John 1:19–34— John the Baptist points to Jesus
19 This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”
“No,” he replied.
“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”
22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”
24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”
26 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”
28 This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
Points of Interest
- ‘I am not the Messiah’—the Messiah is God’s special agent, who is supposed to repair everything that is wrong with the world. By the time of John the Baptist, the Jewish people have been waiting for hundreds of years for this Messiah to come and do his work.
- ‘Are you Elijah?’—Elijah was perhaps the flashiest of the Israelite prophets. He was famous for his spectacular miracles, and he made pretty much the most dramatic exit ever. He didn’t exactly die. Instead, he hopped on to a flaming chariot and was carried away to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). A later prophet said that Elijah would come back again before the time of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). If John the Baptist isn’t the Messiah, they wonder if perhaps he is the second coming of Elijah, and therefore a sort of high-quality warm-up act for the Messiah.
- ‘Are you the Prophet?’—before Moses died, he promised that God would send another prophet just like him so that the people would not be left stranded (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). This promise was, to a degree, fulfilled immediately when Joshua, Moses’ protégé, succeeded Moses. But from early on, it was also taken as a prophecy with more cosmic implications, the idea being that Moses was a mere foreshadowing of an even bigger and better Prophet to come. If John the Baptist isn’t Elijah, they wonder if he could be this Prophet (IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
- ‘the Pharisees who had been sent’—the Pharisees are one of the two dominant politico-religious parties in Roman Judea. They are known for their expertise in the Law. It’s unclear to me whether this entire delegation from Jerusalem consists of Pharisees, or if it’s a multi-party group, but only the Pharisees among them have the question.
- ‘The Lamb of God’— John the Baptist is probably referring to the Passover lamb. In the time of Moses, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God rescued them by inflicting the Egyptians with increasingly severe punishments until they finally agreed to let the Israelites go. On the night of the last plague, God sent an angel to kill the oldest child in every Egyptian house. The sign that a house was Israelite instead of Egyptian was some lamb’s blood sprinkled on the door frame; whenever the angel saw the lamb’s blood, that house was spared, or passed over (Exodus 12:1-13).
- As the Word, Jesus is bringing about a new kind of creation. As the Lamb of God, he is performing a new rescue.
- ‘who takes away the sin of the world’—I’m intrigued by the fact that it’s singular ‘sin’ here, not ‘sins.’ Jesus isn’t so much focused on some endless list of immoral actions that have been performed; he’s concerned with one particular way we tend to get off track. I wonder if this ‘sin of the world’ has anything to do with what John says in yesterday’s passage about the world not recognizing the light (1: 10). We have a hard time recognizing and pointing ourselves toward what would make our lives better. Jesus has come to take care of that problem.
- ‘the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’—while meaningful in its way, John the Baptist’s baptism is like play-acting when compared to the work of the one who follows after him. John’s baptism is in water, one of the world’s most ordinary substances. Jesus will instead be baptizing people in the very essence of God. That’s no small upgrade.
Taking It Home
- For you: Don’t you love how confidently John knows his purpose in the world — wouldn’t it be great to crave that type of assurance? Is there a situation in your life right now in which you’re not quite sure what your role is supposed to be? Maybe a project at work? A friend in need of help? Take a moment to ask God to show you what God would like your role to be. Pray that you would have John’s sense of confidence as you continue to be involved.
- For your 6: It seems like John knows how to respond to Jesus because God had revealed to him ahead of time things about Jesus he couldn’t have known otherwise. Ask God to speak to your 6 about Jesus. Pray that God would in fact reveal Jesus to your 6.
- For our church: While John knows that he gets to play a key part in the exciting things Jesus is about to do on earth, he also has to spend a good deal of time simply waiting or just plugging away at the day to day of his life. Ask God to help our church to do both of these things well: earnestly believe for big promises from God; while also faithfully and joyfully living out the everyday routine of our lives.