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How Long Was John's Ministry?
John the Baptist was, first and foremost, a prophet whose life's purpose (see The Other Miraculous Birth and the Fact Finder question below) was to "prepare the way" for the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Christ's ministry lasted only about 3 years; John's ministry lasted even less.
"3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee [see The Herods], and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; 3:4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying,
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar"
As stated above, John's ministry began its rapid rise in "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar." Tiberius became emperor in about 14 AD; the fifteenth year of his reign was within a year of the beginning of the ministry of the Christ. John's public ministry would therefore have lasted only months before Herod arrested and killed him. But during that brief time, John prepared the way for the Messiah, just as he was prophesied to do (see the Fact Finder question below).
"3:7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 3:9 And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
John's "out of nowhere" popularity caused some to wonder if he were the Messiah. But John's ministry was to prepare the way for Him, as John plainly preached.
"3:15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with The Holy Ghost and with fire [see Baptism Of Fire]: 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 3:18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
Just before his arrest, John baptized the Messiah (see The Rising Of The Prophet).
"3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 3:22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." (Luke 3:21-22 KJV)
Fact Finder: How was John "the Elijah to come"?