John the Baptist represents the ‘tipping point’ between Old and New Covenants. He was the final Old Covenant prophet, whose job was to ‘close’ that covenant and open the new one, by introducing the Messiah. In a sense, his whole ministry was an outworking of Jeremiah Chapter 31. For further explanation about John’s life and role, have a look at Matthew chapter 11. John’s Baptism was aimed at repentance towards God and at identifying the Christ; it was not Christian baptism (see Acts 19 for Paul’s teaching on this).
In Matthew 3, we have fast-forwarded about thirty years, and both John and Jesus are mature men. John was obviously not a man-pleaser, as you soon realise when you listen to the straight-talking style of his teaching. He was clearly an anointed prophet and was wildly popular with the ordinary people of the land, who queued up in their hundreds to be baptised by him and his disciples. John was scathing in his criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees, telling them that being a physical descendant of Abraham was no longer relevant or important – what God required of them was true repentance and faith in the Messiah to come.
Should they fail to repent, then there would be a severe judgment to come once that Messiah had completed his work! For those people who did repent, there was the promise of meeting their Messiah and being baptised by him with the Holy Spirit (v11). For them, John’s baptism was certainly a prerequisite for acceptance of Jesus later on (see Luke 7:29-30).
And then… the Messiah did come! Jesus’ First Coming, that is. Even though John, of all people, was expecting him, he was surprised when the Son of God joined the queue to be baptised. For a start, Jesus was sinless and had no need of forgiveness. Secondly, he did not need to be directed to the Messiah, since he was the Messiah!
But Jesus nevertheless insisted, in order to “fulfil all righteousness” (v15). Perhaps he wanted to closely identify himself with mankind in every way. Perhaps this was the very first step in God setting Jesus apart as our atoning sacrifice, along the lines of 2 Corinthians 5:21. Maybe he simply heard from his Heavenly Father that he must do this – and it was the first act of obedience that he needed to perform. Unlike Adam, who was given a very simple command (without all the reasons behind it) and failed to obey, Jesus was given commands and always obeyed.
Then Jesus was baptised, and his Father poured out the Holy Spirit to rest and remain on his Son forever. This was to equip him for his earthly ministry – since he had hidden Jesus’ divine nature – and was to be a model of how all believers would live and minister in the Christian life subsequently. The Father also praised Jesus publicly: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v17). Many commentators think that it is an echo of God’s praise of Abraham, who had offered his son so many thousands of years previously (Genesis 22:2). It certainly fulfils Psalm 2:7 also.
From that point, the ministry of Jesus took off, and that of John necessarily declined.
Here we see the descendants of Adam, beginning with Abel’s ‘replacement’, Seth, and each living many hundreds of years (as explained later). Seth was the chosen son of Adam through whom the Messiah would eventually arise; the Devil makes every effort throughout history to destroy that genealogy and prevent the Messiah’s appearance. Aside from that, the effect of God’s curse on mankind’s mortality becomes very obvious by each physical death; at the end of each man’s long life, as though to ram home the point, God ends the verse with the chilling words: “…and then he died”! A divine ‘I told you so’!
Genesis 5 is just a dull list of names and ages, isn’t it? Wrong! This genealogy paints a fascinating picture of life before the Great Flood, when the atmosphere and climate on Earth was significantly different from the present day. Some scholars dispute the huge lifespans of these ‘Antediluvians’ (people living before the Flood) and suggest that ‘years’ really means ‘months’, which would make the lifespans more realistic. The problem here is consistency, in that several men would have fathered a son when they were only 5½ years old! Furthermore, these huge ages diminish gradually after the Flood to become much closer to our lifespans today (more about that later). I therefore accept the stated ages at face value.
If you also assume that they are genuine father-son relationships, it makes for some very interesting conclusions. There were nine generations living simultaneously from Adam downwards, and only Noah was born after Adam finally died! What wisdom and experience there must have been in that community, and what stories must have been told! The average age was 912 years (leaving out faithful Enoch, who walked with God so closely that he didn’t die at all, but just disappeared into heaven). Why were these people so long-lived? And why does the average age plummet so quickly right after the Flood? From Shem (600) to Joseph (110), it drops to an average of 278 years, so something major must have occurred. If you are interested, here is an Excel document that I created to illustrate all this, showing the overlaps between the generations: https://1drv.ms/x/s!AqmXwc9NXEEFiByy3QIINrpQw_0T?e=cwt1br
The names of the Antediluvians are also highly significant – as most Bible names are. Here they are with their meaning in parentheses: Adam (‘Man’), Seth (‘Appointed’), Enosh (‘Mortal’), Kenan (‘Sorrow’), Mahalalel (‘The Blessed God’), Jared (‘Will Come Down’), Enoch (‘Preaching’), Methuselah (‘His Death Will Bring’), Lamech (‘Sorrowing’), Noah (‘Comfort’). Read the genealogy from beginning to end and you get: “Man is appointed mortal sorrow, but the Blessed God will come down preaching that His death will bring the sorrowing comfort”. An entire gospel embedded in just ten names! See also 1 Peter 3:19-20.
Each generation ends with ‘…and he died’. However, long we live, we are doomed to die. The key is now to put your trust in ‘The Blessed God Who Came Down’ – so that on the last day of this present age, you will receive a body that is born incorruptible, when Death is swallowed up in victory! (1 Corinthians ch. 15).
The Flood story is discussed tomorrow.