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John's First Testimony to Jesus.
(Bethany Beyond Jordan, February, a.d. 27.)
D John I. 19–34.
d 19 And this is the witness of John [John had been sent to testify, “and” this is the matter of his testimony], when the Jews [The term “Jews” is used seventy times by John to describe the ruling classes of Judæa] sent unto him [In thus sending an embassy they honored John more than they ever honored Christ. They looked upon John as a priest and Judæan, but upon Jesus as a carpenter and Galilæan. It is probable that the sending of this investigating committee marks the period when the feelings of the rulers toward John changed from friendliness to hostility. At the first, probably led on by the prophecies of Daniel, these Jews found joy in 102John's coming (John v. 33–35). When they attended his ministry in person he denounced their wickedness and incurred their hatred] from Jerusalem priests and Levites [they were commissioned to teach (II. Chron. xv. 3; Neh. viii. 7–9 ), and it was probably because of their wisdom as teachers that they were sent to question John about his baptism] to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; and he confessed [The repetition here suggests John's firmness under repeated temptation. As the questioners ran down the scale from “Christ” to “that prophet,” John felt himself diminishing in their estimation, but firmly declined to take honors which did not belong to him], I am not [in this entire section (vs. 20–24) John places emphasis upon the pronoun “I,” that he may contrast himself with Christ] the Christ [When the apostle John wrote this Gospel it had become fashionable with many of the Baptist's disciples to assert that the Baptist was the Christ. (Recognitions of Clement 1. 50, 60; Olshausen, Hengstenberg, Godet.) In giving this testimony of the Baptist, John corrects this error; but his more direct purpose is to show forth John's full testimony, and give the basis for the words of Jesus found at John v. 33. The fact that the Jews were disposed to look upon John as the Messiah gave all the greater weight to his testimony; for the more exalted the person of the witness, the weightier are his words. John's own experience doubtless caused him to feel the influence of the Baptist's testimony.] 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? [Malachi had declared that Elijah should precede the Messiah (Mal. iv. 5). The Jews interpreted this prophecy literally, and looked for the return of the veritable Elijah who was translated (Matt. xvii. 10). This literal Elijah did return, and was seen upon the Mount of Transfiguration before the crucifixion of our Lord. But the prophecy of Malachi referred to a spiritual Elijah—one who should come “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” and in this sense John fulfilled Malachi's prediction—Luke i. 17; Matt. xi. 14; xvii. 12.] And he saith, I am not [He answered their question according to 103the sense in which they had asked it. He was not the Elijah who had been translated about nine hundred years before this time.] Art thou the prophet? [Moses had foretold a prophet who should come (Deut. xviii. 15–18), but the Jews appear to have had no fixed opinion concerning him, for some thought he would be a second Moses, others a second Elijah, others the Messiah. The Scriptures show us how uncertain they were about him (Matt. xvi. 14; John vi. 14; vii. 40, 41). As to Jeremiah being that prophet, see II. Macc. ii. 7. Even Christians disagree as to whether Moses refers to Christ or to a line of prophets. Though divided in opinion as to who this prophet would be, the Jews were fairly unanimous as to what he would do. Finding in their Scriptures two pictures of the Christ, one representing him as a great Conqueror, and the other of his priesthood, setting him forth as a great Sufferer, they took the pictures to refer to two personages, one denoting a king—the Messiah—and the other a prophet. The Jews to this day thus divide the Christ of prophecy, and seek to make him two personages.] And he answered, No. [He was not the prophet, either as he or they understood that term. John gives us a beautiful example of humility. Like Paul, he would not be overvalued—Acts xiv. 13–15; I. Cor. i. 12, 13.] 22 They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us What sayest thou of thyself? [Unable to guess his office, they asked him to state it plainly.] 23 He said, I am the voice [It is as though John answered, “You ask who I am. My personality is nothing; my message everything. I shall pass away as a sound passes into silence; but the truth which I have uttered shall abide.” In his answer John shows himself to be the spiritual Elijah, for he declares that he came to do the work of Elijah; viz.: to prepare the people for the advent of Messiah. There are many echoes in the world; but few voices] of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord [prepare the minds and hearts of the people that Christ may freely enter in] , as said Isaiah the prophet. [Isa. xl. 3.] 24 And they had been sent were from 104The Pharisees. [Of all the Jewish sects the Pharisees were most attentive to external rites and ceremonies, and hence would notice John's baptism more than would others. It is interesting to notice that the Pharisees, who were Christ's most bitter opponents, were warned of John about the presence of Messiah from the very beginning.] 