This verse, as well as Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist, is one of the most misunderstood issues regarding Jesus' life and teachings.
Ecclesiastic sectarian teachers often take Jesus' statement here, and his reference to Malachi 3:1, completely out of its context - as they seek to tow the party line of their institutions - which originated with the philosophies enforced by the Roman government and its surrogate, the Roman Catholic Church.
Jesus is speaking to an audience that included many who traveled to the desert to hear John's teachings. Jesus is clearly addressing them, as he says, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?"
This statement also confirms the importance of John the Baptist to Jesus' teachings. Jesus is emphatic as he challenges their current lack of respect for John. He is identifying John as not only a prophet, but more than a prophet.
More than a prophet?
Consider Jesus' challenge to them: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?"
Let's compare this to something in modern life. Let's say that we go into the boss's office at work and ask for a raise. Then later, a work-mate says to us: "What did you go into the boss's office for? To ask him for a bite of his sandwich?"
Such a statement would challenge how we perceived the importance of our boss. If we swaggered into the boss's office and he asked us to do something and then we brushed off his request, we might receive such a challenge from a work-mate. Such a challenge from our work-mate would essentially be criticizing us for not taking the boss seriously.
This mirrors Jesus' statement, as he was condemning their lack of respect towards John and a lack of understanding regarding John's importance to the Supreme Being.
"A reed swayed by the wind."
What does this mean?
A reed that sways in the wind accommodates the direction of the wind. When the wind blows from the south, the reed bends to the north. When the wind switches to blow from the east, the reed bends to the west. What does this mean?
It points to charlatan teachers - those teachers who become appointed or chosen by their institutions and paid to teach. Such teachers are not representing God. They are representing those who appointed them and those who pay them.
Those who are appointed or elected to positions as spiritual teachers (priests, reverends, ministers and so on) and then are paid for their services cannot represent God because they must please those who elected them and pay them. They must, in other words, "sway" to their demands. If those deacons who appointed the priest or minister say they want the priest or minister to teach differently, the priest or minister must teach differently or lose their position in the church. Or not get paid.
Jesus makes this distinction about John because John wasn't addressing the whims of those who would appoint or elect him to an ecclesiastical post of Jewish priest or rabbi. John was representing the Supreme Being. John was teaching the Truth.
In other words, Jesus is stating to those in the crowd that people did not go to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist teach just to see someone who was dressed up in flowing robes or otherwise accommodating their needs. John was a true representative of God.
"But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet."
What does this mean?
The word "prophet" is one of the most misinterpreted words in the Biblical scriptures. The common interpretation - put forth by professional sectarian teachers - is that a "prophet" is someone whose role was to predict the future, and in particular, predict the arrival of Jesus.
This is quite simply, malarkey. We can see throughout the Old Testament that those who have been defined as "prophets" spent their lives serving God and teaching people to focus on learning to love and please God. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Job and so many others were not focused upon putting forth predictions of something to happen centuries later. They were focused on helping those around them return to their loving relationships with the Supreme Being.
This is why Moses said:
"Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always." (Deut. 11:1)
"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 11:13)
"If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow--to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him" (Deut. 11:22)
"because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today--to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways" (Deut 19:9)
"For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you" (Deut 30:16)
"and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life" (Deut 30:20)We also can tell this was Moses' central instruction because Moses' student Joshua clarified this:
"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)
"So be very careful to love the LORD your God." (Joshua 23:11)And we know that Jesus confirmed this as he stated, when asked which was the most important commandment:
"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)All the other "prophets" were focused on the same thing: Helping their students become lovers of the Supreme Being.
Yet sectarian teachers like to ignore these teachings and myopically focus upon those few statements in the scriptures that appear as though the teacher is predicting something in the future - and they twist it to mean they are predicting Jesus' arrival.
This philosophy stems from the early Roman Catholic strategy to make their sect the only true religion, beginning in the Fourth century with Constantine's Synods of Nicea. This politically-motivated philosophy set out to make Jesus the only real teacher and everyone else simply predicting his arrival.
In fact, the Greek word being translated to "prophet" is προφήτης (prophētēs) means: "in Greek writings, an interpreter of oracles or of other hidden things;" "one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration" and "moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, having power to instruct, comfort, encourage, rebuke, convict, and stimulate, their hearers" according to the lexicon.
In the context of the Scriptures, this clearly defines "prophet" as someone who passes on the word of God. Someone who is representing God. God's messenger. While predicting the future may be part of the teachings of such a person, it is not their focus. Their mission is not to predict the future, nor impress people with their predictions. Their mission is to give people God's message.
Preparing your way before you
Jesus goes even further, to say that John is even more than a προφήτης (prophētēs) or "prophet." He says:
"A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'"Sectarian teachers have interpreted this to mean John's role was to be a messenger sent ahead of Jesus' arrival. Is this right?
No. This is a jumbling of personalities here. Let's get to the heart of this quote of Malachi 3:1 - " 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'" Who is the "I" and "My" here? Who is the "messenger"? And who is the "you"?
These first three chapters of Malachi detail statements by God made through Malachi: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. (Mal. 1:1)
When we read the original quote, we find that either Jesus paraphrased the quote to apply the quote to those around him - his students - or the quote is being mistranslated by ecclesiastical translators. Here is the full verse from Malachi:
"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. (Mal. 3:1)This means the "I" "My" and "Me" here is God. This also means that the "My messenger" relates to God's messenger - God's representative: "the messenger of the covenant." (The "covenant" is love for God). This would mean that "you" would have to refer to the person receiving the message from the "messenger." The receiver of God's message - those who hear and learn from God's representative.
