Jesus and John had many similarities in their ministries. For example, John’s message in Luke 3:4-5, especially concerning the mountains and hills, was opposed by the Jewish authorities’ argument that descendants of Abraham are somehow exempt from national judgment (Luke 3:8). John claimed the valleys (what is wanting) must be filled, and the mountains and hills (what is exalted over others) must be brought low and made a plane before the coming King. To claim before God that one has privileges mocked John’s message of the needed level plane. Jesus argued similarly in John 8:39-40.
According to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 21:32 and Luke’s later comment in Luke 7:29-30, the Jewish leadership, as a whole, never repented. Rather than give glory to God by believing God’s warning through John, they glorified themselves by fighting both John and Jesus.
John warned the Jews of the first century AD of a coming wrath (Luke 3:7) which would culminate in national judgment in Luke 3:9. Steps needed to be taken to avert national destruction, namely repent of their rebellion against God by admitting their sin and look to their coming Messiah. Similarly, Jesus spoke of national judgment in Luke 21. In fact, he even used similar terminology in Luke 3:9 when he cursed the fig tree (a symbol of Israel), because it bore no fruit (Mark 11:13, 20-21; cf. Luke 13:7).
Although the troublesome Pharisees publicly claimed to defend the ways of the Lord, Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 15:12-13 show us that the sect of the Pharisees was of men and not of God. Their teaching was therefore of men. They were not sent by God to claim what they taught others to do. Therefore, the sect would not be in the Kingdom. Whatsoever is not of God will eventually be destroyed, just as John claimed in Luke 3:9, concerning every tree that didn’t bear good fruit!
John defined “fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8; cf. 10-14) as a willingness to share one’s abundance with the poor—or those who are in need (whatever that need may be, if it can be supplied by his brother). Those in authority were to serve the people in the position where God placed them, but they were not to abuse their authority by exploiting the people. The whole idea of “fruits worthy of repentance” is that one needed to serve the needs of others. Similarly, Jesus admonished his own disciples to be careful to serve all and not lord it over anyone (Mark 10:42-45)
Some have thought John’s ministry was nothing more than a social gospel—viz. Luke 3:10-14, but it was not. John preached the same Gospel preached by his predecessors, namely, the Gospel of the coming of the Messiah, except, instead of the Messiah’s time being afar off, in John’s day it was near. John’s mission was to alert the people and cause them to prepare themselves for the Messiah’s arrival in their lifetimes (cf. Romans 1:1-3; Luke 24:26-27; Acts 10:43; 26:6; Titus 1:2). John’s ministry, therefore, pointed to Christ in a special way. He was given the responsibility to get the people to turn from their rebellion against God and his ways. If they would do that, then, in the natural course of living (fruits of worthy of repentance), they would want to share their own living with others. This is what the Law was founded upon – loving God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself (Leviticus 19:18).
The idea is, how could one ever love his neighbor, if he is aware of his neighbor’s need but holds back what he already possesses that could fulfill his neighbor’s need (James 2:15-18)? Moreover, how could one ever claim to love God, if he refuses to express his love for his neighbor by holding back what he needs (1John 3:16-17)? These are the very basic fruits of repentance taught by both John and Jesus. If one turns back to God, he will be interested in fulfilling the needs of his neighbor, because that is the starting point of one’s walk with God.
So, how does John’s baptism differ from that of Jesus? How does Isaiah 40:1-8 (John) differ from Isaiah 61:1-2 (Jesus)? John’s message was of utmost importance, while his person was less and less important (John 3:30). On the other hand, Jesus’ message of the Kingdom was important BECAUSE OF the PERSON. Jesus, the PERSON, was to increase more and more (John 3:30). Obeying his message is the fruit of coming to the PERSON.
Isaiah 40 has the people recognize that they failed to accomplish what was expected, and recognize the need to turn and rid themselves of any encumbrance that would keep them from God. Isaiah 61 points to what the Lord does, not what we do. Isaiah 40 awaits what the Lord will do, and Isaiah 61 shows the Lord doing that which everyone awaits to be done. What the people failed to do (Isaiah 40) the Lord does (Isaiah 61). This is the difference between John and Jesus. Jesus claimed the Law and the Prophets extend to the time of John (Matthew 11:13), but since that time the Kingdom of God was preached (Luke 16:16). In other words, all the Old Testament Scriptures and John’s ministry pointed to the coming of Christ. Jesus fulfills what everyone looked for or pointed to. What they couldn’t offer or understand is found complete in Christ.