John 1:19-34 – The Faithful Witness of John the Baptist

John 1:19-34 – The Faithful Witness of John the Baptist

  • And this is the testimony of John,
    • when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
      • He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
    • And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
      • He said, “I am not.”
    • “Are you the Prophet?”
      • And he answered, “No.”
    • So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
      • He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
    • (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)
  • They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
    • John answered them,
      • “I baptize with water,
      • but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me,
      • the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
  • These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
  • The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
    • This is He of whom I said, After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’
    • I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.”
      • And John bore witness:
        • “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him.
        • I myself did not know Him,
        • but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
        • And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” [ESV]

THE INTERVIEW OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

John the Baptist said, “He who comes after me ranks before me because He was before me.” Christ was before John the Baptist, in that, He was before all time. However, as to birth in the flesh, John the Baptist was six months older than Christ.

When John said, “He who comes after me” he was telling them the Christ was soon to be revealed. Unknown to him, it would be tomorrow.

When John said, “because He was before me” he was speaking to rank – as he said, “because He was before me.” Christ is exalted; John was the herald. In other words, John was telling his audience he is not the main show – there is a bigger show and it will be here soon.

John the Baptist denied he was the Christ. These were heady days. Large crowds were following him and it would have been so easy to get caught up in the excitement and the fame. Today, we see many ministers and televangelists hogging the limelight and the glory while tipping their hats to Christ. But John the Baptist was steadfast in his resolve to proclaim Christ. He did not cling to his fame and even to his own followers he declared Christ must increase but he must decrease (Joh 3:30).

Upon further questioning, John the Baptist denied being Elijah. However, Malachi described the coming of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6) and when the angel visited Zechariah before the birth of John, he used the same language to affirm his son will be the Elijah (Luk 1:17).

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. . . [Mal 4:5-6 ESV].

and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. [Luk 1:17 ESV].

Then, after John’s death, Jesus, spoke of John the Baptist and affirmed John the Baptist was the Elijah who had come, but he was not recognized and they killed him (Mat 17:12). From prophecy, the angel and Jesus’ testimony, we see John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come at the time of Christ. Nonetheless, though he was the man prophesied to be the Elijah, he was not willing to take any glory for himself. His sole purpose in life was to be the voice calling in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord; the herald for the coming King (v23; Isa 40:3).

THE LONG AWAITED PROPHET

So now these men pressed John further, asking if he was the Prophet. In one respect, you could say John was a prophet. But this question was not about just any prophet and, once again, John would not take the glory for himself for this belonged to Christ. This was the prophet about whom Moses had spoken in Deuteronomy 18:15-19:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen. . . [Now quoting God] And I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And whoever will not listen to My words that He shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. [ESV].

John’s answer to being the Prophet was a simple, “No.” [v21].

Jesus said He was the long awaited prophet and He did nothing on His own authority but spoke what the Father told Him (Joh 8:28). Jesus Christ told the Pharisees, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.” [Joh 5:46 ESV].

Others testified Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Prophet of Moses’ testimony.

  1. “And the crowds said, ‘This is the Prophet Jesus…'” [Mat 21:11 ESV].
  2. When Christ raised the widow’s dead son, “Fear seized them all and they glorified God saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us…'” [Luk 7:16 ESV].
  3. When Jesus fed the five thousand, the people affirmed He was the Prophet come into the world (Joh 6:14).
  4. During the Feast of Booths, many were convinced by Jesus’ teachings He was the Christ; some even declared He was the Prophet (Joh 7:40).
  5. When Philip followed Christ, he went and found Nathaniel and declared, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote…” [Joh 1:45 ESV].
  6. Peter in confronting the crowds in Solomon’s Portico, declared not only was Jesus the prophet of whom Moses wrote but all who reject Him will be destroyed (Act 3:22-23).

The interview was almost over and they pressed John for an answer, for they could not return to the Pharisees with nothing, John told them, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” [v23 ESV].

Matthew, too, affirmed John the Baptist was the one whom Isaiah wrote about when he said,

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ [Mat 3:3 ESV].

This was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” [NKJV].

So, the interviewers were now confused: If John was not the Christ, the Elijah or the Prophet, why was he baptizing? John answered,

I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. [v26-27 ESV].

The Gospel of Matthew accounts it like this:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear his threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” [Mat 3:11-12 ESV].

The Apostle Paul gave this account:

. . . John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ [Act 13:24-25 ESV].

Once again, John pointed them back to the Christ:

  1. I am not worthy to untie His sandals (John) or carry His sandals (Matthew);
  2. He will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit;
  3. He will separate those who will live with Him from those who will suffer the judgment of fire.

JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACHED REPENTANCE

John preached of the coming Messiah and he offered the baptism of repentance – to prepare people to receive the words of Jesus Christ. But the interviewers would remain hardened: Just as they could not understand or receive the words of John the Baptist, neither could they receive the words of Christ.

John said he baptized with water but the Christ would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit (see the Mat 3:11-12).

Malachi wrote,

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier… [Mal 3:2-3 ESV].

Isaiah wrote,

when the Lord shall have washed away the filth . . . by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. [Isa 4:4 ESV].

Fire is used in the context of judgment but it also a metaphor of the Holy Spirit as expressed when the Holy Spirit came as tongues of fire upon those in the upper room (Act 2:3). John said Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Peter witnessed the first Gentile believers receiving the same Holy Spirit as the Jews had previously. Peter gave this account of his witness to the household of Cornelius:

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ [Act 11:15-16 ESV].