Many say this refers specifically to Jesus:"the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant"?
If so, then why do the very next two verses say:
"But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me," says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:2-5)What is God describing here?
God is clearly using the word "I" here because He is speaking of Himself. The word "coming" here is derived from the Hebrew word בוא (bow') which means "to go in, enter, come, go, come in." It is teamed up with ראה (ra'ah), which is being translated to "appears" but actually means "to see, perceive" and "have vision."
What God is referring to here is the time of death. At the time of death each of us will appear before God and/or His representative and be judged - ("I will be quick to testify") for our activities within this lifetime. Our actions that hurt or helped others will be presented and we will be escorted to receive the consequences of those activities.
This is also referred to quite often as "judgment day." Judgment day is not some day thousands of years later - now in modern times, be it next year, next decade or many years in the future as portrayed by sectarian teachers. "Judgement day" is the time of death - that point where each of us leaves our physical body and our lives are judged.
At the time of death we also "meet our Maker" or His representative. This "appearance" is to finalize and confirm where we stand in our path. Where are we going with our life? What have we been focused on? What have we been doing with our time and energy?
This judgment scenario at the time of death has been confirmed scientifically by those whose bodies have clinically died and subsequently resuscitated. Many describe being brought before God, Jesus or an angel-like being and being told this is not their time yet. Their "judgment day" would come later.
Whether this judgment is presented personally by God or His representatives matters not. God is still overseeing the process as He indicates clearly in Malachi.
What does this have to do with Jesus quoting " 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'" and applying this to John? "Your way before you" clearly refers to the person who will have to deal with God's judgment. "Your way" refers to a person's path: "Your way before you" means God will send His messenger to help guide our path.
As we can now understand this within its context, Malachi's statement by God, " 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'" is saying that God is promising to send "My messenger" - His representative - to teach us prior to our time of death.
This is only fair. Prior to being judged, we should be given a chance to learn and change our ways. This is why God sends His representatives into every time period - to give those who want to change and want to return to Him a chance to learn about Him. Certainly, Malachi was one of God's "My messengers," along with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Job, Isaiah and others.
And with the statement above, Jesus is clearly stating that his own teacher, John the Baptist, is one of God's"My messengers."
John the Baptist clearly taught love for God, and he asked his students to change their direction in life and give their lives to God. This is described in the Scriptures as "repentance:"
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:1-2)This is followed by
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.' " (Matt. 3:3)Just as in Malachi 3, we find here a quote from Isaiah 40:3. Once again, the ecclesiastical interpretation is that "Prepare the way for the Lord" is referring to Jesus. But how could John "Prepare the way" for Jesus? By preaching in the desert and referring to Jesus as blessed? This does not "Prepare the way" for Jesus because Jesus' "way" was already prepared by the Supreme Being. Jesus did not need John to boost him, as supposed by ecclesiastical interpreters.
Rather, the concept, "Prepare the way for the Lord" being on the path of love for God. It means giving one's life to God. This is confirmed with the verses of Isaiah that follow:
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, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:3-5)This verse is clearly discussing a person's becoming closer to God and making a change in their lives, and coming to know, love and glorify God. In this verse, "wilderness" is symbolic. "Wilderness" here refers to the physical world, as opposed to the spiritual realm.
In other words, Isaiah's statement is not a prediction of the future, or about John preaching in the wilderness. Isaiah is preaching to those around him during his own time. The verses are documenting Isaiah's teachings to those around him - requesting they give their lives to God.
And this was precisely what John the Baptist was teaching as well - and why John's preaching is compared to Isaiah's and Malachi's statements. John the Baptist was following in the tradition of Abraham, Moses, David, Joshua and others and trying to convince those around him to come to know and love the Supreme Being.
All of the "messengers" of God have been asking us to do the same thing: have a change of heart - from being self-centered to becoming God-centered. This is what "repentance" means: to have a change of heart.
This tradition of asking for a change of heart is consistent among all of God's "messengers" portrayed throughout the scriptures. This was Jesus' message as well.
John said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" not because he was predicting the end of the world, as sectarian institutions teach. The word "near" - taken from the Greek word ἐγγίζω (eggizō) has nothing to do with time. It relates to distance. According to the lexicon, it means "to bring near, to join one thing to another" and "to draw or come near to, to approach." This has nothing to do with a prediction of the world coming to an end at a particular time.
What it means is that God is close by. God's kingdom - loving and serving God - is within our reach. Any of us can immediately reach out to God and be brought into God's realm - that realm where God's will is done.
Even before we leave these physical bodies we can be in the kingdom of God. God owns everything. Whether we are in the body or not. This concept is mirrored in 2 Corinthians:
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Corinth 5:6-9)Pleasing God is the spiritual realm. It is heaven. This is why John - being God's messenger - was described as preaching the word of God:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matt. 3:2)"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
It is important to know that Jesus taught the same thing. His teachings were consistent with John's, because John the Baptist was Jesus' teacher:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matt. 4:17)And Jesus told his own disciples to go out and teach the same message:
"As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'" (Matt. 10:7)What we see here is a succession of God's representatives teaching the same message. Passing on the teachings of their own teacher. This is precisely why Jesus was so adamant about the importance of his teacher John the Baptist: Because Jesus was following in John's footsteps, as John had, and the "prophets" before John had, passing on God's message requesting we return to our loving relationship with our true Soul Mate the Supreme Being.