Who Is the Great Prophet of the Old Testament?
Who was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets? Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul makes his case for a figure that might surprise us.
Sometimes I like to torment my seminary students by asking them a question that tends to drive them to distraction. I ask the question, “In your opinion, who would you say is the greatest prophet in the Old Testament?” And that will usually start a debate. Some will say Elijah, some will say Jeremiah, some will say Isaiah, and people will mention their favorite. Then I say, “Well, I think that the most important prophet in the Old Testament is John the Baptist.” And then they look at me with consternation and say, “Well that’s—how can that be? John the Baptist is in the New Testament.” And I’ll say, “Yes, John the Baptist is mentioned and recorded in the pages of the book called the New Testament. But in terms of redemptive history, he belongs to the period of the Old Testament—that is, to that period in redemptive history when all of the procedures of the old covenant are still in place.” Jesus says that the law and the prophets ruled until John, and the little word there, “until,” means “up to and including” John. And Jesus also said of John the Baptist, “Of all of those who are born of woman, there is none greater than John the Baptist. Yet,” He said, “he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.”
That’s an extremely enigmatic statement. Is Jesus saying, for example, that I’m greater than John the Baptist? I certainly qualify for being least in the kingdom. So, if I’m least in the kingdom, that must make me greater than John the Baptist. What Jesus is obviously saying here is that John still belongs to that period of preparation for the breakthrough of the kingdom of God. But anybody who lives on this side of the coming kingdom of Christ enjoys a greater state of blessedness and felicity than any of the figures in the Old Testament. Now, I have to say that of all of the figures that we meet in the pages of the New Testament, perhaps the most underrated and underestimated figure is John the Baptist. And I really don’t understand why it is that Christians today seem to give such little attention to this man, particularly in light of to the degree of attention that is afforded him in the pages of the New Testament. It’s interesting to me that in the four Gospels, only two of the four Gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus. All four gospels begin with some communication about John the Baptist.
Traditionally, scholars have argued that the first gospel written was the gospel of Mark. And Mark, oddly enough, does not give us any information about the birth of Jesus, but Mark begins his gospel with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in the prophets.” That’s how—that’s how Mark begins his gospel: he says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” And then, the next thing he says is, “As it is written in the prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” Then, in the very next line, we read, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” And then what follows is a brief description and account of John’s ministry.