Through the Bible in One Year

Day 121

John 1:19-34

In yesterday’s section of John, the prologue or the introduction, John (the apostle) referred several times to the testimony of John the Baptist.  And in today’s section John (the apostle) actually gives us an account of the testimony that John the Baptist gives about Jesus.  And that is what we are going to spend our time together today looking at in detail.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”—1:19-23

The religious establishment questioned John the Baptist about his own identity.  What did he say about himself?  As the passage unfolds, we see that John the Baptist established not only who he believed himself to be but who he believed Jesus to be.  This section and following one (1:24-2:11) should be understood as a unit since the passages refer to seven consecutive days.  John the apostle sometimes refers to Jesus’ opponents as “the Jews” and sometimes as “the Jewish leaders.”  However, his wording should be understood as reference to the Jewish leaders and authorities in most cases since almost everyone in this Gospel is Jewish, including Jesus and his disciples.

John the Baptist made three denials in response to the inquiry concerning his identity.  He denied first that he was the Messiah.  Both “Messiah” (Hebrew) and “Christ” (Greek) mean “anointed/chosen one.”  The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would descend for David (2 Samuel 7:11-16).  Many first-century Jews expected the Messiah to be a Davidic warrior who would lead a rebellion against Roman domination.  John the Baptist denied further that he was the prophet Elijah.  Elijah did not die (2 Kings 2:11) and many believed he would return in the final days (Malachi 4:5-6).  Finally, John the Baptist denied he was the prophet Moses predicted (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).  He saw himself as herald and a forerunner preparing the people for the coming Messiah.  John the Baptist knew his role in redemptive history and embraced it.

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.—1:24-28

The Pharisees were an influential religious sect during this time.  They are characterized as meticulously following God’s law and their oral traditions.  The Pharisees believed John had no authority to baptize if he was not one of the prophesied figures from John 1:20-21.  They failed to understand that John’s baptism was an outward act symbolizing inward repentance and cleansing from sin.  His water baptism, however, was anticipatory as he awaited the greater one.  And just a brief note on location.  The Bethany mentioned here was located on the other side of the Jordan River, and is different then the village of the same name located outside Jerusalem.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed 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.”

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, ‘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 God’s Chosen One.”—1:29-34

John the Baptist’s statement that he did not know Jesus should be take to mean not that he did not know Jesus but that he did not know him to be the Messiah.  John the Baptist made three dramatic affirmations as to Jesus’ identity.  First, Jesus is the Lamb of God.  Jesus’ death would take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7).  The fact that Jesus’ death takes away sin teaches that his death was both sacrificial and substitutionary.  Second, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit often came on people for specific tasks in the Old Testament, but the Spirit remained on Jesus.  The prophet Isaiah predicted the Messiah would be continually filled with the Spirit (Isa. 11:2 and 61:1).  Baptism with the Spirit pointed toward the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  Third, Jesus is God’s chosen one.  The thought is that God chose Jesus to be the Messiah and the one who would secure redemption for his people.  And we will pick up with the calling of Jesus’ first disciples tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Judges 15-16, John 2, Psalm 103:1-22 and Proverbs 14:17-19


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