After Matthew has completed his narration of Jesus’ birth, ending at His family’s relocation in Nazareth, he plunges straight in to John the Baptist’s preaching of the Kingdom. Both the Gospels and Josephus1 accord John the Baptist a place of honor as a highly respected (at least among the general populace) and powerful influence in Judea and Galilee in the twenties A. D. From Luke 3:7, 15, 21, Matthew 3:5, and Mark 1:5 it is clear that he drew a lot of attention and that his impact was marked. He even had a band of followers (Lk. 7:19; Jn. 3:25), and some of these men continued to be identified as his disciples for years. The Apostle Paul encountered some as far afield as Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7. John’s job was not to grant certain initiates private access to Messiah’s identity. Rather, John introduced Jesus with a loud bang!
John the Baptist’s preaching is chock full of OT references. Walter Kaiser notes over fifty allusions or quotations of the OT, mainly from Isaiah, Malachi, and Jeremiah.2 John is a new prophet of God who has appeared on the scene after more than four centuries of silence, but he is an OT prophet in character and substance. His ministry is announced, Elijah-like, suddenly by Matthew:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)