Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | October 6, 2007

Lesson 4: John 1:19-34

Text: John 1:19-34

 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He 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.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.   29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 

Brief Commentary on the Text:

We are now entering a new section of John’s Gospel after concluding the prologue or introduction in the first 18 verses of chapter 1.  Our text in this lesson begins a larger section, which is characterized as the events that reveal Jesus as the Christ.  In this broader section that will take us through chapter 4, it is very intentional in substantiating the credentials of this claim.  In fact this characteristic supports our thesis that the purpose of this Gospel is, as John states it in verse 30 and 31 of chapter 20, that the things are intentionally written that we “might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God”.  Thus, we begin this section with our text above, with John the Baptist proclaiming his message in the desert.  This is significant, because as stated in our previous lesson, Israel was without the prophetic word from the Lord for about 400 years.  Since the prophet Malachi, Zechariah and Haggai returned with the exiles to Judea the word of the Lord had been silent after their passing.  Of course, they still had the Old Testament where God’s Word from previous generations was preserved, however no new revelation had occurred.  In fact only one ruling office from the Old Covenant was still in operation and it as well had a period of cessation during the exile, which was the priesthood.  Thus, with the office of Prophet and King no longer occupied, the stewards and caretakers of the flock of Israel were the Levitical priests.  As the sole office overseeing the covenant community it was only proper that they would send a delegation to validate John the Baptist’s credentials.  We should not assume that this was an irregular occurrence in the religious life of Israel.  It was a period of anticipation under oppression by foreign lords, they were eager to seek deliverance from their covenant Lord.  In Acts 5:33-39, Gamaliel’s counsel reveals to us the rise of at least two “charismatic” individuals who “claimed to be somebody” seizing upon Israel’s hope of a deliverer.  It is assumed that one of these individuals was a source of the turmoil during the reign of Archelaus, which was a probable reason for Joseph being directed to Galilee rather than settling in Judea (Matt 2:21-23).  This background will help us to understand the purpose of the exchange we will be reviewing in our text.  Whether it was for good or ill intentions the priests and Levites were commissioned by Jerusalem to check out John the Baptist in the desert and clarify his credentials.

The response that this delegation receives from John the Baptist must have caught them off guard.  Staying consistent with his message, John, does not point the inquisitors to anything within himself but points them to Christ.  As we will see in a closer examination of this text, John does not seek glory for himself, but seeks to glorify Christ.  Just as the best man in a wedding does not seek to be the center of attention, he assists and serves the groom ensuring that union with the bride is not disrupted.  This is how John himself will describe his role later in this Gospel (John 3:29).  As a faithful witness (John 1:7-8) we see in this text that John fulfills his role by testifying about the Light (Christ) and appealing to his eyewitness testimony to substantiate the validity of his claims.   Although, John was quite ascetic (Matt 11:18) embodying the ideals of those who seek to be “spiritually disciplined”, unlike those who engage in these practices resisted the tendency to look within to the inner light and look outside to Christ.  Certainly, this was his true “purpose” in life as is stated in Luke 1:76-80:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

As we continue in our examination of this text let us be mindful of our own desires to look within to the inner light rather than look outside of ourselves to Christ.  For it is in Christ alone, the Lamb of God, that we can be rescued from the darkness and be delivered from the “shadow of death”.    

Study Questions:

1.  How long had it been since Israel had a prophet in their midst? 

2.  Why did the Jews ask if John was Elijah?  Does John contradict Jesus’ words in Matt 11:14 or Mark 9:13? 

3.  Why are the Jews so persistent in making John give them an explanation of himself?  

4.  What was John the Baptist’s role in redemptive history?  Why was it significant?  

5.  Was John’s Baptism the same as ours?

6. Why was Jesus, called the Lamb of God?  How could He possibly take away the sin of the world?   

7.  John almost repeats the statement from verse 15 here is verse 30, do you think this was a common theme of his message?  If so, how would we classify John’s message?  

8.  Do these events happen before, during or after the Baptism of Jesus? 

9.  What is and is not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

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  1. […] briefly eluded too in our opening comments to this section, a delegation of inquisitors were dispatched from the religious establishment with the mandate of […]


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