What attracted Jesus to John the Baptist? John exercised a large-scale and high successful prophetic ministry of repentance to Israel. He called upon the whole of Israel to return to the Lord, and he backed this up with ethical teaching. He offered salvation and predicted judgement in terms which recreated the Judaism of the prophetic tradition. This explains why Jesus underwent John’s baptism (Mark 1.9-11). Jesus thereby joined this vigorous renewal of prophetic Judaism.
Unlike later sources, the gospel of Mark shows shows no concern that this implied repentance. Nor should it have done so. As a faithful Jew, Jesus will have repented of his sins. This does not mean that he had previously been a liar or a thief. All great religious figures have a sense of their own imperfections compared with the holiness of God, and it is this feeling which Jesus will have shared, as he joined in the corporate experience of mass baptism. As he put it later, when an observant Jew who admired him greatly addressed him as “Good Rabbi’, rather than the conventional ‘rabbi’: ‘Why do you call me good? None is good except the one God’ (Mark 10:18).
Unlike later Christian tradition, which has been quite incapable of coming to terms with this authentic comment, Jesus meant exactly what he said. God alone is perfectly good, and no man can be compared to him.
Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An independent historian’s account of his life and teaching, page 176. Casey is Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham, UK.
Though Casey might not be familiar with the Qur’an, there is a striking similarity with the last paragraph above and this passage: