Many scholars consider this section to be a second introduction to John’s Gospel, bringing the first section of a Heavenly view down to an earthly witness of the one sent to prepare the Messiahs path. John the Baptist is the first witness of Jesus as the Christ, and his is the first testimony recorded. Witness or testimony is the clear theme of this passage, and in doing so, the Baptist has made a clear link between the Old Testament prophets and the appearance of Jesus on the scene; this is a theological foundation to Jesus’ later claims on this subject.
The Testimony of John
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (from Isaiah 40:3)
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is greater than me, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:14-34)
“Who are you?”
Verse 19 refers to Jews of Jerusalem, priests and Levites. These distinctions should be understood as referring first to what we might call the “powers that be” among the Jewish leadership of the time. The priests are those Temple functionaries who perform the duties of that office under the Law, and Levites refers to those from the same tribe who perform ancillary functions in the Temple, such as being teachers of the Law and Temple guards. This delegation was sent from the city to find out just who this crazy guy was who was dressing badly, preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan. Johns reply to all of their questions was no; he was not any of those
Why did the religious-authorities question John the Baptist? Didn’t he have the “right-stuff“? Didn’t he have the right “pedigree“? His father, Zachariah, was a priest, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a “daughter of Aaron“, so he certainly had the right “pedigree“, but our answer comes in the “who” that questioned him, the religious leaders. Had John followed his father’s footsteps into the priesthood, as he was qualified to do, he would have never appeared on their “radar”, but his calling was much higher than that. They didn’t believe that he had the “authority” to do what he was doing, specifically, baptizing people. John the Baptist had not graduated from the “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, nor had he gone through the proper steps to become “ordained” by the “powers that be“. John’s “ordination” came from God, not from man. In a nut-shell, he was operating outside their “system“, and they didn’t like it.
So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet, then who was he and why was he making such a commotion?
The “Elijah” who was to come was foretold in Malachi 4:5, and the “Prophet” was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. The priests and Levites were trying to pin-down who John the Baptist claimed to be. Jesus, in Matthew 11:14, clearly referring to Malachi 4:5, tells the crowd that John is the “Elijah who is to come.” John comes in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), but he denies that he is Elijah himself.
Why are you baptizing?
John now identifies himself by quoting from Isaiah 40:3. John was Gods word spoken, not Gods word Incarnate; Johns mission was to call for the people to prepare themselves for Gods arrival by repentance and baptism in water. He baptized in water to make preparation, but the One who was coming would baptize another way.
John the Baptist recognized that he was fulfilling the prophesy from Isaiah:
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
John the Baptist came as the forerunner of the Messiah, much as a herald announces the imminent-arrival of a king or other dignitary. His job was to “prepare the way of the Lord”.
26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
When John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, he wasn’t demeaning himself, rather he was recognizing the greatness of the very Son of God. After the Jewish delegation had left, at some point, John made his declaration that Jesus was the One for whom he had been preparing the way.
We, not unlike John the Baptist, are also heralds for the King. John announced His imminent-arrival the first time, His “stealth-arrival”, but we are called to announce that He is going to return with power and great glory. He is no longer “the carpenter-from-Nowhere’s-Ville”; He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and nobody will be able to miss or ignore His second-coming. We are also not worthy to proclaim this glorious-news, but we must proclaim it anyway. The message is far more glorious than we can ever do justice to, and we, with the Apostle Paul, recognize that “… we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
The Lamb of God…
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Behold, the Lamb of God. He calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” making a clear reference to the sacrificial animal used in Temple sacrifices for the atonement of sin. Jesus would take sin away entirely, not merely making a temporary atonement as the lambs in the Temple did.
Who takes away the sin of the world. The sin that the Lamb of God takes away is the sin of the world. Here, the “world” refers to all people without distinction, not all people without exception. That is, Jesus did not take away the sin of every person who has ever lived, only those who trust in Him for their salvation. He made no distinction regarding regarding the kinds of people for whom He died. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, atoned for the sins of rich people, poor people, Africans, Asians, Americans, Europeans, rulers, servants, men, women – all kinds of people. The “world” designates humanity in its hostility to God, as elsewhere in this Gospel. Although not all persons without exception will be saved, His sacrifice is the only atonement necessary for human sin, and its effectiveness is not limited by time or place (John 3:16).
Our understanding of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to “take away the sins of the world” can be further enlightened by remembering God’s promise to Abram; “And in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).
Where else have we seen the promise of God’s provision of a lamb before?
6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Genesis 22:6-8)
Abraham believed that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice and his faith was rewarded with that provision. God’s provision of that lamb that day was a powerful symbol and foreshadowing of the perfect Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices could only cover-over sin, but could not take it away. Only the perfect Lamb of God could actually take upon Himself our sin and truly take it away.
He was before me…
This is the one I meant when I said, A man who comes after me is greater than me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31-32)
John’s statement that he hadn’t known Jesus refers to John’s not understanding that Jesus, his cousin, was the One. John the Baptist also told the people that he himself did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, but that His identity was revealed to him. This does not mean that John had never met Jesus before; after all, they were relatives (Luke 1:26-45). John the Baptist’s point was that his insight was not due to personal acquaintance, but was by revelation from God.
Then John gave this testimony: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 10 The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is Gods Chosen One. (John 1:32-34)
Even though Jesus and John the Baptist were related, John knew very little about Jesus or His upcoming ministry until God revealed it to him. The clincher was when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove, combined with the Voice from heaven.
When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, all three members of the Godhead were revealed, Jesus, the Son of God, God the Father, by His voice, and the Holy Spirit, as represented by the dove. God had never revealed His fullness in this way before, which led John to say: “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
This is the Son of God. In making this assertion, John is reporting the heavenly-voice that accompanied the heaven-sent Spirit, as recorded in Matthew 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” While “son of God” was used variously by Jews (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7) and Gentiles (Mark 15:39), the Baptist’s witness, as the last of the old-order Prophets (Matthew 11:11-14), is clear. Jesus is the Son of God, the “only begotten of the Father” (v. 14).
Here, John clearly tells the people how he knows Jesus is the One; John has seen the sign that God told him to watch for. Thus, because John has been made to see the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove and then remain there, John states positively that Jesus is the Son of God.
John’s statement probably caught his Jewish listeners off-guard, because God didn’t have a “Son”, or so they had been taught, so how could this be? Observant Jews recited the Shema twice a day; “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Would John’s testimony be good-enough to put this notion to rest? No, because, as we will see as we progress through John’s Gospel, many people will be offended by the notion that Jesus is God, and ultimately, that claim, that Jesus IS God, will consign Him to the Cross.
What a marvelous testimony!
In spite of the overwhelming-evidence in the New Testament, there are still people who call themselves “Christians” who deny the Deity of Christ. That heresy has had a devoted-following since the time of Christ, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We need to keep our eyes open to recognize it for what it is – heresy.
Wishing you God’s richest blessings in 2018!