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The Mystery of Saint John

Giuliano Bugiardini - The Birth of John the Baptist

June 14, 2024
by Karin Wietrzykowski

On June 24th, people around the world celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, often by enjoying bonfires the night before. St. John's festival is held approximately six months before Christmas since John, the Herald of the Christ, was born about six months before Jesus. This festival occurs shortly after the summer solstice which is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. At this time, the fiery Sun reaches its highest point in the sky. Then six months later, around the December solstice, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the darkness of winter.

This article outlines some of the complexity surrounding the mystery of John the Baptist discussed by Rudolf Steiner. As depicted above in Bugiardini's masterpiece, The Birth of John the Baptist, the pregnant Virgin Mary was present for John's birth. In the painting, she is shown left with a halo together with her likewise haloed relatives, the previously barren Elizabeth, and her elderly husband Zechariah, a well-known priest. The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke describes the event in detail.

  • The angel Gabriel appeared to the elderly priest Zechariah and told him that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son named John who would “make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
  • Zechariah questioned how this could be since both he and his wife Elizabeth were quite old. Because of his disbelief, Gabriel made him unable to speak.
  • Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a child named Jesus, called the Son of the Most High.
  • Six months later, pregnant Mary visited the expecting Elizabeth in Judea. When she greeted Elizabeth, the babe John “leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • Mary stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth for 3 months before returning home.
  • Zechariah remained mute until the birth of the child. When Zechariah announced his name would be John rather than being named after himself, he was blessed with the ability to speak again. People were amazed and word spread throughout Judea.

From this account, one can begin to see the profound connection between John and Jesus and the divine forces already at work in them. Through the news of the miraculous healing of his father, Zechariah, John was in a sense already preparing the way for the birth of Jesus six months later.

Jesus and John were related by family and in spirit.

Not only were Mary and Elizabeth relatives as recounted in Luke 1:36, Steiner sets forth the extraordinary spiritual relationship between Jesus and John. Normally, an Ego becomes slowly activated in an embryo, but John’s quickened immediately when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, greeted Elizabeth.

Now when the human embryo develops in the body of the mother, the Ego unites with the other members of the human organism in the third week, but does not come into operation until the last months before birth and then only gradually. Not until then does the Ego become active as an inner force; in a normal case, when an Ego quickens an embryo, we have to do with an Ego that has come from earlier incarnations.

In the case of John, however, the Ego in question was inwardly related to the soul-being of the Nathan Jesus. Hence according to the Gospel of St. Luke, the mother of Jesus went to the mother of John the Baptist when the latter was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, and the embryo that in other cases is quickened by its own Ego was here quickened through the medium of the other embryo. The child in the body of Elisabeth begins to move when the mother bearing the Nathan Jesus-child approaches; and it is the Ego through which the child in the other mother (Elisabeth) is quickened. (Luke I, 39–44). Such was the deep connection between the Being who was to bring about the fusion of the two spiritual streams and the other who was to announce His coming!

—Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE, GA 114, Lecture 5

Steiner explains that this occurred because John received the Ego/I from the same Being that incarnated in his cousin. This Being traces its lineage back to Nathan and, ultimately, the pure, original Adam — just as Jesus does according to the Gospel of Luke.

The John-Ego descended from the same holy region (Stätte) as that from which the soul-being of the Jesus-child of the Gospel of St. Luke descended, save that upon Jesus there were chiefly bestowed qualities not yet permeated by an Ego in which egoistic traits had developed: that is to say, a young soul was guided to the place where the reborn Adam was to incarnate. […] The same Ego that was withheld from the Jesus of the Gospel of St. Luke was bestowed upon the body of John the Baptist; thus the soul-being in Jesus of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Ego-being in John the Baptist were inwardly related from the beginning. —Ibid

John ushered out the old Law of Moses and announced a new covenant through Christ.

John was well-suited to the task of shifting from old ways dictated by external rules to new ones of inner spiritual development. This was, in part, because he was an old soul from aged parents.

What the Baptist wished to bring home to men was that there must be observance of what was written in the old Law but had grown old in civilization and had been forgotten; it was mature, but was no longer heeded. Therefore what John required above all was the power possessed by a soul born as a mature — even over mature — soul into the world. He was born of old parents; from the very beginning his astral body was pure and cleansed of all the forces which degrade man, because the aged parents were unaffected by passion and desire. There again, profound wisdom is expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke. —Ibid

Not only was John an old soul, but he also carried the power and spirit of the prophet Elijah of the Old Testament who preached the Law of Moses. Steiner reminds us, “We know from the Gospel itself that John the Baptist is to be regarded as the reborn Elijah.” This is found in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says:

Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. (Matthew 11:11-14)

Jesus continues, “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands” (Matthew 17:12). With this “power and spirit of Elijah,” John was well-equipped to preach about the old Law of Moses. He carried the message of the Old Testament through to what is documented in the New Testament.

