John the Baptist – Part 4: Doubt and Death

The time has come to reach the end of our journey with the greatest of all the prophets. It has been a privilege to follow John from his mother’s womb and now, sadly, to his decease. As we leave him, I am sure, like me, you look forward to spending eternity with him. What a story he will have to tell us! We might well borrow an expression from the New Testament and say of him, ‘Of whom the world was not worthy’, Heb. 11. 38.

I suspect, as we move on, that many of us will have been left with seemingly unanswerable questions about him; not least of all, why did a man of his spiritual standing have doubts as to whether Christ was the Messiah or not? On one occasion, he had said of Him, ‘And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God’, John 1. 34; yet, in apparent contradiction of this statement of faith, he went on to ask of Jesus, ‘Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?’ Luke 7. 19. Also, when speaking of Jesus, he once said, ‘I knew him not’, John 1. 31. Perhaps this is where our judgement can err and lead us astray. The Greek word used for ‘know’ means ‘to know fully’. No person, not even John the Baptist, could claim to know everything there was to know about Christ. He surpasses our knowledge and understanding. Indeed, He said of Himself, ‘no man knoweth [fully] the Son, but the Father’, Matt. 11. 27.

Nevertheless, before we are tempted to be critical of John and dismiss him as being yet another failed servant of the Lord, I suggest that we owe it to him to stop and think again. It must be noted that Jesus did not censure him for his questioning; indeed, quite the contrary. He was full of praise for his faithful testimony.

We must not forget that John was in prison at this time and his movements were greatly restricted. Lengthy confinement can play havoc with a man’s mind. He only heard of Christ’s activity through his own disciples. They reported on what Jesus was doing and, at times, this did not seem to align with his own expectations of the Messiah. Indeed, there did not seem to be any immediate prospect of the setting up of the kingdom of God on earth, which John had preached about and longed for. Even the response of Jesus to his doubts was unexpected. He answered by performing many miracles of healing. Luke tells us that He ‘cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight’, Luke 7. 21. Remarkably, we learn that even the dead were raised! Clearly, John was convinced by what he heard of Christ’s display of power and compassion and, therefore, his doubts became a thing of the past. We never read that he questioned Jesus again.

Doubts can arise from unworthy sources, e.g., from our unbelief, our disobedience, or our impatience. However, they can spring from our genuine struggle to find answers to perplexing problems that face us. We must not be uncomfortable or ashamed to acknowledge our ‘honest doubts’. Fitting faith alongside the harsh realities of life is often a real challenge. Some of the most spiritual characters in the scriptures experienced them, e.g., Job, Gideon, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and the father of a boy with a dumb spirit. We read of the latter that he ‘cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’, Mark 9. 24. He expressed his faith, but he wanted it strengthened! It has been said, ‘Faith is something we grow into, whereas doubt is something we grow out of’.1 We must accept that all that perplexes us will not be answered in this life; there is an eternity beyond! Nevertheless, it is important that we do not get into the habit of viewing doubt, however ‘honest’ it is, as something which is desirable in the life of a Christian. It is not the Lord’s desire that it should mark the life of believers.

So, farewell John! I confess that I can’t fully understand why God allowed you to die in such distressing circumstances, but I rest in the knowledge that His way is always best. My eyes are dimmed with tears as I think of you being beheaded, alone in your darkened prison cell, at the whim of the wicked Herodias, who held a grudge against you for condemning her unlawful marriage to Herod. Indeed, my heart breaks as I see your head placed on a platter and given to a dancing girl, who then gives it to her mother. It is some comfort to know that it is left to your beloved disciples to take up the remains of your mutilated body and carry it out for burial.

They knew what a great loss you were to the nation and how much you meant to the Lord; therefore, their immediate reaction was to go and tell Him of your death. It is no surprise that His response was to seek out a deserted place so that He could be by Himself, ‘When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart’, Matt. 14. 13.



Originator unknown.


Your Basket

Your Basket Is Empty