The geographical setting at the beginning of this passage is Bethabara (or Bethany) beyond the Jordan, which was somewhere in the Judean wilderness (Jn 1:28). In the wilderness, John the Baptist carries out his ministry of baptizing and teaching in preparation of the one “coming after me” (Jn 1:27). First introduced in John 1:6–8, John the Baptist serves primarily in this Gospel as the witness for Jesus Christ. Here,his witnessing reaches its climax with his testimony of Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God.
Did You Know...?
1. Priests and Levites (1:19) served in and around the temple in Jerusalem under the direction of the high priests, who made up the ruling party of the Sanhedrin, the central religious authority of the Jews.
2. “The Christ” (1:20, 25) means “the anointed.” In the Old Testament, this title was given to the king. Over time, the term (“Messiah” in Hebrew) came to designate the future king who would come from the line of David and bring salvation to the nation of Israel. [ref]
3. Pharisees (1:24): The Pharisees were a religious group marked by separation from ritual uncleanness and strict observance of the laws of Moses. They exerted great influence during the New Testament period.
4. The exact location of “Bethabara beyond the Jordan” (1:28) is unknown despite various attempts to identify this place.
5. The Lamb of God (1:29, 36): This expression is found in the Bible only in the first chapter of John. However, we may trace its roots back to the Passover lamb, which was slain to protect the Israelites from death on the eve of the Exodus (Ex 12:1–28). It is with this background in mind that Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7). Another reference to the Messiah as a lamb is found in Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant (Isa 53:7). This simile has likewise been applied to the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:32–35; 1 Pet 1:19).
- John’s Testimony before the Delegation from Jerusalem (1:19–28)
- Questioned by the priests and Levites (1:19–23)
- Questioned by the Pharisees (1:24–27)
- John’s Testimony to Israel (1:29–34)
1. How is the theme of “identity” central to this passage?Hide Answer
Twice the delegates from the Jews asked John, “Who are you?” (1:19, 22). The works of John the Baptist were so well-known that they were getting the attention of the religious authorities, who wanted to know John’s identity. John, however, made it clear that He was not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. Instead, he was only the voice in the wilderness. In contrast, he loudly testified to the identity of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that Jesus was preferred before him (27), far greater than him (27), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (29), He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (33), and the Son of God (34).
2. How is “identity” important in this world? How do you identify yourself? How do you identify Jesus?
What questions did the delegation of the Jews ask John?
Why do you think they pressed John for his identity?Hide Answer
“The Jews” in this context represented the religious authority of the day. While the people in general were also wondering if John was the Christ (Lk 3:15), the religious figures demanded to know the answer out of very different interests. They were not genuinely seeking the truth. Instead, they probably interrogated John because they feared that their own authority might be jeopardized (cf. Mt 21:23–26; Lk 7:29, 30; 20:1–7). It was with this motivation that the religious leaders would later also question Jesus about the source of His authority.
The wording “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed…” in verse 20 is emphatic. John was unequivocal about who he was not. Why are we sometimes hesitant to confess who we are not?
Explain John’s words about who he was. What can we learn from John’s view of himself?Hide Answer
John quoted the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, which was the Lord’s promise of the people’s return from exile. He saw himself as the harbinger who prepared the way for the arrival of the Messiah. A “voice” has no identity of its own. Instead of focusing on his own identity, which the Jewish delegates eagerly inquired about, John turned the people’s attention away from himself to the One who was coming after him. In his mind, the function of his ministry was more important than who he was.
What can we learn about John’s baptism from the question posed by the delegates of the Pharisees (25)?Hide Answer
Apparently, they considered baptism to be associated with the Messiah. In other words, they expected that when the Messiah comes, He would baptize the people. This anticipation may have derived from prophecies about the eschatological washing such as found in Ezek 36:25 and Zech 13:1. John’s baptism, unlike other ritual washings, was accompanied with a call to repentance and warning of the coming judgment (Mt 3:4–10). Therefore, it was natural for his contemporaries to recognize the unprecedented authoritative nature of his baptism and wondered if it was indeed the fulfillment of the Messianic hope.