Not without good reason the teachings of the Old Testament are interpreted as predictions of Christ Jesus. Any initiation was such a prediction. What the initiate experienced, he experienced it spiritually first, then symbolically, then it was there in the world. Then it was a fulfilment, the fulfilment of the Old Testament was the New Testament. In addition, this word appears to us in its full significance if we grasp it in its depth.


Like Elijah before him, John the Baptist continued to prepare a new path of human evolution. Steiner teaches that John even carried the message of the Buddha that had streamed forth through Elijah.

Buddha imparted to mankind what the human soul can find as its own law and obey in order to purify itself and thus reach the highest level of morality attainable on Earth. The 'Law of the Soul' — Dharma — was proclaimed through Buddha in such a way that at the highest stage of development attainable by human nature, man can discover it himself, in his own soul. Buddha was the first to reveal it.

Under the influence of the visit of her who is there called ‘Mary’, the Ego of John the Baptist awoke into activity. The Nirmanakaya of Buddha was here working upon the Ego of the former Elijah — now the Ego of John the Baptist — wakening it and penetrating right into the physical substance.

Knowing that these Beings appear on the physical plane at different turning-points of time, we learn to understand the unity of religions and the spiritual proclamations made to mankind. We shall not realize who and what Buddha was by clinging to tradition but by listening to how he actually speaks. Five to six hundred years before our era, Buddha preached the Sermon at Benares, but his voice has not been silenced. He speaks, although no longer incarnated, when he inspires through the Nirmanakaya. From the mouth of John the Baptist we hear what the Buddha had to say six hundred years after he had lived in a physical body.

—Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE, GA 114, Lecture 6.

John facilitated the descent of the Christ into Jesus through His baptism.
Art I. Olsavsky — Baptism of Christ

John preached the Word of God and baptized believers with water as part of a spiritual initiation process. It was not a drizzle of water like baptisms today. Rather, the disciple was held under water to provoke a near-death experience.

The disciple was submerged in water, resulting in a certain separation of the etheric from the physical body; and thus he could attain to a survey of his life and become aware of the connection of this individual life with the regions of the divine-spiritual world. To make it a little clearer, we can say that when the submersion was successful it produced in the disciple the conviction: I have spirit within me; I am not just a being in this physical-material body; and this spirit within me is one with the spirit underlying all things. — And he knew in addition that the Spirit Whom he thus confronted was the same that Moses had perceived in the fire of the burning bush and in the lightning on Sinai as Jahve, as I am the I AM, as ehjeh asher ehjeh. All this was revealed to him through the baptism by John.


When Jesus of Nazareth was 30 years old, he came to John and was baptized by this same process.

Even in everyday existence it may happen that when a man is in danger of drowning, or sustains a violent shock, a tableau of his life hitherto appears before him. This is because something that otherwise takes place only after death, occurs momentarily: the etheric body is lifted out of the physical body and is freed from its power. This happened to most of those who were baptized by John, and in a very special way to the Nathan Jesus. His etheric body was drawn out — and during that moment the sublime Being we call the Christ descended into his body.

—Rudolf Steiner, GA 114, Lecture 7.

Initiated through the baptism by John and filled with the Christ through the Holy Spirit, Jesus began his three-year journey to Golgotha, and ultimately to His death, resurrection, and ascension. The Gospel of Matthew tells how John preached of the coming Redeemer greater than himself who would baptize disciples directly with the fire, like the burning bush and lightning on Mt. Sinai. (Matthew 3:11) Steiner expounds upon this further:

John baptized with water, with the result that the etheric body was disconnected for a short time from the physical body. But John the Baptist claimed to be the Forerunner of Him Who baptized with fire and with the Holy Spirit. The baptism with fire and with the Holy Spirit came to our earth through Christ.

—Rudolf Steiner, GA 112, Lecture 7.

The Sun Solstice Connection

The celebration of John's birth on Summer solstice can be viewed as the beginning of the descent of the Christ from the fiery Sun to our earthly realm. The Gemini verse from Rudolf Steiner's Twelve Moods portrays the season and mood:

Reveal yourself, life of sun,
Stir up what tends to rest,
Embrace what desires to strive
Towards a mighty prevailing of life,
Towards a blessed knowing of worlds,
Towards a fruitful maturing of growth.
Oh life of sun, endure!

