Editorial: The Prison Bars of Doubt

The door was bolted shut behind him. Apparently, John had gone too far in his preaching. It was one thing to preach repentance to commoners, but quite another to address and condemn a specific sin in Herod Antipas’ life. The decision to do so cost John his freedom. Staring through prison bars, John began to have second thoughts about his role and the identity of the One he told so many about. He had preached to his audiences that they needed to “flee from the wrath to come,” for the One coming after him would baptize with fire, inextinguishable fire. But as John sat in his miserable cell, the only news circulating about Jesus was that He was bringing blessing to people rather than judgment. Could John have been mistaken about the Messiah’s identity?

John got very low very quickly. And it seemed that he had legitimate reasons to doubt. After all, no miracle came for him. The Lord Jesus was performing many miracles elsewhere but did not send one John’s way. He knew the Messiah’s role would include opening prison doors for those held captive (Isa 61:1), yet his cousin in the flesh did not perform such a miracle for John. No messengers came either. The Savior did not deliver any notes to John encouraging him to stand strong and stay true. It seemed odd also that Jesus never visited John in prison. The friend of the Bridegroom was locked up and the Bridegroom never came to see him. John found himself not only behind the prison bars of Herod but the prison bars of doubt.

Although no message came from Jesus to John, John decided to send a message to Him. Rather than keeping his doubts to himself, he made sure they got into the ears of the Lord. He sent two of his disciples to deliver these words: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mat 11:3 NET). This was the wisest thing John could have done because the main problem with doubts is not what they do to us but what they keep us from doing. We need to bring our doubts honestly before the Lord.

It didn’t take long for an answer to return. “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (vv4-5 NET). Better than responding with a personal visit or with a miraculous deliverance, the Lord Jesus pointed John back to the Word of God, quoting from Isaiah’s prophecy. John should know that before Messiah would bring the prophesied judgment, He would fulfil the prophesied blessing. John needed to be reminded of that order. He had not made a mistake about the identity of the Messiah but about the sequence of events. Going back to the Scriptures would rip away the prison bars of doubt.

Sometimes doubts imprison us also. We may doubt our salvation, Christ’s sufficiency, God’s goodness, or even His existence. When that happens, the best thing we can do is get our doubts into His ear and our minds into His Word, because the main problem with doubts is not what they do to us but what they might keep us from doing.