John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. He was of priestly descent, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth who were old at the time–another miracle baby like Isaac. Zechariah was told of John’s birth by an angel–like Mary was of Jesus. He was born six months before Jesus in Judea and lived as a Nazarite. We know little of John the Baptist’s childhood–only that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth (Luke 1:15). He first appears in Scripture in Luke 3:1-2 somewhere around 26 or 29 AD (scholars debate the date) to proclaim the coming of the Messiah in Judea. He emphasized repentance, baptism, and the coming of the Messiah.
John the Baptist was the first to speak of repenting of their sins and being baptized as a sign of repentance. His baptism differed from the ceremonial washings of the Old Testament significantly. Baptism by water meant an accepting of a new condition. Ceremonial washings only restored the old condition.
Jesus and John were cousins but it appears John the Baptist did not recognize Jesus until he came to be baptized by him (John 1:32-34) and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus. John was imprisoned for his preachings and Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after John’s arrest. We know this because it was 7 months John the Baptist was imprisoned when he sent two disciples to inquire of Jesus if he were the true Messiah (Matthew 11). How long he was in prison is unknown but we all know he died when Herodias asked for his head on a platter (Mark 6:18-28).
John the Baptist lived his whole life fulfilling God’s plan for him and died doing God’s will. His beheading is the subject of some of the most famous pictures in art history, notably the series done by Caravaggio.
John the Baptist lived during extraordinary times and died doing extraordinary things. We live during relatively ordinary times, but we can still do extraordinary things in our world–if we do God’s will for our life.