After the Summer solstice, the Sun's light decreases and days become shorter until Winter solstice. The birth of Jesus can then be seen as life-giving light being born in the cold, dark winter of the material world. As a reflection of this process, John the Baptist says in the Gospel of John, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

John, the herald of the coming Christ, of the Spiritual Light, whose festival day falls in the course of the year in mid-summer — John must decrease, and simultaneously with his decrease the force of the coming light waxes, increasing in strength as John decreases. In like manner the new, the coming life prepares itself in the seed that must wither and decay in order that the new plant may spring forth from it. The pupils of the Mysteries were to experience that in death life resides, that out of decaying matter the new, glorious blossoms and fruits of spring arise, that the earth teems with the forces of birth. They were to learn that at this time something happens in the inner being of the earth — the overcoming of death by life that is present in death. This was shown them in the conquering light.


John the Baptist was executed well before Jesus' crucifixion. Like the change of the seasons, as John passed on, the Christ grew stronger in Jesus. In three years, the Christ then fully embodied Jesus to accomplish the Mystery of Golgotha.

John the Baptist, Lazarus, and Apostle John

The death of John the Baptist was an extraordinary example of one who "died in Christ to rise again" just as St. Paul later implored Christians to do. He was imprisoned and gruesomely beheaded, with his head then served on a silver platter to Herod. Consider the symbolism of this physical manifestation of his Ego/I being delivered to the Roman ruler of Galilee in such a manner. But John's spiritual nature, which had filled Elijah with the Holy Spirit, later enlivened Lazarus, speaking through him as the risen St. John. In a public initiation, Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. Emil Bock summarized this event beautifully:

Lazarus is he who wrote the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse; he is the great helper of Christianity on its way into the future. This is discretely hinted at in the gospel itself. For the phrase 'whom Jesus loves,' is applied significantly to both Lazarus and later, after the events at Bethany, to John the 'beloved' disciple. See Rudolf Steiner, Christianity as a Mystical Fact.

The mystery of the raising of Lazarus is but partly understood if one sees in it only the renewed initiation of an individuality who had gone through many initiations in previous lives. The miracle of Bethany inaugurated in humanity the activity of a personal power, the genius of Christian brotherhood, which far out-spans any individual destiny, even though the destiny of a pre-eminent individual is involved. This mystery is touched on in the thought that Lazarus, through his Christian initiation, became John. When he emerged from the grave, free from his shroud, his illumined soul was not simply the vehicle for an ego which had been raised into divine spheres. Through a mysterious process of grace his soul is overshadowed and filled by an angel-like ego-being, whose priestly mission it is to bring together the human souls who are united with the Christ. Henceforth Lazarus is the disciple John, and he now becomes a special vessel for the ego-genius of John the Baptist.

After John the Baptist was beheaded in Herod's sinister fortress of Macherus, his spirit entered into a close union with all that was happening in the circle around Christ. It became the helper and protector of the Twelve, overshadowing and ensouling them, and empowering them to deeds of revelation. When Christ uttered the hierophantic call to Lazarus in Bethany, the genius of John entered into him and Lazarus became John. The genius which had overshadowed the whole group of disciples chose him as the seed-bearer of the future, as the central point of action.

—Emil Bock, The Three Years, pp. 187-188.

The Mystery of John
Raphael - Saint John the Baptist Preaching

While St. John's Day celebrates the individual known as John the Baptist, the exalted Being that heralded the coming Christ had a long lineage. It was the same as that which spoke through Elijah, although it was unable to descend fully into that individual. See GA 114, Lecture 6. In Steiner's final lecture given in September 1924, he discloses the past lives of John the Apostle also trace back to Elijah and "the being who was present in him" and the later incarnations as Raphael and Novalis.

When we look back into olden times, we see rise up before us within the traditions of Judaism the prophetic figure of Elijah. We know what significance the prophet Elijah had for the people of the Old Testament, and therewith for all mankind; we know how he set before them the goal and destiny of their existence. And we have shown how in the course of time the Being who was present in Elijah appeared again at the very most important moment of human evolution, appeared again so that Christ Jesus Himself could give him the Initiation he was to receive for the evolution of mankind. For the Being of Elijah appeared again in Lazarus-John — who are in truth one and the same figure, as you will have understood from my book Christianity as Mystical Fact.