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, neither Elijah, neither the prophet? [If you are no more important personage, who do you presume to introduce any other ordinance than those provided for by the law of Moses? The question shows that to them John's baptism was a new rite. Even if proselyte baptism then existed at this time (of which there is certainly no sufficient evidence), it differed in two marked ways from John's baptism: 1. John baptized his converts, while proselytes baptized themselves. 2. John baptized Jews and not Gentiles.] 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize in water: but in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, 27 even he that cometh after me [that is, follows in that way which I as forerunner am preparing for him], The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. [The words “standeth” and “shoe” showed that the person of whom the Baptist spoke had a visible, bodily form. To loose the latchet was a peculiarly servile office. The Talmud says, “Every office a servant will do for his master, a scholar should perform for his teacher, except loosing his sandal-thong.” The greatest prophet felt unworthy to render Christ this humble service, but unconverted sinners often presume to serve Christ according to their own will, and fully expect to have their service honored and rewarded. Taken as a whole, the answer of John appears indirect and insufficient. What was there in all this to authorize him to baptize? This appears to be his meaning: “You demand my authority for baptism. It rests in him for whom I prepare the way. It is a small matter to introduce baptism in water for one so worthy. If you accept him, my baptism will need no explanation; and if you reject him, my rite and its authority are both wholly 105 immaterial.”] 28 These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan [Owing to variation in the manuscripts, we may read “Bethany” or “Bethabara,” or even possibly “Bethabara in Bathania.” Tradition fixes upon the Jericho ford, which is about five miles on an air line north of the Dead Sea, as the site of Jesus' baptism. But this spot is eighty miles from Cana of Galilee, and hence Jesus, leaving it on foot, could not well have attended the wedding in Cana on “the third day” (John ii. 1 ). We must therefore look for Bethany or Bethabara farther up the river. John the Baptist was a roving preacher (Luke iii. 3), and during the forty days of Jesus' temptation seems to have moved up the river Jordan. Fifty miles above the Jericho ford, and ten miles south of the Sea of Galilee, Lieutenant Conder found a ford named 'Abarah (meaning “ferry”), which answers to Bethabara (meaning “house of the ferry”). It was in the land of Bashan, which in the time of Christ was called Bathania (meaning “soft soil”). This spot is only twenty-two miles from Cana. Being beyond the Jordan, it is not in Galilee, as Dr. Thomson asserts. Conder says: “We have collected the names of over forty fords, and no other is called 'Abarah; nor does the word occur again in all nine thousand names collected by the survey party.”] where John was baptizing. 29 On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him [Jesus had just returned from the temptation in the wilderness. This is his first appearance in John's Gospel. The fact that John leaves out all the early history of Jesus shows that he wrote many years after the other evangelists, when all these facts were so well known as to need no mention by him], and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God [Lambs were commonly used for sin-offerings (Lev. iv. 32), and three of them were sacrificed in the cleansing of a leper (Lev. xiv. 10). A lamb was also the victim of the morning (9 A. M.) and evening (3 P. M.) sacrifice (Ex. xxix. 38)—the hours when Jesus was nailed to the cross and when he expired. A lamb was also the victim at the paschal supper. The great prophecy of Isaiah, setting forth the vicarious sacrifice of Christ (Isa. liii. 1–12) depicts him as a lamb, and in 106terms which answer closely to the words here used by John. The Jews to whom John spoke readily understood his allusion as being to sacrificial lambs; but they could not understand his meaning, for they had no thought of the sacrifice of a person. Jesus is called the Lamb of God because he is the lamb or sacrifice which God provided and accepted as the true and only sin-offering—Heb. x. 4–14; I. Pet. i. 19], that taketh away the sin of the world! [The present tense, “taketh,” is used because the expiatory effect of Christ's sacrifice is perpetual, and the fountain of his forgiveness never fails. Expiated sin is this spoken of as being taken away (Lev. x. 17; Ex. xxxiv. 