The Prophet Yahya (PBUH) Prepares the Way

We previously saw that the Zabur was completed and closed by the Prophet Malachi (PBUH) who prophesied that someone would come to ‘prepare the way’ (Malachi 3:1).  We then saw how the Injil opened with the announcement by the angel Jibril (Gabriel) of the births of the prophet Yahya (PBUH) and of the Masih (and he from a virgin).

The Prophet Yahya (PBUH) – in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah

The Injil (Gospel) then records that after his birth Yahya (also known as John the Baptist – PBUH):

And the child [i.e. Yahya or John the Baptist] grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:80)

While he lived in solitude in the wilderness the Gospel records that:

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Yahya’s (PBUH) strong spirit led him to dress in a rugged manner and eat wild food out of the wilderness.  But this not just because of his spirit – it was also an important sign.  We saw at the close of the Zabur that the Preparer who was promised to come would come in the ‘spirit of Elijah’.  Elijah had been an early prophet of the Zabur who also had lived and ate in the wilderness and had been dressed with a:

garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” (2 Kings 1:8)

So when Yahha (PBUH) lived and dressed in the way that he did, it was to point out that he was the coming Preparer who had been prophesied to come in the Spirit of Elijah.  His dress, and his living and eating in the wilderness were signs to show that he came in the plan foretold by Allah.

The Injil – placed firmly in history

Then the Injil tells us that:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  (Luke 3:1-2)

This statement commences the prophetic ministry of Yahya (PBUH) and it is very important since it marks the start of his ministry by placing it next to many well-known rulers in history.  Notice this extensive reference to rulers of that time.  This allows us to historically check much of the accuracy of the accounts in the Gospels.   If you do so, you will find that Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas are all people who are known from secular Roman and Jewish historians.  Even the different titles that are given to the different rulers (eg. ‘governor’ for Pontius Pilate, ‘tetrarch’ for Herod, etc.) have been verified as historically correct and accurate.  This allows us to make the assessment that from a purely historical point-of-view this was reliably recorded.

Tiberius Caesar ascended the throne of the Roman Empire in 14 AD.  So this being the 15th year of his reign means that Yahya received messages starting in the year 29 AD.

The message of Yahya – Repent and Confess

So what was his message?  Like his life-style, his message was simple, but direct and powerful.  The Injil says that:

John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

So part of his message was the pronouncement of a fact – that the Kingdom of Heaven was ‘near’.  We have seen how the prophets of the Zabur had long before prophesied the coming of the ‘Kingdom of God’.  Yahya (PBUH) was now saying that it was ‘near’ at hand.

But the people would not be prepared for the Kingdom unless they ‘repented’.  In fact, if they did not ‘repent’ they would miss this Kingdom.  Repent comes from the Greek word “metanoeo” which means “to change your mind; reconsider; or, to think differently.”  But what were they to think differently about?  By looking at two responses of the people to Yahya’s (PBUH) message we can learn what it was that he was commanding that they should repent from.  The Injil records that the people responded to his message by:

Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:6)

You may remember in the Books for the Sign of Adam, how after they ate the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve:

‘hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.’ Genesis 3:8

Ever since, this tendency to hide our sins and pretend that we have not done them is very natural to us.  Confessing and repenting of our sins is almost impossible for us to do.  We saw in the Sign of the Virgin’s Son that Dawud (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH) would confess their sins.  This is very difficult for us to do because it exposes us to guilt and shame – we would prefer to do anything else but this.   But this is what Yahya (PBUH) preached that the people needed to do to prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom of God.

Warning to the religious leaders who would not repent

And some did indeed do this, but not all honestly admitted and confessed their sins.  The Injil says that:

But when he [Yahya] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matthew 3: 7-10)

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the teachers of the Law of Musa.  They were the most religious and worked hard at keeping all the observances (prayers, fasting, sacrifices etc.) commanded by the Law.  Everyone thought that these leaders, with all their religious learning and effort were the ones who for sure were approved by Allah.  But the prophet Yahya (PBUH) called them a ‘brood of vipers’ and warned them about the coming Judgment of fire!  Why?  Because by not ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ this showed that they had not really repented.  They had not confessed their sin but were using their religious observances to hide their sins.  And their religious heritage from the prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), good though it was, had made them proud rather than repent.