And further we saw that this being appears once more in that world painter who let his artistic power unfold in marvellous depths of tenderness, as it moved hovering over the Mystery of Golgotha. And we saw how the deeply Christian impulse that lives in Raphael, as it were impelling into colour and form the very nature and being of Christianity itself—we saw how this impulse rose again in the poet Novalis. In the poet Novalis stands revealed in wondrously beautiful words what Raphael had placed before mankind in colours and forms of rarest loveliness. We see, thus following one another in time, beings who are brought together into a unity when incarnation is understood.


From this and Steiner's prior lectures, one can then begin to piece together the progression of a high Being that had never before fully incarnated, yet spoke through the enlightened Buddha, Elijah, John the Baptist, and John the Evangelist (Lazarus-John). This lineage then traces back to Genesis, the pure Adam before the fall of Mankind (Adam Cadmon or Kadmon). There are many ancient writings about this first, pure Adam, including statements from Steiner that Adam Cadmon was the Being of the whole Earth. Here is one explanation given by Steiner:

Then we should have the human being as he was before the Lemurian race, who is called the "pure" man. Man becomes impure through the fact that he does not produce his own being, but incorporates something other into his nature. This pure man was called Adam Cadmon. When at the beginning of Genesis the Bible speaks of man, it speaks of this pure human being.

—Rudolf Steiner, The Foundations of Esotericism, GA 93a, Lecture VI.

After Lazarus is raised from the dead, he is then renamed John. John the Evangelist is the author of the eponymous Gospel, the three epistles, and the book of Revelation. One might view this progression from Adam of Genesis (and "In the beginning was the Word" from the Gospel of John) to extend through the apocalypse of John in Revelation. Thus, John's message and, as described by Emil Bock, his "flaming words" span the entire Bible, the Word of the Alpha and Omega.

Steiner explains that, as described by Paul, the Christ incarnate was "the Second Adam" who gave mankind the opportunity of eternal life once again.

All men have inherited their physical body from Adam. This is the body which meets us in external Maya, and is mortal; it is the body inherited from Adam, the corruptible body, the physical body of man that decays in death. With this body men are 'clothed'. The second Adam, Christ, is regarded by Paul as possessing, in contrast to the first, the incorruptible, the immortal body. Paul then affirms that through Christian evolution men are gradually made ready to put on the second Adam in place of the first Adam; the incorruptible body of the second Adam, Christ, in place of the corruptible body of the first Adam.

Rudolf Steiner, FROM JESUS TO CHRIST, GA 131, Lecture VI.

The Being known as "John" both heralded the coming of this second Adam — the Christ — and evangelized His message as the Word of God. He brought forth the Word of the Bible from the beginning to the end.

The complexities of the mysteries of John and his manifestations are discussed by Steiner on numerous occasions. This brief outline of this deeply esoteric topic is offered here merely to entice you to research and contemplate this further. To summarize:

  • Steiner traces John the Baptist back to Elijah and the previously unincarnated perfect aspect of Adam. (One may contemplate the concept of 'Adam Kadmon' in this context.) John the was imbued with the ego of this pure Being.
  • Jesus of the Nathan lineage from the Gospel of Luke was formed by that same Being united with the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha. This was the counterpart to that which imbued John.
  • The Nirmanakaya of the Buddha present in the Nathan Jesus quickened the embryo of John the Baptist and spoke through him as he prepared the way for the coming Christ.
  • John baptized Jesus through the old form of initiation by water; the Christ thereby incarnated in Man.
  • John, the Ego/I of the Adam Kadmon, was then executed by beheading.
  • Lazarus was raised from the dead in a public initiation by Jesus Christ and imbued with the Ego/I of John the Baptist (and Elijah).
  • The raised Lazarus was then named John (Saint John the Apostle, or St. John the Evangelist or St. John the Divine).
  • The apostle John is known as the author of the Gospel of John, the three epistles (1st John, 2nd John, and 3rd John) and Revelation. He subsequently incarnated as the artist Raphael and the poet Novalis.

One can begin to see how St. John's festival commemorates a powerful Being with a long history of influencing human evolution. As Jesus said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen none greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)

These excerpts offer a mere glimpse of the wealth of information offered by Steiner regarding St. John’s Festival, John the Baptist, and the mysteries of John the Apostle. Now this information is easily searchable online in English through this service. We invite you to do your own research of this fascinating topic using keyword searches such as "John Elijah Lazarus." Also visit our Festivals Topic Page to find select lectures for St. John's Festival and other holidays throughout the year.

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Warm wishes for Saint Johns' Tide!

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