followers of Christ have not a bright and living experience, is because they do nothing to gain it. If they would engage in the work which God would have them do, their faith would increase, and they would advance in the divine life. 2SP 66.1

Jesus was pleased with the earnest faith of Nathanael that asked for no greater evidence than the few words he had spoken. And he looked forward with pleasure to the work he was to do in relieving the oppressed, healing the sick, and in breaking the bands of Satan. In view of these blessings which Christ came to bestow, he says to Nathanael, in the presence of the other disciples, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 2SP 66.2

Christ virtually says, On the bank of Jordan the heavens were opened before me, and the Spirit descended like a dove upon me. That scene at Jordan was but a token to evidence that I was the Son of God. If you believe in me as such, your faith shall be quickened, and you shall see that the heavens will be opened, and shall never be closed. I have opened them for you, and the angels of God, that are united with me in the reconciliation between earth and Heaven, uniting the believers on the earth with the Father above, will be ascending, bearing the prayers of the needy and distressed from the earth to the Father above, and descending, bringing blessings of hope, courage, health, and life, for the children of men. 2SP 67.1

The angels of God are ever moving up and down from earth to Heaven, and from Heaven to earth. All the miracles of Christ performed for the afflicted and suffering were, by the power of God, through the ministration of angels. Christ condescended to take humanity, and thus he unites his interests with the fallen sons and daughters of Adam here below, while his divinity grasps the throne of God. And thus Christ opens the communication of man with God, and God with man. All the blessings from God to man are through the ministration of holy angels. 2SP 67.2

Disciples were being daily added to Christ, and people flocked from cities and villages to hear him. Many came to him for baptism; but Christ baptized none. His disciples performed this ordinance. And while Christ's disciples were baptizing large numbers, there arose a question among the Jews and the disciples of John, whether the act of baptism purified the sinner from the guilt of sin. The disciples of John answered that John baptized only unto repentance, but Christ's disciples unto a new life. John's disciples were jealous of the popularity of Christ, and said to John, referring to Christ, “He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from Heaven.” 2SP 68.1

In this answer John virtually says, Why should you be jealous on my account? “Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. 2SP 68.2

John, so far from being jealous of the prosperity of Christ's mission, rejoices as he witnesses the success of the work he came to do. He assures his disciples that his special mission was to direct the attention of the people to Christ. “He must increase; but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all. He that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth. He that cometh from Heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.” 2SP 68.3

John assured his disciples that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. As his work was closing, he taught his disciples to look to Jesus, and follow him as the great teacher. John's life, with the exception of the joy he experienced in witnessing the success of his mission, was without pleasure. It was one of sorrow and self-denial. He who heralded the first advent of Christ, was not permitted to personally hear, nor to witness the power manifested by him. John's voice was seldom heard, except in the wilderness. His life was lonely. Multitudes had flocked to the wilderness to hear the words of the wonderful prophet. He had laid the ax at the root of the tree. He had reproved sin, fearless of the consequences, and prepared the way for the ministry of Christ. 2SP 69.1

Herod was affected as he listened to the pointed testimony of John, and, with deep interest, he inquired what he must do to become his disciple. He was convicted by the plain truths uttered by John. His conscience condemned him, for a woman of vile passions had gained his affections and controlled his mind. This unprincipled woman was ambitious for power and authority, and thought if she became the wife of Herod her object would be gained. As Herod listened to the practical truths proclaimed by John, reproving the transgression of the law of God, and setting forth the future punishment which the guilty must suffer, he trembled, and greatly desired to break the chain of lust which held him. He opened his mind to John, who brought Herod to the law of God, face to face, and told him it would be impossible for him to have part in the kingdom of the Messiah unless he should break away from the unlawful connections with his brother's wife, and, with his whole heart, obey the commandments of God. 2SP 69.2

Herod was inclined to act upon the advice of John, and stated to Herodias that he could not marry her in defiance of the law of God. But this determined woman would not be thwarted in her designs. Intense hatred was awakened in her heart toward John. Herod was weak in principle, vacillating in mind, and Herodias had no great difficulty in re-establishing herself in his favor, and holding her influence over him. Herod yielded to the pleasures of sin, rather than submit to the restrictions of the law of God. 2SP 70.1

