John 1: 6-8, 19-28
The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
- This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.
7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.
- John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
- “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.
8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
- Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.
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19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
- This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings.
20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
- His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 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.’ ”
- The Qumran community had applied Isaiah 40:3 to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
- Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.
24-25 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?”
- The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.
27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
- John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
- Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.
Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.
Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!
John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.
6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?
7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?