John 1:1-34, 5:35 — John the Baptist, ‘a burning and a shining light’ — LeGrand Baker

John the Baptist is a prophet we hardly know. One reason we do not know him is we do not recognize the magnificence of his language. A reason for that is that his testimony begins the gospel of John the Beloved, and therefore the words are not usually credited to John the Baptist. But we can know they are the Baptist’s words because we are told so in John 1:14-15 and D&C 93:15-17.

Another reason we do not know John is because of an (accidental or deliberate) double error in the Gospel of John. It reads,

29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:29-34, Italics added).

The notion that John did not know who Jesus was is absurd. The boys were cousins. They were the same age. Boys talk and share secrets with each other—and these boys had wonderful secrets to share. Fortunately, the Prophet Joseph cleared up the question in the Inspired Version of the Bible.

29. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and said; Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!
30. And John bare record of him unto the people, saying, This is he of whom I said; After me cometh a man who is preferred before me; for he was before me, and I knew him, and that he should be made manifest to Israel; therefore am I come baptizing with water.
31. And John bare record, saying; When he was baptized of me, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
32. And I knew him; for he who sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me; Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
33. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
34. These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing (JST John:29-34. Bold added).

The synoptic gospels tell us very little about John the Baptist. Each quote his testimony of the baptism of Jesus, and they also tell about his conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and with Herod who consented to his murder.

The intent of those gospels is to establish John’s credibility as a forerunner of the Savior, and then to use that credibility to help establish the Savior’s. They tell us that John was a powerful teacher, and that he was very effective in laying the groundwork for the Savior’s mission. Matthew is the best example.

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:1-17).

Matthew and Luke also tell us about Jesus’s testimony of John’s mission.

9 … A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist:
….
14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:9-15. See Matthew 17:10-13 and Luke 7:19-30)

John tells us that the Savior described his cousin John as “a burning and a shining light”

33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. (John 5:31-47)

The gospels were written at a time when there was still memory of John’s teachings, and the gospel writers frequently referred to them, but they gave us few examples. The best exception is the gospel of John who devotes his first chapter, not in telling us about John’s testimony, but in actually quoting it so we can know it for ourselves. From the synoptic gospels we learn that John the Baptist’s power was in his testimony, and from the gospel of John we learn that the power of his testimony was imbedded in the magnificence of this words.

John the Baptist’s testimony is recorded twice. Once in the gospel of John and again in Doctrine and Covenants section 93. I am quoting each in full because not only are they a window into John’s insights, but also because they are our very best source for understanding the power and grandeur of the premortal Christ.

1 I the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
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.
24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:1-34)

In the revelation that is Section 93, the Savior himself gives the introduction to John’s words.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;
2 And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;
3 And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one——
4 The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men.
5 I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.
6 And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed.
7 And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was;
8 Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation—
9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
10 The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
15 And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
16 And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
17 And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
18 And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John.
19 I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.
20 For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace (D&C 93:1-39)

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