Repent and Turn to Living in the Image of God
The angel that foretold the birth of John the Baptist said of him [Luke 1:16–17]: “He will bring back many of the people of Israel 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 parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” We examine the message of John the Baptist in this bible study, to understand his approach to his mission and how his teaching applies to present-day human interaction. The state of human interaction as he saw it was dominated by predator-versus-prey type relationships, whereby people sought to cheat others if they could. He preached a message of repentance [Matthew 3:2; Luke 3:3], that people had to repent from the life of preying on each other and turn to God’s ways in order to be acceptable into God’s kingdom. We examine other parts of the Scripture to understand that “God’s ways” refers to a state of human interaction characterized by mutual provider-receiver relationships, in which every person is a conveyor of the image of God and a channel for God’s compassion.
The Setting for John the Baptist Message
Prior to starting his ministry, John the Baptist lived in the wilderness of Judea. He took care of his basic needs from the wilderness: clothing from camel’s hair and locust and wild honey for food [Matthew 3:4]. There the word of God came to him [Luke 3:2] and he started preaching to whoever came to him. People came from “Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” [Matthew 3:5] to hear and be baptized by him.
BROOD OF VIPERS He described the people as a “brood of vipers” [Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7], symbolic of the existing state of human interaction dominated by predator-versus-prey type relationships. People cheated whoever they could and lived with a high risk of being cheated by others. For example, the tax collector assumed a right to collect as much as he could over the mandatory requirement and the soldier had no qualms collecting protection payments from citizens he was supposed to protect. Like the “viper”, the people lived a life of always either in pursuit of a prey or in flight from a predator.
MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE He preached they should repent and turn to God and prove repentance by their deed. He warned them that being descendants of Abraham was insufficient to relieve them of the “coming wrath” [Matthew 3:7] because God could raise alternative descendants for Abraham if necessary. He used examples to illustrate the meaning of turning to God, such as: sharing wealth (e.g., food or clothing) with those in need and refraining from extortion or false accusation [Luke 3:10–14]. His message of repentance and turning to God, which is consistent with his mission as described by the angel that foretold his birth, was aimed at changing the predator-versus-prey type human relationships. He advocated relationships characterized by positive human interaction, whereby each person is at times a provider for others and at times a receiver of things or service provided by others.
Positive Human Interaction
We use this expression to describe a human interaction whereby each person is a conveyor of the image of God and a channel for God’s compassion. As we describe in a previous bible study at This_Link, such human interaction is consistent with God’s purpose that he stated as follows: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” [Genesis 1:26] and “…fill the earth and subdue it…” [Genesis 1:28]. As discussed at This_Link, these declarations imply God creates every person to be a channel for his compassion (i.e., his provider assistant) and a conveyor of his image.
CHANNEL FOR COMPASSION Consistent with this purpose, when a need exists, God positions one or more persons to provide for the need. Christ taught about this purpose several times that we will encounter in future bible study sessions. For example: the Parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25–37] and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats [Matthew 25:31–46]. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a Samaritan recognized a need placed on his path and did what he could to provide for the need. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ describes acts of compassion in terms of a person providing a service to address a basic need. In both cases, he describes the acts of compassion as what a person has to do to inherit eternal life [Matthew 25:34; Luke 10:25].
CONVEYOR OF IMAGE OF GOD A person conveys the image of God in interactions with others if his/her contributions makes the others feel closer to God or know him better. He/she impacts others as dependable, friendly, truthful, humble, compassionate… among other qualities that convey Godliness, such as Paul described as the “fruit of the Spirit” [Galatians 5:22–23].
Summary of John the Baptist Message
The message of John the Baptist is that people should repent from the predator-versus-prey type of human relationship and turn to relationships based on positive human interaction, in which every person is a conveyor of God’s image and channel for his compassion. Being a channel for God’s compassion (i.e., God’s provider assistant) means every person is potentially a provider to others as well as receiver of what others provide, such that every interaction results in mutual benefits to the participants and affected. Christ preached the same message more elaborately in the Sermon on the Mount, which we will study in future sessions of this bible study series.