This telling of John’s proclamation of the coming of the Lord reminds me of the dozens of apocalyptic TV and movie characters – usually the looney ones – who proclaim, “The end is near!” These words of woe are intended to frighten people into behaving, lest they be punished by the ending of the world as we know it. In fact, this pop culture trend almost makes me want to roll my eyes at John, the camel’s-hair-wearing, locust-eating, end-of-the-world-proclaiming nut job.
But in the end, I’m convinced John was not a nut at all. And he wasn’t proclaiming the end of the world. No, he was proclaiming the end of the injustice and hierarchical offenses that existed in a corrupt world. His proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was near actually spoke of the kind of kingdom God intended for this world – the earth and its inhabitants. John was warning the oppressors that a savior was coming to rescue the oppressed. His proclamation was not an ominous warning of the end – it was a promise of hope for a new beginning.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”