Having set the stage with his prologue (vv.1-18), John the evangelist now begins the story proper. In this lesson (22 minutes), we cover John 1:19-34, which details the first two of four "days" compressed into the narrative frame of chapter 1.

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19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 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.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

  • Technical notes:
    • The phrase the Jews (v.19) appears only 16 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined, but 70 times in John! The Jews often refers to the Pharisees in the gospel of John, as opposed to the common people.
    • In reference to sandals (v.27), Rabbi Jehoshua b. Levi said, "All works which a slave performs for his master a disciple should do for his teacher, except undoing shoe straps" (96a, Str-B 1:121).
    • The Bethany (or Bethabara, KJV) at which John baptized was on the east side of the Jordan. This is not the Bethany on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.
  • The authority of John the Baptist is under investigation by the priests and Levites (v.19ff).
    • He refuses to allow people to believe his is something he is not.
      • He was not the Messiah. Messianic expectation ran high in the first century, and it was important to distance himself from impostors and political troublemakers.
      • Nor was he Elijah. He did come in the spirit of Elijah (see Mal 4:4-6), but he was not literally Elijah, or a reincarnation of him.
      • Nor was he "the Prophet." This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18, a Messianic prophecy that only Christ could have fulfilled. Many misunderstood this passage in the first century -- Peter set them straight in Acts 3.
    • John identifies himself as the messenger of Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3 who was to prepare for way for the Lord. After the messenger, the Lord himself would pay his people a visit! Be sure to check out these O.T. references if they are at all unfamiliar.
    • His right to baptize is called into question by the Pharisees (v.25ff). John simply points to Christ, who alone is worthy.
    • All the leaders of the religious establishment challenge John's authority. This is the pattern we will see with Christ, the same groups opposing him. Jesus clearly represented a threat to the establishment.
  • Why did John baptize?
    • In the O.T. (e.g., Leviticus), washing was often associated with moral cleansing.
    • In Jerusalem at this time, Jews immersed themselves before they went up to the Temple to worship. Immersion was not considered strange or unusual.
    • In publicly identifying oneself as a sinner, personal humility and solidarity with other penitent Jews was built. In fulfilling the mission of Malachi 4:4-6. it was vital that people specifically repent of sin, and repair their relationships with one another. That was the only way to become people ready for the coming of the Lord -- then as now!
    • John was building a natural bridge not only to Christ, but also to Christian baptism.
  • In 27 AD, Jesus was an unknown (v.26). Despite his divinity and the dire need for religious reform and prophetic preaching, he waited until the time was right before he began his "public" ministry.
  • Now we continue our study of John 1, picking up on the second day of the narrative. The first was covered in verses 19 to 28.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

  • This is day two (vv.29-34).
  • John calls Jesus "the Lamb of God."
    • This is a clear reference to the offering of O.T. sacrificial system (Lev 9:3; 14:13; Rev 5:12). Jesus is to bear our sins.
    • It is also a reference to the Messiah, who in Jewish literature is often a Lamb.
    • The dove is reminiscent of the dove returning to the ark in Gen 9. It's a whole new world, now. In fact, the age to come is breaking into our world. The Kingdom of God has arrived. (Biblically speaking, it has always been there, yet it comes in waves.)
  • John redirects his disciples to Jesus. After all, this was the entire purpose of his ministry.
  • He recognizes Jesus not by his halo, aura, or blond hair and blue eyes (!), but because God gave a sign.
    • Jesus was, and looked like, any ordinary Jewish male of his day.
    • More importantly, the Spirit resting on Jesus showed conclusively that he was the Messiah of prophecy: Isaiah 11:1-2; 42:1.
  • The theme of testimony is strong in John's gospel, the word testimony / testify appearing seven times.
    • There are seven confessions in all
      • 1:34   John the Baptist
      • 1:49   Nathanael
      • 4:42   The Samaritans (4:29)
      • 6:69   Peter
      • 9:38   Blind man
      • 11:27 Martha
      • 20:28 Thomas
    • The "confessions" of Caiaphas (11:50) and Pilate (19:19) are not genuine, but ironic.
    • We come to faith through testimony.
      • Through people we trust, admire, and begin to love.
      • Not through pure logic. (We flatter ourselves.)
      • Recommended: Ron Highfield, Is Christianity Really True?