Jesus, John the Baptist, and Judgment

Does Jesus bring judgment on unrighteous sinners? Is his purpose to confront us with our sinfulness, threaten us, and put us on the straight and narrow?  I used to think so.

John the Baptist Preaches

Matthew chapter three begins,

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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Through my fundamentalist eyes, I saw John the Baptist as a great preacher against sin! All the preachers I knew were hell-fire and brimstone preachers against sin, and they were not about to let anybody get away with anything. John the Baptist seemed just like them. The kingdom of God was coming and people had better watch out!

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

One can almost imagine a modern-day prophet in sackcloth on a busy street corner holding a ‘REPENT!’ sign.

Jesus Begins to Preach

Then, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and Jesus goes into the desert. Jesus returns and the next thing we learn (chapter four) is that John the Baptist is in jail. How does Jesus’ respond?

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

He preached the very same thing that John the Baptist preached. Jesus was a hell-fire preacher against sin as well! But just a few verses later we find something different,

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Where are the hell-fire sermons? Where is the harsh tone against sin and the call for repentance? Instead of warning the people of the coming of the kingdom, Jesus tells them it is good news! Instead of a hard line against sin, he brings healing—and good news.

Notice how the people respond. Instead of cowering against his onslaught or begging for mercy they flock to him willingly—eagerly. They come in large crowds! And they show no fear or trepidation. What gives here?

John the Baptist has a Question

Remember that John the Baptist is in jail. Matthew returns to John in chapter 11,

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

John the Baptist had already identified Jesus as the one who was to come; have you ever wondered why he questions him now? I really don’t know; I used to think John doubted because Jesus was not preaching a hard line on repentance from sin. But I misunderstood John; he was no more a hell-fire preacher than Jesus. 

I am sure that Jesus’ answer satisfied John. Both preached the good news of the kindom—not judgment. Some will recall that Jesus does seem judgmental in some of his speeches, but it is clear that his chastisement is always for the religious leaders—not the common people, whom the religious leaders called sinners.

John also had stern words, but they were for those who felt they were the privileged children of Abraham. John’s instructions to his followers were simply to treat others fairly. He did not judge them.

How Should Believers Judge Today?

Jesus still welcomes us as we are without preconditions. Once we meet Jesus, we find that he will take care of our sin. However, Jesus’ warnings to religious leaders are still valid! Be careful not to judge the very ones who Jesus cares about so much.

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11 Responses to Jesus, John the Baptist, and Judgment

  1. chrisjwilson says:

    I really disagree actually.
    The whole of Jerusaleam comes out to see John so he was a popular fire and brimstone preacher and the reason he was thrown in jail was because he had a go at Herod for the wives he was choosing. He seemed very popular with the people.

    Also even with the woman at the well he tells her to “Go and sin no more” so I don’t think it’s fair to contrast the two so heavily. They certainly were different but both were tough and I wouldn’t be surprised if John had a caring side as well.

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    • Jesus Without Baggage says:

      Thanks Chris for your very appropriate perspective. But I am not sure that Jesus and John were so different. When I read this passage on John the Baptist in my earlier years, I did so with the background of the hell-fire preachers I knew. I now think I was mistaken in that. Both John and Jesus preached repentance, but I don’t think either was harsh and judgmental like many Christians are today.

      I notice in Luke chapter 3 that John, who had just referred to the crowd as a brood of vipers, went on to suggests what he meant by this–they felt privileged because Abraham was their father. But when they asked what they should do, John’s responses were practical, everyday acts of justice to others–not denunciations of their sorry sinfulness.

      My next post addresses the idea of ‘go and sin no more.’ It is already queued for Thursday if you are interested. Thanks again!

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      • chrisjwilson says:

        Sorry I thought you were saying that John was very different from Jesus and I was trying to point out that they don’t seem so different (to me) with being harsh and soft at different times.
        I find your comment about “harsh and judgemental like many Christians are today” VERY interesting as I am sure many would say the reverse, that Christians are “too soft and wishy-washy” today. Perhaps it reflects our own bias and experience.

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        • Jesus Without Baggage says:

          Thanks Chris, I should have been clearer in the blog post. I am sure you are right that our perspective about Christians do reflect our separate experiences and biases.

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  2. Jennifer says:

    Chris is right about John’s arrest (Matthew 14:3-12). Herod was scared to kill him because he feared a riot, in fact my commentary says that many believed his military defeat at the hands of Aretas (AD 36) was seen as just recompense for John’s death. Anyway you look at it, it is both good news and “fire and brimstone” because the good news is God has brought salvation the bad news is if you don’t accept that salvation you are going to hell. At least, that’s how I see it.

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    • Jesus Without Baggage says:

      Thanks Jennifer, I agree with you completely, except that I think the bad news is our sense of alienation from the Father and distress in our weaknesses, our treatment of others, and our generally troubled lives.

      I think that both Jesus and John offered good news to everyone, but they seem to reserve their accusations for the religious (and civil) leaders.

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  3. Kmedina726 says:

    Personally as Christians, I do not feel it is our place to be judgemental to other Christians or non-believers. That is God’s job. It is our responsibility to share the Gospel with others. I believe the God does judge us by our sins if we do not repent and accept Jesus as our Savior. I led a very sinful life prior to being born-again. Once the Holy Spirit took up residence inside me He went to work, turning me from my sinful ways. With that said, I see Jesus as love; through His grace and forgiveness I have been saved. That doesn’t give me the right to now do what ever I want, sin all I want because I was already saved. I myself repent every night in my prayers because I understand that no matter how hard I try I will fall short of His grace.
    I know your post was more of the contrast between John the Baptist and Jesus and the way they preached and I kind of went in a different direction, sorry.

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    • Jesus Without Baggage says:

      K, I agree with you totally when you say, ‘I do not feel it is our place to be judgemental to other Christians or non-believers. That is God’s job.’ That is really the point of my entire post. I will edit the post because it does seem to be about the difference between John and Jesus, and that was not my intent.

      You also said it so well, ‘I understand that no matter how hard I try I will fall short of His grace.’ We all fall short. That is why I think we should not run around degrading others about how much they fall short. Instead, we should introduce Jesus.

      Thanks for the wonderful comment.

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  4. Jesus Without Baggage says:

    Due to feedback and to my re-reading the post, it was evident that I seemed to be drawing a contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist; this was not my intent. I have clarified the text, but new readers may not grasp what some of the previous commentors are responding to.

    Thanks to those who commented on the apparent contrast. I apologize for my ‘muddy’ text.

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  5. Tertullian said that we should be irksome to sin but not irksome to repent. We should fear sinning more than repenting. The gracious offer of forgiveness and mercy should draw us to repentance and to Jesus. It not as much as a fear of punishment as it is the joy of finding forgiveness. Thanks for your post. David

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    • Jesus Without Baggage says:

      David, I agree with you and Tertullian. And I really like your quote, “The gracious offer of forgiveness and mercy should draw us to repentance and to Jesus. It not as much as a fear of punishment as it is the joy of finding forgiveness.” I think we tend to be miserable about our offences, and we should be. Jesus points us toward loving others instead of hurting them, even though we fail so often.

      Jesus does not condemn us for our weaknesses; he see through them knows who we really are. And he forgives. We continue to have much to repent and he continues to forgive. But we have too many Christians today who have made it their job to berate people for their sins instead of letting Jesus free them.

      Thanks for your excellent comment.

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