Dawud’s confession as our example

So we can see from the warnings of Yahya that repentance and confession of sin is vitally important.  In fact without it we will not enter the Kingdom of God.  And from those warnings to the Pharisees and Sadducees of that day we can see how easy and natural it is to hide our sin in religion.  So what about you and me?  This is recorded here as a warning for us that we also do not stubbornly refuse to repent.  Instead of making excuses for our sins, pretending that we do not commit sins, or hiding them we should follow the example of Dawud (PBUH) who when he was confronted with his sin prayed in the Zabur the following confession:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  (Psalm 51: 1-12)

Fruit of Repentance

With confession and repentance came an expectation of living differently.  The people asked Yahya (PBUH) how they should demonstrate the fruit of their repentance and this is how the Injil records this discussion:

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)

Was Yahya the Masih?

Because of the strength of his message, many people wondered if he was also the Masih.  This is how the Injil records this discussion:

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.  (Luke 3:15-18)

Conclusion

The Prophet Yahya (PBUH) came to prepare people so that they would be ready for the Kingdom of God.  But he did not prepare them by giving them more Law, but rather by calling them to repent from their sins and to confess their sins.  In fact this is harder to do than to follow more guidelines since it exposes our shame and guilt.  And it was the religious leaders of that day who could not bring themselves to repent and confess their sins.  Instead they used their religion to hide their sins.  But because of the choice they made they were unprepared to receive the Masih and understand the Kingdom of God when he came with his message.  This warning of Yahya (PBUH) is just as relevant to us today.  He demands that we repent from our sins and confess them.  Will we?

Zabur Closes – with Promise of the Coming Preparer

The coming of the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) Foretold

We saw in the Sign of the Servant that the Servant was promised to come. But the whole promise of his coming balanced on an important question. Isaiah 53 began with the question:

Who has believed our message …? (Isaiah 53:1a)

Isaiah (PBUH) was predicting that this Servant would not be readily believed, and the problem was not with the message or the Signs of the Servant because they would be precise in timing by cycles of ‘Sevens’ as well as by name and specifying that he would be ‘cut off’. The problem was not that there were not enough signs. No, the problem was that the hearts of people were hard. So someone needed to come before the Servant came to prepare people for his coming. Therefore the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) gave this message about the one who would prepare the way for the Servant. He wrote this message in his book of the Zabur in the following way

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the LORD;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed” Isaiah 40:3-5

Isaiah (PBUH) wrote about someone who would come ‘In the wilderness’ to ‘prepare the way for the LORD’. This person would smooth out the obstacles so that the ‘glory of the LORD will be revealed’. But Isaiah did not specify in what way this would be done.

The Prophet Malachi – Last Prophet of Zabur

The Prophets Isaiah, Malachi and Elijah (PBUT) shown in historical timeline
The Prophets Isaiah, Malachi and Elijah (PBUT) shown in historical timeline

About 300 years after Isaiah came Malachi (PBUH) who wrote the last book of the Zabur. In this last book Malachi (PBUH) elaborates on what Isaiah had said about a coming Preparer. He wrote:

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)

Here again the messenger who would ‘prepare the way’ is predicted. After this Preparer comes then ‘the messenger of the covenant’ will come. What covenant is Malachi (PBUH) referring to? Remember that the prophet Jeremiah (PBUH) had predicted that Allah would make a new covenant by writing it in our hearts. Only then would we be able to quench our thirst which always leads us to sin. This is the same covenant that Malachi (PBUH) is referring to. The giving of that covenant will be signaled by the coming of the Preparer.

