1.4 Synoptics -- John the Baptist
John the Baptist was Jesus' immediate predecessor and herald. All the Gospels mention him. It is clear from the angel’s announcement to Zechariah in the Book of Luke that John was sent as a forerunner and prophet primarily to the Jews:
"Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:16).
Yet, in describing the scope of John's ministry, Luke quotes Isaiah 40:
"A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation'" (Lk 3:4-6).
Neither Matthew nor Mark includes the last sentence of the citation from Isaiah – which shows that Luke was especially favorable to foreigners.
John’s message was one of repentance from sin followed by living honestly and faithfully. “Multitudes” came out from the cities to hear him, some to be baptized, but these would all have been Jews. There is no mention of Samaritans or Romans talking with John. There is one incident where some “soldiers” asked him for guidance, and he replied:
"Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay" (Lk 3:14).
It is unlikely that these were Roman soldiers – they wouldn’t have understood the language, for one thing. More likely, they were members of local military forces and guards (NIV, p. 1958).
John's major function, however, was not the preaching of repentance, but the announcement of the Messiah:
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mat 3:11-12).
All the Gospels record the baptism of Jesus by John:
"But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented (Mat 3:14-15).
Neither John's baptism, nor his proclamation of the Christ made any reference to Gentiles. This is the Synoptic view. John’s Gospel has quite a different perspective (see John).