“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” (John 1: 6-8)
Through the last prophet of the Old Covenant – Malachi – in the third chapter of his vision, the Lord predicted that His coming would be introduced and prepared by a forerunner, having the spirit of Elijah for strength and prophetic guidance: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before Me.“
As we clearly learn from the Gospel narrative, this role is attributed to John the Baptist, so named because he administered unto the crowds a symbolic baptism of redemption: he denounced the limits of the Old Covenant and the need for spiritual and moral renewal, thereby evoking the remission of sin that Christ would perform through the sacramental baptism of water.
Unto his father Zacharias, the Angel of the Lord said about John:
“For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1,15)
And Christ said about him:
“And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17,10)
He is the point of contact and the bridge between the Old Law and the New Law, and the nearest figure of Christ; John did not judge himself enough for the fulfillment of Jah plan, but his ministry was aimed at preparing the way of the Lord, to establish the conditions where the true Redeemer could come and be accepted: in this context, he continually preached His imminent arrival in Israel, and when Jesus appeared, he pointed to Him as the fulfillment of those messianic expectations. John said, in fact:
“This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” (John 1,15)
“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” (Luke 3,16)
“Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3,28-30)
In full accord with the tale depicted in the Gospels, the second coming was introduced by an extraordinary character, Hon. Marcus Garvey, head of the large black ferment called Messianic Ethiopianism. Exponent of an African Christian Baptist congregation looking to Ethiopia to achieve its political and religious redemption, he announced to the African nation and diaspora the need for liberation from white roman systems of iniquity, preaching self-determination, freedom and fundamental human rights, at a time when colonialism and racism constituted the basic principles of collective political culture. He was thus to administer a kind of baptism of fyah for the Nations, waiting for the One who had to give it in pure sacramental power.
His powerful and energic tone of speaking before the oppressed crowds and his influent and pungent elocution remind the word of prophecy:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1,3)
In the preface of the second volume of his important literary work, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, he is explicitly presented in this prophetical role: <<Less than a decade ago, Marcus Garvey appeared in Harlem, that crowded section of New York city which has been termed the “Mecca” of the Negroes of the world. Coming unheralded, like John the Baptist, he brought a message which carried conviction to all open-minded listeners.>> (1925)
“And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not” (Luke 3, 15)
Although he was an extraordinary man, Garvey was also conscious of being subject to an Other One, and he channeled the attention of the African crowds towards the true Liberator, the One who, according to his visions, had to come soon upon the throne of Ethiopia.
“If the enemy could only know that Marcus Garvey is but a John the Baptist in the wilderness, that a greater and more dangerous Marcus Garvey is yet to appear.”
(“Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey”, p.132)
“We feel that one day Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand, and whether it be at the second coming or before, we shall all sing our Hosannas, shout our praises to God for freedom, for liberty, for life.” (Philosophy and Opinions, Vol. I, p. 86)
“I trust that there will be a spiritual and material resurrection among Negroes everywhere” (The Resurrection of the Negro, Philosophy and Opinions Vol. I, p. 87)
Out of the clear of God’s Eternity
Shall rise a kingdom of Black Fraternity; (…)
In the fair movement of God’s Abounding Grace
There is a promised hope for the Negro race;
In the sublimest truth of prophecy,
God is to raise. them to earthly majesty,
Princes shall come out of Egypt so grand,
The noble black man’s home and Motherland,
The Psalmist spoke in holy language clear,
As Almighty God’s triune will declare.
(Tragedy of White Injustice, Garvey’s Poem, 1927)
When the Lord took His place on the throne of David, Garvey hailed the event as the realization of the divine expectations, and he saluted the Lion of Judah saying:
“The Psalmist prophesied that Princes would come out of Egypt and Ethiopia would stretch forth her hands unto God. We have no doubt that the time is now come. Ethiopia is now really stretching forth her hands. This great kingdom of the East has been hidden for many centuries, but gradually she is rising to take a leading place in the world and it is for us of the Negro race to assist in every way to hold up the hand of Emperor Ras Tafari.” (Blackman, 8th November 1930)
The same spirit of what have been said by John, when Christ was anointed High Priest at the age of 30: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”
(John 1 29-31)
Since then, the attention of the faithful gradually left him and moved towards the King, then constituting the first social body of Rastafari movement. It is written in fact that many of the first followers of Christ, in the beginning were followers of John the Baptist (John 1, 35-42). Marcus Garvey continued to preach and operate separately and did not become a “Rasta” follower, just like John the Baptist remained at his own place and continued to baptize on his own account.
“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.” (John 3, 22-28)
As it is written, in fact, John the Baptist was still under the Law of Moses, and He did not fully enter the Christian time and faith, but worked as element of transition between those two stages of revelation. That’s why Christ said about him, in order to explain his personality:
“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11,11)
During the last years of his life, Marcus Garvey suffered heavy persecution by white governments, and he went to jail like John the Baptist. During this period of distress and desperation, he saw the King going into exile during the war in 1936: he scandalized, and wrote very offensive words against our Lord. He was not able to understand the victorious strategy of His Majesty, when all things appeared to go in the wrong direction, and Africa’s cause seemed to be lost. Similars feelings have been manifested by John the Baptist, when he was in prison and Christ was apparently disappointing his expectations of liberation:
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, <<Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?>> Jesus answered and said unto them, <<Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.>>” (Matthew 11, 2-6)
John was evidently “offended in Him”. The disciples of Christ were surprised by such an insolence, and the Lord had to speak with them to justify John and keep his prophetical reputation and position:
“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, <<What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.>> “
(Matthew 11, 7-10)
Before the liberation of Ethiopia, in 1940, Marcus Garvey died in England of brain tumor, as result of the affliction and oppression of his conditions. This is the fulfillment of the death of John, who was beheaded during his imprisonment.
“Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger”, the wicked said. (Matthew 14,8)