Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | November 22, 2007

How would you classify John the Baptist’s message? (Lesson 4: Question 7 Answer)

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

In this question we will be focusing on verses 30 and 31 of our text, which are very similar to verse 15 from lesson 3.  Our verses read as follows:

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.”

An interesting observation should be made before we embark on the answer to this question.  It revolves around the word “revealed” in verse 31, which comes from the Greek ινα φανερωθη.  As a follow up to our lesson 3 question 9 answer the apostle John does use this more ordinary term for reveal or make known.  Nonetheless, let us now endeavor to respond to the question at hand and focus on the significance of this text.  Beginning with verse 30 we encounter a statement that is strangely familiar with verse 15 as we eluded too above. As we discussed in lesson 3 question 5 answer, which covered verse 15, this statement makes it clear that John the Baptist understood that Jesus had an eternal existence.  This is evident from our reading in the English text, however Geerhardus Vos points out how it is more evident in the original Greek:

protos with the imperfect of the verb signifies absolute anteriority as to mode of existence; it relates to the eternal existence of the Lord, usually called his pre-existence (John 1:1, 18).  On this view the conjunction hoti linking together clauses two and three is naturally explained:  in Christ’s eternal existence before time lies the possibility of His appearance and activity under the Old Testament.  There is, therefore, no repetition between clauses two and three. 76 

As Vos points out with the imperfect verb within a causal phrase, οτι πρωτος μου ην, John is making it clear that Christ existed before the Baptist.  For Jesus to exist before John, He had to exist prior to His birth into this world.  There is really no other conclusion that can be made about what this statement means, otherwise it would not make sense.  Vos goes on to suggest that this pre-existence may have also included appearances in redemptive history.  Commonly these are proposed as the visits from the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament to Abraham, Jacob and Joshua to name a few.  We haven’t the time to review these instances individually.  However, we should note that this theory must be handled with care and diligence to ensure that all the ramifications associated with it are taken into consideration.  Nonetheless, we again in this text find another strong support with its reference to Christ’s eternal existence, for his Deity.  Moreover, this will not be the last time in this Gospel to add strength to this doctrine. Thus, let us move on with answering the question at hand in seeking to characterize the theme of John the Baptist’s message. 

In our text and in other references to the message of John the Baptist the theme or the central emphasis is Christ.  This is significant considering all the other topics that were more than likely on people’s minds.  His message could have easily been focused on the corruption in the priesthood, the political problems surrounding Roman occupation, or being ruled by the unclean Edomite Herod.  He could have focused on social activism and enlightened his followers to the injustices impacting the poor.  He could have joined the moral reformers cause and seek to bring his followers under a more scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law, which was thought to be necessary to hasten the advent of the Messiah.  These are not the emphasis that we see in Scripture; instead we gather that John the Baptist preached Christ (John 1:7).  One may object to this conclusion by pointing to Luke 3:8-20, which includes a series of John the Baptist’s responses to ethical questions.  However, the focus should be drawn to verse 10, which indicates that these questions were the peoples response to John’s preaching.  Although it appears that the peoples response was in line with our natural inclination to seek the law, we read in verse 18 that after John answered there specific questions he also responded to them with the gospel.  The gospel we would argue is necessarily Christocentric, since it is inherently concerned with the good news of our salvation procured by Christ.  Thus, it would be incorrect to point to this text from Luke as refuting the response to our question.

This not only goes for the message that was proclaimed by John, but it must also go for the sign that John administered.  This sign that was so associated with John that it was added to his name (The Baptist).  Although, we have labored to convey that this was a sign of judgment (above), this does not preclude us from saying that this sign also pointed to Christ.  We must clarify this by defining the judgment that baptism signified.  First, it signified a judgment that would be imposed on the nation of Israel who was receiving their final ultimatum from John the Baptist.78 They proved to be covenant breakers and John stood as the final covenant attorney bringing lawsuit against the nation on behalf of the Lord.  The sign of baptism, which employed the use of water pointed back to other “water judgment ordeals” in history namely the time of Noah and the Red Sea.  This judgment was realized a generation after the time of Christ in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:2) and dispersion of the Jews.  Second, everything that has already been realized through Israel being another type of Adam78 would foreshadow what is going to happen to the rest of the world.  All humanity who remains “in Adam” are also covenant breakers (Romans 5) and will undergo judgment on the basis of this covenant violation before God.  Thus, the judgment realized in Israel pointed forward to a greater judgment that will be inflicted on the rest of mankind.   Third and finally, it signified the judgment that Christ would undergo as the Second Adam and true Israel on behalf of His people.  Our Lord indicated that he had a “baptism to be baptized with” (Luke 12:50) and He was referring to the cross.  The cross for Christ was a place of judgment where He endured the penalty for covenant breakers, hell, which should have been their destination.  Thus, if we are “in Christ” we are no longer “in Adam” and subject to the forthcoming judgment.  Our representative has already endured the judgment on our behalf to the point of death, yet rose again for our justification.  Our baptism not only signifies judgment, but it also signifies that we are “in Christ” identifying with His death (or judgment) (Romans 6:3-4) and escaping the judgment by being clothed in His righteousness (Galatians 3:27-28).  Interestingly this is where the new covenant sign of baptism and the old covenant sign of circumcision intersect.  Although, this is not the appropriate time to delve into this very deep, we would like to leave the subject with the following quote which ties the two together:   

United to Christ in his circumcision-death, the baptized too come under God’s sword of judgment.  “It is a judicial death as the penalty for sin,” says Kline.  “Yet to be united with Christ in his death is also to be raised with him whom death could not hold in his resurrection unto justification.”  He bears the sanctions, the curse (“cutting off”) and the blessing (justification and life); and we participate in this union through faith.  Ultimately, Jesus’s actions are an eschatological sign of judgment and justification.  “Here the Old Testament prophecy proclaims the New Testament’s deliverance out of the malediction of human circumcision by pointing to the malediction-benediction of the circumcision-resurrection of Christ.” 79 

As we can see there is a rich symbolism that can further be explored in the sign of baptism, however our task in this question was to show how the sign points to Christ.  We also had the burden of reconciling how the sign points to judgment and Christ at the same time.  We believe the explanation provided has done that and helped to answer our question posed as well.  Christ’s mission on earth was characterized by judgment in such a way that the sign of baptism can point to it and to Christ at the same time.  This makes us consider the fact that our salvation from judgment could only come through judgment itself to satisfy the demands of perfect justice.  Thus, we can conclude that the message of John both verbally and symbolically pointed to Christ.

76 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) 323

77 Michael S. Horton God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2006) 148-149

78 Michael S. Horton God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2006) 90, 94

79 Michael S. Horton God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2006) 148

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Responses

  1. […] have already labored in this study to classify the message of John the Baptist (How would you classify john the Baptists message?).  However, for the purposes of the question at hand we would do well to reiterate some of that […]

  2. […] 7.  John almost repeats the statement from verse 15 here in verse 30, do you think this was a common the… […]


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