The appearance of John the Baptist must have sent ripples of excitement throughout the region. Here was someone who looked like the prophet Elijah (Matt. 3:4, 2 Kings 1:8). He was the first prophetic voice the people had heard in 400 years.
God had never been silent for so long before. Now He was speaking to the people once again. Obviously something significant was about to happen.
Read Matthew 3:7-12. Why would John the Baptist connect themes of judgment-the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7), the axe laid to the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10), thoroughly purging the threshing floor (Matthew 3:12), and burning chaff in unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12) in his introduction to the Messiah?
The people thought they were living in the last days. They saw John come from the wilderness and encourage them to pass through the waters of the Jordan through baptism. This was a bit like a new Exodus, and getting wet (rather than walking across a dried-up riverbed) was necessary for cleansing and readiness for the new Promised Land, with the Messiah Himself leading them from victory over the Romans to the ushering in of God’s eternal kingdom spoken of by the prophets. At least that is what many people had thought.
But neither John nor Jesus was leading a political movement; it was a salvation event. The explanation by Luke of what John was doing is a quotation from Isaiah, describing the way God would prepare a road for the exiles to return to the Promised Land (Luke 3:3-6). Jeremiah explains the reason for making that special road: to make it manageable for society’s most vulnerable-the blind, the lame, the pregnant, mothers with toddlers-and for all others who desired to return to the Promised Land to be able to do so (Jer. 31:7-9). No wonder the people flocked to John; their hope was kindled that they, too, could be ready for the great day of God, soon to be upon them.
It came, however, in a way that most of them didn’t expect, not because they hadn’t been told, but because they didn’t understand the meaning of the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27).