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Part 3: Testimony of John the Baptist (John 1:19-34)
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Next we’re going to take a look at what John the Baptist said – specifically – about not only who he was, but also who Jesus was. This section is verses 19 through 34. Here we are going to get to see a lot of exciting things. Though John the Apostle doesn’t actually ever show the baptism he uses the Baptist’s own testimony to show it. We’ll see how the Baptist points out his own purpose on the Earth and then points out Jesus’ purpose. Finally in this section we’ll see the Baptist point Jesus out as the One he is speaking about – who is the Son of God.
Let us get into the text. The Apostle starts off here pointing out that this is exactly what John the Baptist said. The Baptist starts off, here, answering questions about himself and who he is. He tells these Jews (who were priests and disciples of the Pharisees) that he’s not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. Let’s deconstruct this section for a moment. Why is it so important what this scene is explaining? First let us look at who John’s interviewers are: Priests, Levites and Disciples of the Pharisees (1:24).
Why is this important? Really it is important because John the Apostle is pointing out that these are people who should have known the scripture and known the prophecies. They shouldn’t have had to ask who the Baptist was. They should have known! They ask him multiple times who he is, but there is three important people they’re asking about. These people are the Messiah, Elijah and the Prophet. Who are these people?
First let us start with the Messiah. We know who the Messiah is, but what did the Scripture of the time say of Him? The entire Old Testament is laced with prophecy about Him. Starting with the simple fact he would be born of woman (Genesis 3:15) all the way through His entire life to the crucifixion as a substitution for our sins (Zechariah 12:10–13:1). Even the Psalms have prophecy about Jesus. It’s everywhere. The key point is they should have been able to tell who the Messiah was.
Next is Elijah. Why would the Jews think he was Elijah? Elijah was one of the greatest prophets to ever have lived. He lived in the 9th century B.C. (approximately 875–850 B.C.) and preached heavily against the pagan religions to which Israel had turned. But again why would they think that John the Baptist was Elijah? First it was because if you read the story of the end of Elijah’s Ministry he doesn’t die (2 Kings 2:11). And secondly it was because of prophesied by the Prophet Malachi that God would send Elijah before the “Day of the Lord” comes.
This is important to understand, though, as a prophecy of the second coming of Christ. This is because every use of the “Day of the Lord” is talking about the end times. We can look at several examples from the New Testament where we are shown that the Day of the Lord has not happened yet. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is on this very subject and in Chapter 5 he brings up the phrase for which we’re looking. It says “You guys understand completely that the day of the Lord comes like a thief at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 emphasis added). Paul is saying it hasn’t happened yet. So we can tell that this is the Second Coming of Jesus. Then why would the Jews think Elijah was coming?
The answer is they don’t see a first and second coming. They only see one coming of the Messiah. So what does the rest of Scripture say about being Elijah? Jesus, Himself, in Matthew 11:13 said that John was Elijah. This can be confusing because why are they contradicting each other? Luke tells us in 1:17 that John “will go out before Him and he will minister in the same way, in spirit and power, as Elijah.” So John the Baptist would come as a type of Elijah and fulfilled the prophecy about the messenger that would go before Jesus but was not Elijah himself.
Third is The Prophet. Where is the prophecy about this Prophet? It actually comes all the way from Deuteronomy. In chapter 18 God is talking to Moses and tells Moses that He “will put in place another prophet and he will come from among themselves. He will be like you, Moses, and I will put My words in his mouth and he’s going to tell them everything I command him to.” This is the Prophet they are talking about. Who was this man to be? John says it’s not him and we already see he fulfilled prophecy about Elijah. Who was he then? The prophecy seems a little open ended. It seems like it could include all the prophets of Israel except for the word is singular.
Peter thought that this was Jesus. In Acts he quotes Deuteronomy (Acts 3:22) and points it out to be Jesus. Stephen thought so as well in chapter 7 of Acts (specifically Acts 7:37) and he also quotes the Deuteronomy passage about the coming prophet. Where would these men get such an idea though? They got it from Jesus, Himself. As we’ll see later on Jesus said in chapter 5 that if the Jews “really believed what Moses said then you would believe Me too, because Moses wrote about Me.” This is Jesus speaking of Moses writing where we get this prophecy.
So the Baptist tells us he is none of the three that the Jews were asking about. Who is he then? For his answer he takes us all the way back to Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 40:3, which is the verse he quotes here. He says “I am the voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make the path of the Lord straight.’ ” That’s who he is: a forerunner or someone who comes before. A messenger sent before the Lord. The prophet Malachi spoke of him too. In Malachi 3:9 God sends His messenger who will prepare the way before God. This is who John the Baptist is.
These people either didn’t believe him or still didn’t understand because they go on questioning. John the Baptist’s answer points further to his role as a messenger that would come before Jesus. What he tells them is also pretty ironic too. He tells them that they didn’t even know anything. He says to them, “There is One among you and you don’t know Him. It’s Him who comes after me.” The WEB translates this as, “Among you stands one whom you don’t know.” (Emphasis added.) This is a very strong statement being made by John the Baptist. But why is it so?
It turns out to be so strong because John is telling the Priests, Levites and Pharisees that the promised Messiah stands among them already. That is powerful, because he is pointing out to them how ignorant they are. He is also showing them to be fools by their own definition (Proverbs 1:5-7). They’re not listening to instruction. John moves on to tell us that this person who was among them was so great that John was not even worthy to touch His sandals. The Apostle moves on to the next even in John the Baptist’s testimony. Here we have the Baptist specifically pointing out Jesus. The Baptist wasn’t just some exegetical teacher who spoke in riddles about someone who would come after him. He specifically points Jesus out.
First he points Jesus out then he refers back to what he had said previously about Jesus. It is interesting to notice, here, that this is the third time that this statement has been repeated. This is also one of the many phases that the Gospel of John and the other three differs. Matthew, Mark and Luke all show the Baptism of Christ (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22) but John’s Gospel doesn’t show us the Baptism. Instead he gives the Baptist’s witness of the Baptism.
John the Baptist was an eye witness of the Baptism, as he performed it. Here he points out the Spirit coming down out of heaven like a dove. John tells us that this was to fulfill what the Lord had told him already. John also gives us a summary of Jesus’ post crucifixion ministry. We can see this because John the Baptist tells us of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit. For now, though, we must look at the Baptist’s final statement: “This is what I have seen and told you, that this is the Son of God.” With these words the introduction to Jesus’ Earthly ministry ends and next we get to look at Jesus on the Earth.