John 1:19-28 – Jesus and John the Baptist

When the crowds ask John the Baptist who he is, his answer is a series of confessions concerning who he is not (1:20-21). He “confesses freely” that he is not a messianic figure in such a way that leaves no question, although he claims to be another kind of harbinger of the messianic age. The Gospel of John presents the Baptist as an honest witness honest who gave an accurate testimony concerning Jesus. It is possible that the gospel writer intended John’s three-fold testimony to stand in contrast to Peter’s threefold denial (John 18:17, 25, 27). John the Baptist also denied things, but in his case he was telling the truth!

John the BaptistNot only does the writer state John’s honest testimony in three ways, he confesses three things that he is not (the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet). John’s threefold denial of being the messiah is very broad, covering a variety of messianic expectations in the Second Temple Period.

I am not the Christ. The title is messiah, and many Jewish people in the first century expected an ultimate son of David to appear and re-establish a kingdom in Jerusalem. There was no one expectation, in fact, Qumran expected two messiahs. 4 Ezra expected a messiah who would rule for 400 years (ten generations) and then die.

I am not Elijah. Based on Malachi 4:5-6, many Jews believed that Elijah would return before the messiah came. Peter asks about the coming of Elijah after the transfiguration (Mark 9:9-13) and Jesus identified John as the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Matt 11:14, 17:12). Many thought Elijah might come to the aid of those suffering innocently, as reflected in the mocking of Jesus on the Cross (Mark 15:33-36).

I am not the Prophet. The Prophet was a messianic expectation based on Deuteronomy 18:15-18. In that text God says that a prophet like Moses will someday come and God will put his word in that prophet’s mouth. While it is possible the Deuteronomy passage had Elijah in mind, the Samaritans believed that a messianic prophet would someday come and the Qumran community believed that two messiahs, one of David and one of Aaron would eventually arrive to purify the Temple and the Kingdom. Fourth Ezra 2:18 says the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah will return in the last days.

John identifies himself as the “voice crying in the Wilderness” (1:23) This is an allusion to Isaiah 40:3, but the context of this allusion is critically important. Isaiah 40 is a prophecy describing the return from exile after Jerusalem fell in 586. The prophet is inviting the people of Israel to come out of exile and return to the wilderness where the Lord will meet them and lead them back to the land as he did in the original Exodus.

Like the original Exodus, in Isaiah 40 -55 God will meet the people in the wilderness and care for them, although this time it will be like a return to Eden. The wilderness will blossom and water will flow, and the people will enter the Land once again. Cyrus the Great permitted Judah to return to Judea and Jerusalem beginning in 538 B.C., but relatively few exiles returned, most remained in the Diaspora. Those who returned faced hardships (as described in Nehemiah). The return from exile after 538 B.C. did not fulfil the expectations of Isaiah 40-55 for a peaceful and prosperous Israel living in Zion.

For this reason there were many in the first century who seemed to think the exile continued as long as there was no king in Israel and as long as the “times of the gentiles” continued. Daniel 9 seems to show the exile was far longer than the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah, there will be 70 times 7 years until the restoration of peace to the land and the true Davidic king begins to rules from Jerusalem.

John claims to be an apocalyptic messenger preparing Israel for the long-awaited end of the exile.

Did the people who came to hear John preach understand his message this way? Are there any hints in the first few chapters of John’s Gospel that Jesus sees himself as the messiah?

15 thoughts on “John 1:19-28 – Jesus and John the Baptist

  1. the first thing that comes to my mind when reading about johns 3 denials of being the Christ is simply the fact that in the Johns time the Jews were looking for the messiah in every nook and cranny. it seems that if John needed to deny people more than once then he was likely getting asked a lot and becoming tired of this question. things in Israel where not good and it seems that john goes out of his way to shoot down all the different ideas about the messiah. before reading this I was aware that the Jews had lots of expectations about the messiah but was not aware there were so many different theories as to what he or I suppose they would do. it is especially surprising to know that one idea about the messiah even involved that messiah dying after 400 years.

