When seventy years of Babylonian exile had passed, some of the Jews were miraculously allowed to return to their land in order to rebuild the temple and the city. However, it soon became apparent that even their best efforts under men like Ezra and Nehemiah could never bring about the restoration that God had promised through the prophets. In order for these prophecies to be truly fulfilled, they had to wait for the promised One whose arrival would be made clear by the sending of a forerunner; one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah himself. In this regard, the prophet Malachi said this;
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
This prophecy is found in the last book of the Old Testament. And once the canon of this testament was brought to a close, God did not speak for another 400 years. Moreover, this period of history would prove to be a time of great difficulty for Israel, being handed down from one super power to the next. By the time of the Gospels, Israel had not only been under the oppressive rule of the Babylonians; but also the Persians, the Greeks; and then finally, the Romans.
As is completely understandable, by this stage there was great anticipation among the Jews concerning the arrival of the promised Messiah. There was one thought on their minds: “When would the Messiah reveal himself; and how would God’s kingdom finally come?”
While various Jewish sub-groups (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes) sought to answer these questions differently, they all basically agreed on one very important idea: their story was still waiting for an ending.
It is in this context then, that the gospel account is opened;
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
400 years of silence was shattered by John the Baptist – one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Indeed, he said of himself;
…I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.