The full title for John the Forerunner (feast of his beheading is August 29th) is “The Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John”. (Not to be confused with John the Theologian also called the Apostle, Evangelist and/or “Beloved.”) We call him “Prophet” because of the various ways that he carried out his vocation to be God’s “spokesman” or “mouthpiece” (“Prophet”- from Greek prophētēs ‘spokesman’, from pro ‘before’ + phētēs ‘speaker’).
Here are a few of the times/ways that John manifested his role as prophet.
Malachi, another prophet, foretold that Elijah would return just before God sent a savior. (Mal 3:24). This prophecy was fulfilled in at least two ways. Elijah appeared, along with Moses when Christ was transfigured on Mt. Tabor (Matthew 17:3). But Jesus also identifies John the Forerunner with Elijah when he says “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was to come” (Matthew 11:14).
The 1st century Jews were getting quite anxious because God had not sent them a public prophet in about 400 years. Their ancestors had killed all of the prophets that God sent, so they were likely, and understandably, worried that God had given up on them. This is one of the reasons that they were so excited when John appeared in the desert, and why so many were going out to him to be baptized (Matthew 3:5). Like John’s prophetic predecessors though, he was misunderstood (Matthew 11:7 ff.), and eventually killed for challenging the behaviors of those in power (Matthew 14:1-6). One of John’s more important prophecies was taken up by the perfect mouthpiece of God, God Himself, when Jesus continued John’s message of “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).
Finally, after his death, John the Forerunner prophesied to death and resurrection of the Messiah to those he joined in Hades.* He had shared his joy at arrival of the Messiah in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41), while he was baptizing in the desert (John 1:29), and now again to those souls awaiting access to the Kingdom of God.
We call John the Forerunner the last prophet of the Old Covenant and in one sense the first of the New. Since Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been invited to participate in His very Life through our baptism. This means that we participate in Christ’s perfect prophecy (although we certainly do not carry it out perfectly) and so we are all prophets, we all channel God’s voice to those whom He asks us to evangelize (share the “good news”).
A prayer from the Akathist to the Holy Prophet Forerunner and Baptist John
You who were to go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah were filled with the Holy Spirit while in your mother’s womb, appearing as a marvelous prophet. You leapt with rejoicing at the coming of the Mother of the Lord, for you recognized God born in the womb of her who is full of grace, and by your mother’s voice did preach Him. Saint John, it was proper for the beginning of divine things to be most glorious. Humbly marveling at this, it is right that we cheerfully cry to you: Rejoice, for while in your mother’s womb you proclaimed with miraculous gladness the Lord who glorified you.
Friday, August 21 –