Although John the Baptist’s quote regarding water and fire are not in the account of the Apostle John, it is in the Matthew account. Water and fire represent judgment and purification (Num 8:7, 31:23; 1Sa 7:6; Psa 66:12; Isa 66:16; Dan 7:10; Amo 7:4).

About sixteen hundred years after creation, in the days of Noah, the world was destroyed by water (Gen 6-8). The world had so corrupted itself in sin, God was compelled to purify it. Peter wrote the earth and all creation will one day be destroyed by fire (2Pe 3:10). God will bring forth from this a new heaven and new earth (Isa 65:17; 2Pe 3:13; Rev 21:1).

John preached a repentance to escape God’s judgment.

WHERE THIS INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE

The minions of the Pharisees interviewed John the Baptist at Bethany beyond the River Jordan (the East bank) according to verse twenty-eight (28). This is not the same Bethany of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, which is only two miles to the east of Jerusalem (Joh 11:18). There has been much controversy related to the location of this second Bethany. Some place it up north, in the region of Galilee. Others say the most likely location is just opposite Jericho. However, some translations have identified the city to be Bethabara and the name refers to fords. During this time, there were near Gilead the fords of Abarah. This would place the location south of the River Jabbock and north of the Dead Sea.

BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD

The very next day, Christ was walking to meet John the Baptist, to be baptized by Him. It seems before this day, John had not met Christ apart from when he was still in the womb (Luk 1:41).

He knew OF Him but according to verse thirty-one, he did not know Him: “but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed.” For those who were with him, he wanted them to know this was the same Christ he was talking about the day before, when he said, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me…'” [v30 ESV].

John the Baptist said:

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. [v29 ESV].

What is the significance of the Lamb of God?

  • Since the sin of Adam, God had commanded man to sacrifice an animal as the temporary offering for sin (implied in Gen 4:1-7).
  • During the captivity of Israel in the land of Egypt, God commanded the people to take a Passover lamb and spread the blood on the lintels and door posts of their homes. This was to protect them from the coming judgment – the death of the firstborn. And they were commanded to stay under the covering of their homes (Exo 12; see also Gen 3:21 garments for covering).
  • The Passover would be a continuing celebration reminding them of their sin and and commemorating God delivering them and saving them from the plague of death upon the firstborn.
  • When John the Baptist called Christ the Lamb of God, he was signifying Christ to be the final Passover lamb. And, in fact, Christ died for mans’ sin at the Passover on the day of Preparation (Joh 19:31-34).

and Paul wrote:

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [1Co 5:7 ESV]

and Peter wrote:

. . . you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. [1Pe 1:19 ESV]

I MYSELF DID NOT KNOW HIM

  1. I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel. [v31] In this text, John the Baptist states he did not know the Christ but his sole purpose was to reveal Him. This is why he baptized – to reveal the Christ (Luk 1:17, 76-77).
  2. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” [v33] In this text, John trusted God to reveal the Christ to him. When John was in the womb, he recognized Christ immediately (Luk 1:41).
  3. Matthew accounts: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ … And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” [Mat 3:13-17].

Many commentators and critiques have pointed out the contradiction between the account in Matthew and John. It does appear there is a contradiction: In Matthew’s account, John appeared to know Christ when he arrived; and in John’s account, John did not know him and Christ was not revealed to him until He was baptized. However, neither Matthew nor John claimed to give a complete account.

The whole story lies within both accounts. John’s mission in life was to be the voice in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Messiah. God had given John the Baptist a unique tie to his Lord and, just as he recognized the Christ while in the womb, so too, he knew the Christ when He appeared at the river. This is not at all contradictory with John’s account that he did not know the Christ, for he did not know Him before He came to be baptized.

The rest of John’s account is that he did not rest upon his feelings but trusted God to reveal His Son to him, just as God had promised He would.

THE WITNESS OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

All four Gospels have the account of Christ’s baptism, the heavens opening, the Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father rendering His approval and affirming Jesus to be His Son (Mat 3:16-17; Mar 1:10-11; Luk 3:21-22). Awesome as this may sound, it was likely a fearful experience as well, for it is certain the voice of the Father was no milquetoast and before the voice, you can be sure the heavens opening gave a strong pronouncement. John the Baptist could only proclaim, “this is the Son of God.” [v34].

Isaiah said of the Messiah, “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” [Isa 11:2-3]. When God sent Peter to the house of Cornelius, he said, “beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” [Act 10:37-38].

So, here at Christ’s baptism, we have the witness of the three: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son came to be baptized; the Holy Spirit announced by rending the skies and descending upon Him like a dove; and the Father voicing His approval and affirming Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The witness of the Father and the Holy Spirit upon the Son is the beginning of Christ’s ministry.

IN CLOSING

John the Baptist used every opportunity to point people to Christ and took no glory for himself.

He preached repentance so that people would receive the words of Jesus Christ and escape the wrath of God.

True repentance is to confess and turn away from our sin. We cannot follow Christ unless we repent of our sin.

Christ died to satisfy God’s wrath. Think about this: the Son of God died to save us from God and He died to save us for God.

Do you still seek glory in this life? Or have you repented of your sin? Have you turned from your sin to follow Christ? And are you pointing people to Christ?

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