When Herodias had gained influence over Herod, she determined to be revenged upon the prophet for his daring to reprove their course of crime. And she influenced him to imprison John. But Herod intended to release him. While confined in prison, John heard, through his disciples, of the mighty works of Jesus. He could not personally listen to his gracious words; but the disciples informed him, and comforted him with a relation of what they had seen and heard. 2SP 70.2

John having spent his life in the open air, in active, persevering labor, enduring privations, hardship, and toil, he had never before experienced the trials of confined living. He therefore became desponding, and even doubts troubled him whether Christ was indeed the Messiah. His disciples had brought to him accounts of the wonderful things they had witnessed in the ministry of Christ. But he concluded that if Christ was indeed the Messiah, he would publicly proclaim himself as the Saviour of the world. 2SP 70.3

John had indistinct ideas of the kingdom Christ came to establish, as also had the disciples of Christ. They thought Christ would establish a temporal kingdom, and reign upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. He became impatient because Christ did not immediately make himself known, assume kingly authority, and subdue the Romans. He hoped that if Christ established his kingdom, he would be brought out of prison. He decided that if Jesus was really the Son of God, and could do all things, he would exercise his power and set him at liberty. 2SP 71.1

John sent his disciples to inquire of Christ, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” The disciples sought the presence of Christ; but they could not communicate with him immediately, because of the crowd who were bearing the sick to Jesus. The afflicted, blind, and lame were passing through the throng. The disciples of John saw the miracles of Christ, and that at his word the lifeless clay became animate, and the glow of health took the place of the pallor of death. Jesus said to the disciples of John, “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” 2SP 71.2

In these words John is gently reproved for his impatience. The cautious reproof returned to John was not lost upon him. He then better understood the character of Christ's mission. And with submission and faith, he yielded himself into the hands of God, to live, or to die, as should best advance his glory. 2SP 71.3

After the disciples of John had departed, Jesus addressed the multitude concerning John, “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” Jesus knew that a reed trembling in the wind was the very opposite of John's character. John could not be moved by flattery, nor be deceived by prevailing errors. Neither could he be turned aside from the work he came to do by rewards, or worldly honors. He would preserve his integrity at the expense of his life. Steadfast as a rock stood the prophet of God, faithful to rebuke sin and crime in all their forms, in kings and nobles, as readily as in the unhonored and unknown. He swerved not from duty. Loyal to his God, in noble dignity of moral character, he stood firm as a rock, faithful to principle. 2SP 72.1

“But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” 2SP 72.2

The people whom Christ addressed well knew that the apparel worn by John was the opposite of that worn in royal palaces. Christ virtually asked; What motive induced you to flock to the wilderness to hear the preaching of John? The wilderness is not the place to find those who live delicately, and who clothe themselves in rich, soft apparel. Christ wished them to observe the contrast between the clothing of John and that of the Jewish priests. The prophet wore a plain, rough garment, possessing no beauty, but answering the purpose for which clothing was first designed. In marked contrast to the garments of John, was the gorgeous apparel of the Jewish priests and elders. 2SP 72.3

These officials, thinking that they would be reverenced in accordance with their external appearance, adopted great splendor of dress, making a rich display of costly robes and dazzling breastplates. They were more anxious to win the admiration of men than to obtain spotless purity of character and holiness of life, that would gain the approval of God. 2SP 73.1

Christ admonished his disciples, and also the multitude, to follow that which was good in the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, but not to imitate their wrong examples, nor be deceived by their ambitious pretensions. 2SP 73.2

He says, “All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms of feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” 2SP 73.3

John saw that these proud Jews were exalting and glorifying themselves by parading their ostentatious piety before the public. They bound portions of the law upon their foreheads and about their wrists, that all might recognize and pay deference to their assumed sanctity. True, God had commanded the children of Israel to place a ribbon of blue in the border of their garments, upon which the ten commandments, in brief, should be embroidered. This was to continually remind them of their duty to love God supremely, and their neighbor as themselves. But the farther they had departed from their primitive purity and simplicity, and the more directly their daily lives were opposed to the law of God, the more particular were they to make broad their phylacteries, and add to the words which God had specified should be traced on the ribbon of blue. Outwardly they were expressing the deepest devotion, while their acts were in strong contrast with their profession. 2SP 74.1