Malachi (PBUH) then closes the entire Zabur with the last paragraph of his book. In that last paragraph he again looks to the future and writes:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6

What did Malachi (PBUH) mean by ‘Elijah’ would come before the great day of the LORD? Who was Elijah? He was another prophet whom we have not looked at (we cannot look at all prophets of Zabur since it would make this too long but see him in timeline above). Elijah (PBUH) lived around 850 BC. He was famous for living in the wilderness and wearing garments of animal hair and eating wild food. He probably looked quite peculiar. Malachi (PBUH) wrote that in some way The Preparer who comes before the New Covenant will be like Elijah (PBUH).

And with that statement, the Zabur was completed. This is the last message in the Zabur and was written about 450 BC. The Taurat and the Zabur were full of promises of things to come. Let us review some.

Reviewing the Promises of Taurat & Zabur that were still unfulfilled

So with the close of the Zabur in 450 BC the Jewish people lived in anticipation of the fulfillment of these wonderful promises. And they kept waiting and waiting. One generation replaced another and then still others would come – with no fulfillment of these promises.

What happened after the Zabur was completed

As we saw in the History of the Israelites, Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world in 330 BC and from these conquests the peoples and civilizations of the world adopted the Greek language. As English today has become a universal language for business, education and literature, in that time Greek was similarly dominant. Jewish teachers translated the Taurat and Zabur from Hebrew into Greek around 250 BC. This translation was called the Septuagint. As we saw here, this is where the word ‘Christ’ comes from and we saw here that this was where the name ‘Jesus’ also comes from.

The Prophets Isaiah, Malachi and Elijah (PBUT) shown in historical timeline
The Prophets Isaiah, Malachi and Elijah (PBUT) shown in historical timeline

During this time (300 – 100 BC which is the blue period shown in the timeline) there was an ongoing military rivalry between Egypt and Syria and with the Israelites dwelling right between these two empires they were regularly caught up in the battles. Some specific Syrian kings sought to impose the Greek religion (a religion of idol worship) on the Israelites and to eradicate their worship of One God. Certain Jewish leaders led an uprising to defend their monotheism and restore the purity of worship instituted by the Prophet Musa (PBUH). Were these religious leaders the fulfillments of these promises that the Jews awaited? These men, though faithful followers of worship as instructed in the Taurat and Zabur, did not fit the Prophetic Signs. In fact they themselves did not even claim to be prophets, just pious Jews defending their worship against idolatry.

Historical books about this period, describing these struggles that preserved the purity of worship were written. These books provide historical and religious insight and are very valuable. But the Jewish people did not regard them as being written by prophets and so these books were not included in the Zabur. They were good books, written by religious men, but they were not written by prophets. These books were known as the Apocrypha.

But because these books were useful they were often included alongside the Taurat and Zabur to give a complete history of the Jewish people. After the Injil and the message of Isa al Masih (PBUH) was written the books of Taurat, Zabur and Injil were combined into one book – al kitab or Bible. Some Bibles today will even include these books of Apocrypha, though they are not part of Taurat, Zabur or Injil.

But the promises given in Taurat and Zabur were still fulfillment. Following the Greek influences the powerful Roman Empire expanded and replaced the Greeks to rule over the Jews (this is the yellow period that comes after the blue in the timeline above). The Romans ruled efficiently but harshly. Taxes were high and the Romans tolerated no dissent. The Jewish people longed ever more for the fulfillment of the promises given in Taurat and Zabur, though in their long wait their worship became very rigid and they developed many extra rules not from the prophets but from traditions. These extra ‘commands’ seemed like good ideas when they were first suggested but they quickly replaced the original commands of the Taurat and Zabur in the hearts and minds of the Jewish teachers.

And then finally when it looked like perhaps the promises were long forgotten by Allah, the mighty angel Gabriel (Jabril) came to announce the long awaited birth of the Preparer.  We know him today as the Prophet Yahya (or John the Baptist – PBUH) . But that is the beginning of the Injil, which we look at next.