We investigated the birth of Jesus – Yeshu Satsang – through Krishna’s birth. Mythology records that Krishna had an older brother Balarama (Balrama). Nanda was Krishna’s foster-father who also raised Balarama as Krishna’s older brother. The epics recount many childhood stories of brothers Krishna and Balarama together defeating various asuras in battle. Krishna and Balarama partnered to accomplish their common purpose – defeating evil.
Jesus & John, like Krishna & Balarama
Like Krishna, Jesus had a similarly-aged close relative, named John, with whom he partnered in his mission. Jesus and John were related through their mothers and John was born just 3 month before Jesus. The Gospel records the teaching and healing mission of Jesus by first upholding John. John’s teaching is illuminating for us today, and we may not understand Jesus’ mission if we do not first sit under John’s teaching. John strove to instill repentance (prayascitta) and cleansings (Abhisheka of ourselves) as starting points for the Good News.
John the Baptist: The Coming Swami Foretold to Prepare us
Often called ‘John the Baptist’ in the gospels because of his emphasis on cleansings as a sign of repentance (prayascitta), John’s coming was prophesied in the ancient Hebrew Vedas hundreds of years before he lived.
A voice of one calling:Isaiah 40:3-5
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 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 had prophesied that someone would come ‘In the wilderness’ to ‘prepare the way’ for God. This coming person would smooth out the obstacles so that the ‘glory of the LORD would be revealed’.
Malachi, living 300 years after Isaiah, wrote the last book of the Hebrew Vedas (Old Testament). Malachi elaborated on what Isaiah had said about this Coming Preparer. He prophesied:
“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
Micah prophesied that right after the coming of the preparing ‘messenger’, then God himself would appear in his Temple. This referred to Jesus, God incarnate, coming right after John.
John the Swami
The Gospel records about John:
And the child 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 the wilderness it 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
Balarama had great physical strength. John’s great mental and spiritual strength drove him to Vanaprastha (forest-dweller) asrama almost right from childhood. His strong spirit led him to dress and eat as a Vanaprastha, though not for retirement but to prepare for his mission. His wilderness life molded him to know himself, understanding how to resist temptation. He stressed clearly that he was not an incarnation, nor was he a priest in the Temple. His self-understanding led him to be accepted by all as a great teacher. Since swami comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘one who knows or is master of himself’, it is accurate to consider John as a Swami.
Swami John – placed firmly in history
The Gospel records:
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— 2 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 begins John’s mission and it crucially places him next to many well-known historical people. Notice the extensive reference to rulers of that time. This allows us to historically check the accuracy of the accounts in the Gospels. In doing so we 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.) are verified as historically correct and accurate. Thus we can assess from a purely historical point-of-view this account was reliably recorded.
Tiberius Caesar ascended the throne of the Roman Empire in 14 AD. The 15th year of his reign means that John began his mission in the year 29 AD.
Swami John’s Message – Repent and Confess
So what was John’s message? Like his life-style, his message was simple but powerful. The Gospel says:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matthew 3:1-2
His message first was the pronouncement of a fact – that the Kingdom of Heaven had come ‘near’. But the people would not be prepared for this Kingdom unless they ‘repented’. In fact, if they did not ‘repent’ they would miss this Kingdom. Repent means “to change your mind; reconsider; to think differently.” In a sense it is like Prayascitta (Prayaschitta). But what were they to think differently about? By looking at two responses to John’s message we can see. The people responded to his message by:
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.Matthew3:6
Our natural tendency is to hide our sins and pretend that we have not done wrong. Confessing and repenting of our sins is almost impossible for us to do because it exposes us to guilt and shame. But John preached that the people needed to repent (Prayascitta) to prepare themselves for the Kingdom of God.
As a sign of this repentance they were to then be ‘baptized’ by John in the river. Baptism was a ritual washing or cleansing with water. People of that time would also ‘baptize’ (wash) cups and utensils to keep them ritually pure. We are familiar with murtis being ritually bathed, known as abhiseka (abhisheka), by priests in preparation for consecration and festivals. Humans were created in the ‘image of God’ and thus John’s ritual river bathing was like an abhiseka symbolically preparing God’s repentant image bearers for the Kingdom of Heaven. Today baptism is usually considered a Christian practice, but its use here was of a broader nature signifying cleansing in preparation for the Kingdom of God.
Fruit of Prayascitta
Many came to John for baptism, but not all honestly admitted and confessed their sins. The Gospel says that:
But when he 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? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 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. 10 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 Sadducees were the teachers of the Law of Moses. They worked hard to keep all the religious observances of the Law. Everyone thought that these leaders, with their religious learning and merit were the ones approved by God. But John called them a ‘brood of vipers’ and warned them about their coming Judgment.
By not ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ it showed that they had not really repented. They had not confessed their sin but were using their religious observances to hide their sins. Their religious heritage, good though it was, had made them proud rather than repentant.
Fruit of Repentance
With confession and repentance came an expectation to live differently. The people asked John how they should demonstrate their repentance and this discussion is recorded:
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 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 John the Christ?
Because of the strength of his message, many wondered if John was the Christ – The Son of God, promised since ancient times to come as the incarnation of God. The Gospel also records this discussion:
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 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. 17 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.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.Luke 3:15-18
John told them the Messiah (Christ) was coming shortly, meaning Jesus.
Swami John’s mission and us
John partnered with Jesus by preparing people for the Kingdom of God, as Balarama partnered with Krishna in their mission against evil. John did not prepare them by giving them more Laws, but rather by calling them to repent from their sins (prayascitta) and ritually bathing (self-asbhiseka) in the river to symbolically show that their inner repentance had now prepared them.
This is harder to do then adopting stricter ascetic rules since it lays bare our shame and guilt. The religious leaders of that day who could not bring themselves to repent. Instead they used their religion to hide their sins. Because of that choice they were unprepared to understand the Kingdom of God when Jesus came. John’s warning is just as relevant to us today. He demands that we be willing to repent from sin. Will we?
We continue exploring the person of Jesus by looking at his temptation by Satan.