7; Num. xiv. 18). Some, seeking to avoid the vicarious nature of Christ's sacrifice, claim that the Baptist means that Jesus would gradually lift the world out of sin by his teaching. But lambs do not teach, and sin is not removed by teaching, but by sacrifice (Heb. ix. 22; Rev. v. 9). Jesus was sacrificed for the world, that is, for the entire human family in all ages. All are bought, but all do not acknowledge the purchase (II. Pet. ii. 1). He gives liberty to all, but all do not receive it, and some having received it return again to bondage (Gal. iv. 9). The Baptist had baptized for the remission of sins. He now points his converts to him who would make this promise good unto their souls. A Christian looks upon Christ as one who has taken away his past sin (I. Pet. ii. 24), and who will forgive his present sin—I. John i. 9.] 30 This is he of whom I said [for this saying see John i. 15, 27] , After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. [As a man John was six months older than Jesus, but Jesus was the eternal Word. The Baptist therefore asserts here the pre-existence of our Lord.] 31 And I knew him not [had no such certain knowledge of him as would fit me to testify concerning him]; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water. [John baptized not only that he himself might know Christ by the spiritual sign, but also that through that knowledge duly published all Israel might know him.] 32 And John bare witness, 107saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. [The descent of the Spirit served at least two purposes: 1. It enabled John to identify the Messiah. 2. It was, so to speak, an official recognition of Jesus as Messiah similar to the anointing or crowning of a king. It is asserted by some that it was of no benefit to Jesus, since his own divine powers permitted of no addition; but the language of Scripture indicates otherwise—Isa. xi. 2, 3; Luke iv. 17–19; John iii. 34 .] 33 And I knew him not [John's assertions that he did not know Jesus are assertions that he did not know him to be the Messiah. He believed it, as appears from his reluctance to baptize him, but he did not know it. His language to the people shows this (John i. 26). Many of the people must have known Jesus, but none of them knew him to be the Messiah. Moreover, when John denied that he knew Jesus as Messiah we must not take it that he was ignorant of the past history of Jesus. No doubt he knew in a general way who Jesus was; but as the official forerunner and announcer of Jesus, and as the heaven-sent witness ( John i. 6, 7), it was necessary that the Baptist should receive, by personal revelation from God, as here stated, an indubitable, absolute knowledge of the Messiahship of Jesus. Without this, John would not have been truly qualified as a witness. That Jesus is the Son of God must not rest on hearsay evidence. John kept silent till he could testify of his own knowledge]: but he that sent me [thus humbly does John claim his divine commission as a prophet] to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him [John seems to emphasize the abiding of the Spirit. The Spirit of God was also bestowed upon the prophets and the apostles, but in them his power was intermittent, and not constant; visions came to them intermittently, but with Christ the fellowship of the Spirit was continuous], the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. [Christ bestows the Spirit upon his own. If he himself received the Spirit at the time of his baptism, why should 108it be thought strange that he bestows the Spirit upon his disciples at the time of their baptism?—See Acts ii. 38; xix. 1–7; Tit. iii. 5.] 34 And I have seen [that is, I have seen the promised sign], and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. [This is the climax of John's testimony. It was twofold, embracing the results of the two senses of sight and hearing. 1. John saw the dove-like apparition of the Spirit, which convinced him that Jesus was the one to baptize in the Spirit. 2. He heard the voice of the Father, which convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God. As to each of these two facts he had a separate revelation, appealing to a different sense, and each given by the personage of the Deity more nearly concerned in the matter revealed. John was not only to prepare the people to receive Christ by calling them to repentance, and baptizing them for the remission of their sins; there was another work equally great and important to be performed. Their heads as well as their hearts needed his preparatory services. His testimony ran counter to and corrected popular opinion concerning Christ. We see that John corrected four errors: 1. The Jews looked for a Messiah of no greater spiritual worthiness than John himself, but the Baptist disclaimed even the right to unlace the Lord's shoe, that he might emphasize the difference between himself and the Messiah in point of spiritual excellency. 2. The Jews looked for one who would come after Moses, David, and the prophets, and lost sight of the fact that he would be before them, both in point of time and of honor (Matt. xxii. 41–46). 3. The Jews looked for a liberator from earthly bondage—a glorious king; John pointed them to a liberator from spiritual bondage, a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God. 4. The Jews looked for a human Messiah, a son of David. John enlarged their idea, by pointing them to a Messiah who was also the Son of God. When the Jews accept John's guidance as a prophet, they will believe in the Messiahship of Jesus.] 109
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