How the Apostle John understands John the Baptist
In our present age, Christmas has become a vague religious holiday, lacking definitive biblical substance. Most often we put out manger scenes of Jesus lying in a manger surrounded by sheep, and oxen, and even a donkey, perhaps the one that Mary rode on. Perhaps your manger scene has a shepherd or two, but they are usually missing. Instead, we have the three wise men with their gifts. Surprisingly, there were nowhere near the birth of Jesus and only met him after Joseph and Mary had returned with Jesus to Nazareth. So, people through observation simply believe that the three wise men, and there were possibly more by the way, they only settled on three wisemen due to the gifts that were given. In fact, one wiseman was turned away for bringing fruitcake.
When we come to the Gospel of John, it is simply stylistically different than the other three Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, in John’s Gospel, John in not announced as John the Baptist, but rather, John the Witness. In a bit of sarcasm, the Apostle John indirectly calls John the Baptist the first Jehovah witness!
It is interesting that it is the Gospel of John where you can differentiate the type of Bible you have. In all recognized publishers of the Holy Bible, it is very clear that they translate John as saying that Jesus is God and rightly so, as the earliest Greek manuscripts all say so. A Jehovah Witness’s bible does not have a recognized publisher and translates that Jesus was a god, lower case “g”. Here is how it out to be read:
John 1:1–14 (NIV): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John’s Gospel is so unique to paint the advent of God, God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth and his cousin, John the witness. Now, other Gospels have John as the voice in the wilderness, and he is that too. Here is another way that the person of John the Baptist was explained in the O.T.
Isaiah 52:7–10 (NIV): 7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
To have watchmen, there must be the ability to be witnesses and John, just like the disciples, was a very important one.
According to today’s story, the religious establishment came to investigate John. Think of these people as the University Department of Religion. Frankly, they didn’t know what to make of him. It was as if these religious experts shined a bright flashlight into the face of John and demanded, “Who are you?”
He didn’t dress like all of them. Actually, let’s read the line of questioning that came from these highly religious people:
John 1:19–28 (NIV): 19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Let me update you if this were happening today in context. The priests are asking what John did, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, considered himself to be. Being that there were a wide variety of opinion that existed within Judaism itself, what brand did he side with? Was he a Hellenized Jew like a Pharisee? Was he an old school Jew like the Sadducee? Was he a scholarly Jew like the Essenes? Was he freedom fighter Jew like the Zealots?
It would be like asking a Christian are you a Calvinist? Pre-Millennialist? Arminian, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian? Are you high church or low? I absolutely love John’s answer. While they try to pigeonhole him, he keeps answering “no” to all the labels. I am not the Christ. I am not Elijah. I am not a prophet. I am a witness to what is to come! Insomuch, we should call John, not a Baptist, but rather, Dr. No!
There is a question not asked by this text that solves the riddle of this section and it is this:
Who or what are you looking for?
- Their opinions
- Their convictions
- Their understanding
- Who is right?
- Who should be get behind with our money?
- Who will give us what we want?
John was martyred. So was Jesus. So were his disciples. They got what they wanted, and they were waiting for someone different to be that Messiah and they’ll still waiting today.