Chapter 5- Young John
1:57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.
1:58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.
1:59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
1:60 but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”
1:61 But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
1:62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
1:63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.
1:64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.
1:65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.
1:66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The Canticle of Zechariah.
1:67 Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
1:68 “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
1:69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,
1:70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
1:71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
1:72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
1:73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that,
1:74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him
1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
1:76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
1:77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
1:78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
1:79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
1:80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
“The child (John) grew and became strong in spirit living in Hebron, Judea. John’s father Zechariah saw to it that John was well trained in the bible and Hebrew tradition. Every year Zechariah would take his family, Elizabeth and John to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration Here they would meet Joseph of Nazareth and his family Mary, Jesus, and his brothers and sisters. John was 15 months older than Jesus, however they got along very well. John’s nickname for Jesus was “little Yeshua,” because even when they were young boys John was taller than Jesus. By the time John was 13 he grew to six feet four inches tall while Jesus was only five foot ten inches.
One year when John was eight and Jesus seven years of age, their families met in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. During the week they stayed in tents outside the walls of Jerusalem because they had no relatives living inside the walls of Jerusalem that had any room for their families. While Joseph of Nazareth and Zechariah the priest and father of John were sitting around a fire and talking, John and Jesus were running among the tents outside the walls of Jerusalem.
“Little Yeshua, can you catch me or are you as slow as a turtle,” John shouted. “I will catch you and bury your face in the sand,” Jesus replied as they ran around the tents. John tripped on a tent cord and Jesus finally caught up to him as he rolled on the ground. “Alright you win ‘little Yeshua,’ John shouted as he swallowed some sand. It wasn’t until an hour later that Joseph and Zechariah noticed that John and Jesus were missing. “Mary do you know where Jesus and John are,” Joseph asked? “No I have not seen them all morning,” Mary replied. “James go and look for your younger brother and swat him in the head and bring him back here for your mother and I,” Joseph shouted. “Must I find the little weasel father,” James replied. “You are the eldest and it is your duty to keep track of your brothers and sisters,” Joseph stated firmly. James left in a huff to look for his brother Jesus and their 2nd cousin John. James found them in no time running around the tents in the tent city outside the walls of Jerusalem. “Come here Jesus for your father and mother are concerned as to your whereabouts. You are to return to our tent immediately,” James commanded. Jesus gave James a strange look but turned to John and said,” let us return to our tents before our parents get mad.” So all three returned to their family tents.
John liked to quiz Jesus on his knowledge of the bible since John was always studying the bible with his father who was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. “Little Jeshua, who freed the Jews from the Egyptian Pharaoh?” John asked. Jesus responded quickly, “Moses.” “Good, now where did our Jewish forefathers spend 500 years in captivity?” Jesus thought for a second and said, “Babylon.” This game would go on for hours until the boys tired of the game and sought other entertainment. They were the best of friends each year at Passover time and when the Passover Festival was over they both returned to their towns. John returned with his family to Hebron that was south of Jerusalem and Jesus and his family returned north to Nazareth in Galilee.
After returning from the Passover feast John’s father Zechariah took John aside and said “It is time for your formal religious education to begin my son.” “I have asked Rabbi Slocum to spend time with you each week learning the bible and the torah,” Zechariah said. “This will prepare you for your coming of age ceremony at age twelve in a few years,” Zechariah went on to say. “Thank you father, I welcome the learning Rabbi Slocum will provide me. And so from that day forward John received formal religious training several times a week. He was a bright student and always asking questions.
One day John said to Rabbi Slocum, “who are the Essenes, Rabbi?” Rabbi Slocum an older man with a long white beard and a large distinctive nose and beady little eyes thought about the question for a moment and then replied,” they are Jewish brethren that seek the truth in Judaism and live in communities away from Jerusalem.” “Are they Pharisees or scribes,” John asked? “No John, they are Jews that want to live a life of purity and follow the old traditions of Judaism,” Rabbi Slocum replied. “I have heard that they live in the desert by the Dead Sea,” John commented. “Yes they live in Qumram near the Dead Sea and they follow a person called the ‘enlightened one,’” Rabbi Slocum responded. “Now let us get back to our studies,” Rabbi Slocum asked.
From early on John had an interest in the Essene community and what they were doing out on the edge of the desert near the Dead Sea. He had seen the Essenes one Passover coming as a community to worship in the Temple during the Passover Holiday. They looked like any other person in Jerusalem but dressed a little differently with their robes that were bright in color.
At age twelve, John was ready for the ‘coming of age ceremony,’ to be held in the temple in Jerusalem because his father Zechariah was a Priest in the temple and this gave him special privilege. Joseph of Nazareth and all of their other cousins and family were invited to the ceremony. John was to do several readings that Rabbi Slocum had prepared him for. The ceremony went well, and one of Zechariah’s friends who was a priest, and Rabbi Slocum were the leaders of the ceremony. Now John was officially a member of the local synagogue, and Hebrew member of the state of Israel, and an adult Jew. It was a great moment for John because it showed his father that he was ready for greater things perhaps as a priest or maybe a prophet as the Angel of the Lord had decreed when he was born?