Moving Biblical Characters Off the Felt Board

Return as an Adult with New Eyes

If you’re like me and you grew up going to Sunday school, how we understand so many of the people that we read about in the Bible can, in some ways, be stuck to what I would call the “felt board of our minds.” Our understanding of who those people were—what drove them and what their lives were all about—can be very one-dimensional. It can be a wonderful experience to go back to the Scriptures as an adult and seek to understand what was really going on, asking, What does Scripture reveal that might help me understand what their motives were and what was going on?

We have a hard time seeing some of these characters in the Bible as people with real needs, fears, understandings, and misunderstandings—just like we do. But, as we really dive in and try to get to know some of the people that are around Jesus, they actually help us understand more about the person and work of Jesus.

Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus

Nancy Guthrie

Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus tells the story of 10 people who are integral to the story of Jesus, putting the characters in context of the whole Bible and delving into what they reveal about Christ.

John the Baptist

A good example would be John the Baptist. We read about him in the very beginning of Jesus’s story. It's interesting to me that while he's in his mother's womb, he seems to recognize Jesus because he leaps for joy. Later, when Jesus would come to be baptized, John clearly recognized him. John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Then, in a later scene, John is in prison and he sends his disciples to Jesus with a question. He asks, So are you the one or should we be waiting for someone else? It’s pretty fascinating to think about what shaped John the Baptist's understanding of who the Messiah would be and what he would accomplish. On one hand, he fully sees Jesus as the Lamb of God; but then he still wonders, Is he really?

We have a hard time seeing some of these characters in the Bible as people with real needs, fears, understandings, and misunderstandings.

It's so interesting what Jesus does. Jesus seems to take John directly to the Scriptures that have shaped his understanding—the scrolls of Isaiah. John has read that when Jesus comes, he is going to accomplish this burning work of judgment. But Jesus pulls from those same Scriptures some verses, perhaps, that John has overlooked. The Scriptures also say that the Messiah is also going to heal the blind and the lame, and bless people. John needs to see that all of these things shape his ministry.

We Need Perspective, Too

Of course, John didn't understand. He couldn't see that all that Isaiah had to say about who Jesus would be and what he would accomplish would be accomplished not in a single coming, but in a second coming. We need to see that, too. So as we look at John the Baptist and we see what his misunderstanding were about the person and work of Jesus, it helps us to clarify our understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

Nancy Guthrie is the author of Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus.

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