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5 Things You Should Know About John the Baptist

As we observe the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, we encourage you to take a moment to reflect on his ministry and legacy. From fulfilling Old Testament prophecies to helping inaugurate the earthly ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist played a key role in preparing the Israelites to receive the promised Messiah. Today, we invite you to learn five key facts about his life and discover where he is portrayed in the Basilica.

The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, depicted in the Our Lady of Pompei Chapel

1. John’s coming was foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

In his writings, Isaiah spoke of a messenger who would precede the coming Messiah. Isaiah 40:3 states:

“A voice proclaims: in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

It is revealed in the Gospels that John, by preparing the way for Jesus and proclaiming his coming, is the fulfillment of this prophecy:

“In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”’” – Matthew 3:1-3

2. He was related to Jesus. 

In Luke we learn that John is the son of Zechariah, a priest, and Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. John’s conception came as a miracle, as the two had long been barren and were advanced in years when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, proclaiming John’s coming birth and ministry. Shortly afterwards, the angel appeared again – this time to Mary, to announce Jesus’ birth. Upon learning of her pregnancy, Mary departed to Judea to visit Elizabeth. When she greeted Elizabeth, the infant John rejoiced, though he was not yet born.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” Luke 1:41-42

Even before his birth, John recognized Jesus as the coming Messiah, and responded with due praise.

3. He lived as a hermit in the Judean wilderness.

John lived in the wilderness for most of his life, clothing himself in camel’s hair and living off locusts and wild honey, until the word of God came to him and he began preaching and baptizing, preparing for the coming of Christ (Luke 3:2).

“And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.’” – Mark 1:7-8

4. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

1st Luminous Mystery — Baptism of Jesus by John
The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, depicted in the Rosary Garden

Matthew writes that people gathered from “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan” (3:5) to confess their sins and be baptized by John. The most important baptism of his ministry was that of the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ And then he allowed Him.” – Matthew 3:13-15

John’s baptism of Jesus is considered to be the start of His earthly ministry.

5. His opposition to Herod Antipas cost him his life.

John was bold in his teachings and unafraid to identify sin when he saw it, even in the lives of those in power. When John heard that the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, had taken his half-brother’s wife for his own, John publicly denounced his actions. His opposition angered the ruler, who seized and imprisoned him. However, fearing retribution from the people, who recognized John as a prophet, Herod did not put him to death. But when Herod’s wife’s daughter danced for him on his birthday, he was so enamored by her that he promised to give her whatever she desired as a show of his gratitude.

“So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.’ The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests that were present, he ordered that it be given. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.” – Matthew 14:8-10

Matthew 14:13 tells us that Jesus was so affected by John’s death that he withdrew from the crowds that were seeking Him in order to spend time alone.

Today, the faithful look to John the Baptist’s life of selflessness and strive to imitate the example he set for us in John 3:30 when he proclaimed: “He must increase; I must decrease.” In the Basilica, you can find John the Baptist featured in artwork in the Rosary Garden and the Our Lady of Pompei Chapel, and in a stained glass lunette window in the West Apse of the Crypt Church.


The Way of the Saints by Tom Cowan

Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

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