According to Jesus, he was a prophet who fulfilled the prophecy recorded in Malachi 3:1 ("I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before you.") Jesus also said, "There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:9-11). That's pretty high praise.
According to people around him, he lived in the desert (Mark 1:4), wore clothes of camel hair and subsisted on a diet of locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4). Some even went so far as to say that John "had a demon" (Matt. 11:18). Ouch.
Without a personal encounter with him, he has become sanitised in our minds and on the pages of the Bible - a great man who stuck by his convictions. Had we met him in person - crazy guy that he was - we would probably not have welcomed him into our churches. We would likely have nudged our children away from him. But that's another story.
What I'm interested in is the fact that John - of whom Jesus said no man was greater - had doubts. He ended up in prison. His crime? Doing the right thing. Upholding the law. And the man he spent his whole life proclaiming, promoting and following - Jesus - was doubted.
While in prison, he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah. Jesus answered with this reply, "Go back and tell John... the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
Healing. Healing and joy all around... but not for John. John never left prison. In fact, he was soon beheaded at a party after a sexy dance and some poor judgement. The man who spent his whole life devoted to Jesus wasn't rescued. And in that dark moment just before his death - in that dark cell - he had to decide if it was all in vain or if he should stand firm in his faith.