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  2. In regards to the peoples understanding of Johns message, there seemed to be some confusion among the crowd. There appeared to be a sense of anticipation among the people as John was asked several questions but denied all of them. Questions as covered in your blog like, are you Elijah?, and are you a Prophet? (John 1:21-22) These questions gave insight to who the people were expecting to come due to correlations in the Old Testament. Therefore, I don’t think the people understood Johns agenda as he was ambushed by several questions. Moving forward and examining whether Jesus identified himself as the messiah is a debatable topic in my mind. According to Kostenbberger John wrote his gospel in a way to recognize Jesus as the messiah by using peoples testimonies. One of Johns methods of doing so was by featuring characters that confessed Jesus was the Christ or asked questions relating to his identity as Christ (Kostenberger, 33). One example is John 4:29 where Jesus tells a Samaritan woman everything about her life and she responds with “ Could this be the Christ”. Another example is in John 7:26, where Jesus is giving a speech at the feast and the crowd wonders if Jesus really is the Christ. So even though Jesus never verbally states he is the Christ I don’t think he ever denied those who referred to him as Lord or Christ.

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  3. John 1:35-42 talks about Jesus speaking to Andrew and John and asking them to follow him. If we know what questions were asked to John the Baptist the day before, we know that the Pharisees had no clue what he meant when he said, “the one who comes after me surpasses me because he was before me”. I honestly believe the Pharisees did not come to ask John the Baptist about his apocalyptic teachings, I am sure they wanted to see if he was the Messiah so they could accuse him of falsehood. If we go back and look at the passage I said earlier we can even see that Jesus makes a command to drop everything the disciples were doing to follow him, and it happened. I’m not sure about you, but if someone came up to me and told me to drop what I am doing and follow them, I would probably tell them to get lost. That is not the case in this story that John tells us about. John tells us Jesus asked them to follow, and they did so. I am sure the disciples were not just fools who would follow a complete stranger, they obviously had some clue as to who Jesus was claiming to be. That leads me to believe that Jesus must have known that he was the Messiah, there is no other explanation as to why he would tell the disciples to drop their lives and follow him. Letting go of your job back then was essentially like leaving everything you had and taking on nothing. This was a huge deal and Jesus made it sound so easy. This leads me to assume that Jesus knew exactly what he was asking, and knew exactly what he was to these people, the Messiah.

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  4. I have always thought that it was a bit strange the way the John the Baptist goes about telling who he is. Understanding the reasons why he clarified what he was not, gives a better insight into the text and what is going on. For example, I would not have thought about the fact that the Jews were anticipating Elijah to return before the coming messiah. Since this is something that would have been more commonly known then, it makes more since as to why John the Baptist denied being the Christ, Elijah, and the Prophet. I also thought that the dialog in verses 20-22 was interesting. John is the one to state that he is not the Christ, but it is the priests and Levites who then ask if he is Elijah or the Prophet, without really allowing John to answer their initial question of who he was. John claims the be “the voice of the one calling in the Wilderness” (John 1: 23). He is the one who is preparing the people for the arrival of the coming Messiah. His calling had been to bring attention to the fact that the people needed to be prepared for the Messiah to come and bring an end to their exile.

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  5. I think it is important to understand that although John the Baptist is perceived as having understood, from the outset, the correct nature of Jesus, he was only given this knowledge through divine revelation. But even then, for him to have trusted in this, so to speak, divine intuition in preaching the things he did, he must of had mounds of faith and trust in the Hebrew God. John the Baptist revealed his own character by negative statements, distinguishing himself from Jesus by identifying what he was not. Amazingly, it seems that from reading the synoptics and John that many people understood the ministry of John the Baptist; it was the religious elites who were confused and questioning him. I think this parallels how the general public and religious elite reacted to Jesus, too–or perhaps this is just another proof that those who think highly of themselves are blind. The role of John the Baptist was to inaugurate the great Messiah who would save His people from exile and return them to a peaceful state. Not only that, but this Jesus who gives light to all men, would also come to baptize Gentiles and non-Jews, too. He would, however, baptize them not merely with water but with His Holy Spirit. Jesus knew He was God, even in the beginning chapters of John, because when He is called, for example, the “Lamb of God’ (John 1:29) by John the Baptist, He does not deny it.

