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§ 111. Message of the Sanhedrim to John at Bethabara.

Meanwhile John, with his disciples, had been traversing both shores of the Jordan; and just at that time he was on the east side of the river, in Perea, at Bethany, or Bethabara.243243   Two different names given to the same place at different times, both having the same meaning, “a place of ships,” “a place for crossing in ships” (a ferry). See Lücke on John i. 28; Winer’s “Biblisches Realwörterbuch,” i., 196, 2d ed. The Jewish Sanhedrim, the highest ecclesiastical authority, had at first quietly suffered him to go on preaching repentance. But when his followers and influence increased to such an extent that men were even inclined to look upon him as the Messiah, that high tribunal thought it best to send a deputation244244   John. i. 19, seq. to obtain from his own lips an explanation of the calling in which he laboured.

John did not at once give as positive a statement as was desired, but 160satisfied himself with giving a negative to the popular idea which had probably caused the deputation to be sent [“I am not the Christ”]. But as he accompanied this denial with no further explanation in regard to himself, the messengers were compelled to press him with further questions. They naturally asked him, then, whether he wished to be considered as one of the great personages who were looked for as precursors of Messiah; presupposing that only in this sense he could assume a Divine calling to baptize. John continued to give curt replies, just enough to meet each separate question. Although in a spiritual sense he was the Elias who was to precede Messiah, he denied that he was so (i. e., in the carnal sense in which they put the question and would understand the answer). He described himself only in general terms, not liable to perversion, as the one through whom the voice of God called upon the nation to repent and prepare for a new and glorious revelation that was at hand. Humbling himself, as the bearer merely of a prefigurative baptism, he pointed to the mightier One who should baptize with the Spirit, who already stood, unrecognized, in their midst. His remark, “ye know him not,” was doubtless founded upon the fact (which he did not utter) that he knew him, as he had before been revealed at his baptism.

These answers to the deputation are less clear and full than those which the Baptist gave for the warning and instruction of individuals, as recorded in the first Gospels. As the ruling powers had little favour for John, he had good reason to suspect the intentions with which the Sanhedrim had sent their messengers. Hence the brevity and reserve with which he answered them.

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