John 1:22-23 & Isaiah 40 — The premortal call of John the Baptist — LeGrand Baker

When he was confronted by the Jewish priests and Levites demanding that he account for himself, John responded by quoting the prophecy of Isaiah.

22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias (John 1:22-23).

Isaiah’s testimony of John’s mission:

Beginning with chapter 40, and continuing to the end of his writings, Isaiah quoted and paraphrased many of the psalms to give us a wonderful commentary on the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. Chapter 40 opens with a scene from the Council in Heaven.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

“Ye” is plural; “God” is Elohim, so the setting appears to be the Father speaking to the members of the Council.

2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:1-2).

To “comfort” means to empower. In Isaiah 61 that is done by administering the rites of the coronation ceremony. Also in that chapter, “double” is a reference to the birthright blessings of Abraham. “Of the Lord’s hand” and phrases very like that are also frequently references to the ancient Israelite temple drama. {1}

After that short summation of the activities of the Council, Isaiah immediately tells about the assignment John the Baptist received there.

3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isaiah 40:3-8).

The focal point of the ancient Israelite temple drama was a foreshadowing of the Savior’s life, his Atonement, death, and resurrection. If, as is very likely, one of the psalms is about John and is echoed in Isaiah’s prophecy, then that is Psalm 103. It celebrates the goodness and mercy of Jehovah, and the healing power of his ultimate Atonement. The word “mercy” in verse 17 is hesed. Just as in Psalm 25, hesed denotes reciprocal love founded upon an eternal covenant. The key word that ties the psalm to Isaiah is verse 15’s reference to the simple truth that this life is as tentative as the flowering grass. The psalm reads in part,

13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy [hesed] of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
19 The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul (Psalm 103:13-22).

Following verse 8 of Isaiah 40 there is a review of John’s message about the Savior.

9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
10 Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:9-12).

Verse 12 begins a series of questions without answers. Like in Job 38 and 39 the answers are not given because they are part of the ancient mysteries and are to remain unknown by all except the initiated who already know the answers. {2}

Later, as is recorded in the Book of Mormon, Lehi’s vision gave him a firsthand knowledge of the future mission of John the Baptist. However, as is typical of other prophets, Lehi chose to couch his own prophecy in the words of another prophet. He told of John’s mission by using the words Isaiah. Thus, giving a second testimony that John’s earthly assignment was a premortal call he received at the Council in Heaven.

7 And he spake also concerning a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord—
8 Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. And much spake my father concerning this thing.
9 And my father said he should baptize in Bethabara, beyond Jordan; and he also said he should baptize with water; even that he should baptize the Messiah with water.
10 And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world (1 Nephi 10:7-10)

Having heard his father’s testimony, Nephi did what we have come to expect that Nephi would do.

1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
3 And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
4 And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
5 And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.
6 And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired (1 Nephi 11:1-6).

After explaining the meaning of the tree of life, the Spirit of the Lord showed him that the mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for, and then baptize the Lamb of God.

27 And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken; and I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him; and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove (1 Nephi 11: 27).


{1}See the discussion of Isaiah 61, Moroni 10 and Job 40 in this website.

{2} Mystery is translated from the Greek mysterion. It means a secret imposed by initiation into religious rites. In the New Testament it usually refers to the early Christian temple rites. It is used for the Nephite temple rites in the Book of Mormon. In the Old Testament, sode is often a reference to those premortal covenants. For references check the index in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.


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