C. IN THE NEW DISPENSATION
Having considered God’s work in eternity past and in the old dispensation, let us now go on to view His work in the new dispensation, in His new administrative arrangement—economy.
1. Sending John the Baptist to Prepare the Way for Christ
First, in His work in the new dispensation God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ. The New Testament opens with the record of John the Baptist, who was sent by God to prepare the way so that Christ, the Dispenser, might come. When John was asked who he was, he answered, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:19-20). Concerning himself, John the Baptist said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:23). The One whose way John was preparing was the very Christ who would carry out God’s dispensing.
Luke 3:2 says, “In the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zachariah, in the wilderness.” It was according to prophecy that John the Baptist began his ministry in the wilderness. This indicates that the introduction of God’s New Testament economy by John was not accidental, but was planned and foretold by God through Isaiah the prophet. This implied that God intended His New Testament economy to begin in an absolutely new way. John the Baptist did his preaching not in the holy temple within the holy city, where the religious and cultured people worshipped God according to their scriptural ordinances, but in the wilderness, not keeping any regulation of the old way. This indicates that the old way of the worship of God according to the Old Testament was repudiated and that a new way was about to be brought in.
Luke 3:3 goes on to say, “And he came into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” John the Baptist’s work was mainly to preach the baptism of repentance. To baptize someone is to immerse, to bury, him in water. Hence, baptism signifies death. John came to baptize the people in order to indicate that the repentant ones were good only for burial. This baptism also signifies the termination of the old person and that a new beginning may be realized in resurrection through Christ as the Dispenser. Therefore, following John’s ministry Christ came. John’s baptism not only terminated those who repented but also ushered them to Christ for His dispensing.
John’s preaching the baptism of repentance was for the forgiveness of sins. The Greek word translated “for” also means unto. Repentance with baptism is for, and results in, forgiveness of sins, so that the obstacle of man’s fall may be removed and man may be reconciled to God.
Luke 3:4 through 6 say, “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, A voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Every ravine shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked places shall become straight, and the rough places smooth roads; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” To prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight means to change people’s minds, turning their minds toward the coming Savior. It also means to make their hearts right, to straighten every part of their hearts through repentance, so that Christ may enter into them to be their life.
Ravine, mountain, crooked places, and rough places are figures of speech describing the condition of men’s hearts toward God and toward each other and the relationships among men (Luke 1:16-17). Both the condition of men’s hearts and their relationships need to be dealt with for the way to be prepared for the Savior’s coming to dispense Himself into God’s chosen people.
“Flesh” in the word “all flesh will see the salvation of God” refers to fallen men, and “salvation” denotes the Savior as the salvation of God. John’s ministry was to prepare the way that all men might see Christ the Savior as the salvation of God.
(Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 001-020), Chapter 16, by Witness Lee)