“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” He who is sent is sent from somewhere to somewhere; and the careful student will, therefore, inquire from where was John from, and to where was he sent. The place he was sent is very clear from the story–he was sent to Israel, and to those who were willing to hear him when he was staying in the wilderness of Judea and baptizing by the banks of the Jordan. According to the deeper sense, however, he was sent into the world, the world being understood as this earthly place where men are; and the careful student will have this in view in inquiring from where John was sent. Examining the words more closely, he will perhaps declare that as it is written of Adam, “And the Lord sent him forth out of the Paradise of pleasure to till the earth, out of which he was taken,” so also John was sent, either from heaven or from Paradise, or from some other quarter to this place on the earth. He was sent that he might bear witness of the light.
However…Isaiah was not sent to this world from another place, but after having seen “the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up,” was sent to the people, to say, “Hearing, you shall hear and shall not understand,” and so on. Similarly, John…is sent…to baptize, to prepare people for the Lord, and to bear witness of the Light.
In the same passage it is added, “He came for witness, to bear witness of the light.” Now, if he came, where did he come from? To those who find it difficult to follow us, we point to what John says afterwards of having seen the Holy Spirit as a dove descending on the Savior. “He that sent me,” he says, “to baptize with water, He said unto me, upon whomsoever you shall see the Holy Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, the same is He that baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
When did He send him and give him this injunction? The answer to this question will probably be that when He sent him to begin to baptize, then He who was dealing with him uttered this word. But a more convincing argument for the view that John was sent from another region when he entered into the body, the one object of his entry into this life being that he should bear witness of the truth, may be drawn from the narrative of his birth.
Gabriel, when announcing to Zacharias the birth of John, and to Mary the advent of our Savior among men, says: That John is to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Lk. 1:15) And we have also the saying, “For behold, when the voice of your salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Lk. 1:45). He, who sedulously guards himself in his dealings with Scripture against forced, or casual, or capricious procedure, must necessarily assume that John’s soul was older than his body, and subsisted by itself before it was sent on the ministry of the witness of the light. Nor must we overlook the text, “This is Elijah which is to come.” For if that general doctrine of the soul is to be received, namely, that it is not sown at the same time with the body, but is before it, and is then, for various causes, clothed with flesh and blood; then the words, “sent from God” will not appear to be applicable to John alone. The most evil of all, the man of sin, the son of perdition, is said by Paul to be sent by God: “God sends them a working of error that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
But our present question may, perhaps, be solved in this way. Every man is a man of God, simply because God created him. But, not every man is called a man of God. Only he who has devoted himself to God such as Elijah and those who are called men of God in the Scriptures–thus every man might be said in ordinary language to be sent from God, but in the absolute sense no one is to be spoken of in this way who has not entered this life for a divine ministry and in the service of the salvation of mankind.
No one else but the saints are “sent by God.” It is said of Isaiah as we showed before; of Jeremiah, “To whomsoever I shall send you, you shall go”; and of Ezekiel, “I send you to nations that are rebellious and have not believed in Me.” …
St. John Is Voice; Christ Is Speech
“Now we know voice and speech to be different things. The voice can be produced without any meaning and with no speech in it, and similarly speech can be reported to the mind without voice, as when we make mental excursions, within ourselves. And thus the Savior is, in one view of Him, speech, and John differs from Him; for as the Savior is speech, John is voice. John himself invites me to take this view of him, for to those who asked who he was, he answered, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!” This explains, perhaps, how it was that Zacharias lost his voice at the birth of the voice which points out the Word of God, and only recovered it when the voice, forerunner of the Word, was born. A voice must be perceived with the ears if the mind is afterwards to receive the speech which the voice indicates. Hence, John is, in point of his birth, a little older than Christ, for our voice comes to us before our speech. But John also points to Christ; for speech is brought forward by the voice. And Christ is baptized by John, though John declares himself to have needed to be baptized by Christ; for with men speech is purified by voice, though the natural way is that speech should purify the voice which indicates it. In a word, when John points out Christ, it is man pointing out God, the Savior incorporeal, and the voice pointing out the Word.
The Names of St. John and of His Parents
The force that is in names may be applied in many matters, and it may be worth our while to ask at this point the significance of the names “John” and “Zacharias.” The relatives desired, since the naming of a child is not considered lightly, to call the child Zacharias, and were surprised that Elizabeth wanted him to called him John. Zacharias then writes, “His name is John,” and is at once freed from his troublesome silence. When examining the names, we find “Joannes “to be “Joa” without the “nes.” The New Testament gives Hebrew names a Greek form and treats them as Greek words; Jacob is changed into Jacobus, Symeon into Simon and Joannes is the same as Joa. Zacharias is said to be memory, and Elisabeth “oath of my God,” or “strength of my God.” John then came into the world from grace of God (=Joa=Joannes), and his parents were Memory (about God) and the Oath of our God, about the fathers. Thus he was born to make ready for the Lord a people fit for Him, at the end of the Covenant now grown old, which is the end of the Sabbatic period. Hence it is not possible that rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh of our God; on the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of His own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of His death, and hence also of His resurrection.