While we don't know much of John the Baptist's early life, we do know through both the Gospels and Josephus' Aniquities of the Jews that he lived and was active in his ministry leading up to Jesus beginning his own. He is revered not only in the great Christian faith and tradition, but also in Islam , Bahai faith, and Mandaeism. In all of these faiths he is believed to be a prophet, and in the New Testament of the Christian faith he is revered as a saint and precursor to Christ. Jesus would identify John as
Elijah who is to come
In Luke's Gospel, his early life is introduced as a son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In the Gospel, it is told that the Angel Gabriel visits Zechariah in the temple of Jerusalem who foretells the birth of John. Because Zechariah is a priest of the course of Abijah and Elizabeth a daughter of Aaron, John the Baptist would be a descendant of Aaron on both sides. The Apostle John describes John the Baptist as a man sent from God who
came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that through him everyone might believe
Also in the gospel of The Apostle John, John the baptist describes himself as
The voice of one crying in the wilderness
The Gospel of Mark describes John the Baptist as the fulfillment of a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah. Mark writes (Mark 1:2-3)
“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”
Physically, Mark describes him as someone who wears clothes of camel's hair and lives on locusts and wild honey. The Apostle Matthew describes him similarly and in Matthew 3:1-2 says:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Luke tells the story of John still in the womb, leaping in the womb of his mother when he sensed the presence of Jesus Christ.
Matthew describes him extremely critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and Luke writes that he explicitly taught charity and baptized even the tax-collectors. John the Baptist would go on to baptize Jesus himself in the river Jordan. As Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him "like a dove". John the Baptist testified that he heard a voice from heaven saying
"You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased"
The next day, when approached by Jew's inquiring of the Rabbi who was now baptizing on the other bank, John the Baptist famously said (John 3: 27-30)
“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
The Passion of Saint John the Baptist
John the Baptist's death would also come to foreshadow the death of Jesus. John was extremely vocal of King Herod Antipas who had recently divorced. Herod had divorced his lawful wife and took his sister in law as his new wife (her husband was still live). Herod was a tetrarch - one of four rulers who co-goverened Palestine as kings under the Roman governor. Jesus described him as a "Fox" and indeed Herod had inherited his father's cruelty. Herod the Great, his father, had two of Herod Antipas' brothers strangled to death, had killed his favorite wife and famously ordered the killing of all male babies in Bethlehem.
Herod imprisoned John for him speaking out against the sins he had committed. On Herod's birthday, his new wife's daughter began to dance for all the guests. So pleased by her dancing, the now drunk Herod leaned forward and promised any gift she so desired. The girls mother told her what to ask for - the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
John the Baptist was beheaded and his head indeed placed on a platter for Herod's daughter. There is no doubt that Pilate (governor at the time) saw the execution as a convenient way of dealing with with John the Baptist. John's baptismal rituals at the Jordan river had political resonance to the slave uprising and exodus celebrated by Jews.
The Passion (sometimes the Beheading) of Saint John the Baptist is one of the oldest liturgical feasts. Saint John the Baptist has two feast days in the liturgist calendar - 25th of June as the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and the 29th of August as the Passion of John the Baptist.