How does John the Baptist compare himself to the coming One?Hide Answer
Three times the Gospel records that John spoke concerning the Christ: “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me” (1:15, 27, 30). Historically, Jesus’ arrival on the scene was after John’s. But Jesus is in fact the eternal Word who was from the beginning and therefore preceded John. Therefore, Jesus was far superior to John. John added that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal strap. In other words, he was so much inferior to Jesus that even a menial gesture done upon Jesus was considered too lofty.
What can you learn from John with respect to your attitude toward the Lord Jesus?
John denied that he was the Elijah. Why, then, did Jesus say that John was actually the Elijah (Mt 17:10–13)?Hide Answer
John denied that he was the Elijah because the people’s anticipation that Elijah would come as some great and mighty eschatological figure, and he did not want them to view him in that light. It was also possible that he had never received any divine instructions that he would fill that role. However, Jesus pointed out that John was in fact the Elijah spoken of in the prophetic writings (Mal 4:5, 6). John was Elijah in the sense that he was the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ.
In what ways do we also share a similar role as John the Baptist?Hide Answer
Like John the Baptist, we are ambassadors for Christ, leading people to reconcile with God (cf. 2 Cor 5:18–20; Col 1:28, 29).
How is “the Lamb of God” a fitting metaphor for the Lord Jesus?Hide Answer
Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus did not resist His captors nor revile in return, even though He was innocent (Isa 53:5–7; 1 Pet 2:21–24). He committed Himself to the will of the Father and bore our sins on His body. Like the Passover lamb or the lamb for a sin offering, our Lord Jesus was without blemish (cf. Ex 12:5; Lev 4:32; 1 Pet 1:19). Having offered Himself without spot to God, Jesus is able to cleanse us with His blood (Heb 9:14). This perfect sacrifice was prepared by God for our redemption before the foundation of the world (Heb 10:5; 1 Pet 1:18–20). Therefore, Jesus Christ is rightly called the Lamb of God.
What was the purpose of John’s baptism?Hide Answer
According to John, he came baptizing with water that the Christ might be revealed to Israel (1:31). As the subsequent verses show, this revealing took place during Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended and remained on Jesus (Mt 3:16, 17; Mk 1:9–11; Lk 3:21, 22). This fact tells us that while John’s baptism led people to repentance and confession of sins, it also pointed them to Jesus Christ. His baptism culminated in the baptism of Jesus Christ, through which Jesus’ identity was made known to Israel. It was in Jesus that redemption would come to the people of God. That is why John’s baptizing ministry was crucial to the introduction of the Messiah.
How is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus related to His identity as the Son of God?Hide Answer
According to the Messianic prophecies, God would put His Spirit upon His Elect whom He delights (Isa 11:1, 2; 42:1; cf. Lk 4:16–21). He would anoint Him with the Spirit of God so He could bring good tidings to those in need (Isa 61:1). Putting God’s own Spirit upon Jesus served as a direct seal of Jesus’ divinity. This was made visible to all when Jesus was baptized by John, and this sign was accompanied by the voice from heaven declaring Jesus as God’s beloved Son. Not only so, the Spirit of God empowered Jesus to carry out His mission, through which God testified to His divine sonship (Lk 4:1; Acts 10:38; Rom 1:4).
How do the children of God also follow Christ’s pattern in this respect?Hide Answer
Today, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us also testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and heirs of God’s inheritance (Rom 8:9–17; Gal 4:6; Eph 1:13, 14). Because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is so crucial to believers, John the Baptist emphasizes Jesus’ role as the One who “baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33). He upon whom the Spirit descended and remained would Himself baptize with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean that Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit? What does it mean for us to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?Hide Answer
After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus reminded the disciples of His promise and told them, “For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). These words came true when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, enabling them to speak with other tongues (Acts 2:1–4, 32, 33). When the Holy Spirit likewise fell upon Cornelius and the rest who heard the word just as He fell on the disciples on Pentecost, Peter remembered the Lord’s promise concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15–17). This same promise is given to every believer who has repented and been baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, 39). Every believer should boldly and persistently ask the heavenly Father to give him the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus would baptize him with the Holy Spirit the same way He did during the days of the apostles.