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  6. It’s kind of a strange thing to notice first about the passage, but reading through the first chapter of John, I was struck by the humility that John the Baptist showed. Obviously, John was not the Messiah, Elijah, or The Prophet and was well aware of it, but he didn’t claim to be anything but “the voice crying out in the wilderness”. It is such a part of human nature to still want to take some sort of credit or title, and to not have John say something like “I’m the one who God chose before birth to declare the coming of the Messiah” was notable because even though he was filled with the Holy Spirit before birth (Luke 1:15) he’s still human. Instead, he knows that his existence is to point towards the Messiah. As Kostenberger states, “John knows his role; he knows when it is time to make room for the one whose ministry he has come to prepare,” (Kostenberger, 53). When John meets Jesus, he knows that this man is way more important than himself saying, “the straps of whose sandal I am unworthy to untie” (John 1:27). His humility is something that gives him integrity as while he points to Christ, his words can be taken in a truthful manner. This is perhaps an element of why John’s followers turn to follow Jesus as quickly as they do.

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  7. God is a personal God. He loves to speak to His children and guide them to life. A life full of fruit, refreshment and rest. In John 10:27 it says, “My sheep listen to My voice, I know them and they follow me.” When we begin to listen for His voice, the more we become familiar with it. Thus the more we follow Him, the deeper the connection with the Father becomes.
    In your post above you said, “God will meet the people in the wilderness and care for them, although this time it will be like a return to Eden. The wilderness will blossom and water will flow, and the people will enter the Land once again,”(Long, 2011). I love this imagery of a wilderness blooming into a place flowing with water. A place where people will long to enter.
    It is kinda like our hearts. If they do not have water and blood running through them, they will not be able to beat or function correctly. They need to be taken care of. This is just like how we need His living water to run through us and for His blood to cover us. He is the longing of our very being and the One who keeps our hearts beating.
    Andreas J. Kostenberger says, “Jesus identifies himself plainly as the eschatological bringer of such abundant divine provision. He introduces himself as the one who can meet the longing of every human heart,”(Kostenberger, 75). He is the only one who can meet our every need and He is our eternal drink. In John 3:37, Jesus says, “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”
    My hope, is that we come into His presence with our anxiety, hopes and fears; whatever we are carrying and that we ask Him for a drink. A drink that will sustain us through eternity.
    We need to continue to go to Him when we are thirsty, for He is the only one who can satisfy.
    Thank you Jesus

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  8. One thing I wonder about is who is The Prophet supposed to be? During the time of Jesus, I wonder if anyone could have claimed to be The Prophet and then said something very deep and meaningful. If some random person did claim to be The Prophet, I wonder how many people would have actually believed him because they wanted it to be true. I feel like it would be next to impossible for anyone to claim to be the long awaited Prophet and say something that is deep and thought-provoking and actually have people believe you. On the other hand, some Jewish people might have been so desperate to have someone powerful enough to come in and save them from the Roman rule, that it might not have been too hard to convince people you are who they are looking for. Even today, people all over the world have their theories about who the Anti-Christ that the book of Revelation is talking about especially with all of the bad things going on in the world today. Too often, it seems, people are quick to make their own theories, but if someone were to come out of nowhere and be who they are waiting for, they will not believe them.

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    • Cathy, I like the ideas that you present in this post. it makes you think more about how many people can proclaim themselves to be something their not then and even today. there is a lot of people who proclaim today that they are the anti-christ or some other kind of prophet which we as christians know that it is not true what they say. I like how you were able to tie both then and now thoughts together.

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  9. In this article at the bottom of the article it asked a couple questions about Jesus. The one question asked really caught me off guard and made me think about Jesus and knowing why he was here on earth. I think and believe that Jesus knew his mission and ministry the very minute he could comprehend what was going on around him. If he was fully man then I would have to believe that he had to be three, four or five years old until he could fully understand how the world works and how he will make a difference. So, going off the bottom question to the article, “Are there any hints in the first few chapters of John’s Gospel that Jesus sees himself as the messiah?”. To answer this question, I think that we have to look at the other gospels to truly understand if Jesus needed signs, he was the Messiah or if he knew. The one story I think about is when Jesus was lost from his parents when they visited the temple (Luke 2:41-52). So, with this in mind he was talking some deep and spiritual thoughts to these very high and well-educated men. While he was in the temple, he would give signs to the people and teachers there about his father in heaven. With that in mind I think he knew that he had his mission and knew what he had to do as the messiah. I believe that Jesus was sent here and knew what he had to do when he was able to fully understand as a young boy. This meaning he was fully man and fully God all at the same time.

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  10. John the Baptist or rather John the Witness seems to be one of the first people to understand and stay that Jesus is the Messiah, at least within the Gospel of John. However, in relation to John’s honest testimony, I wonder if it was quite common for people to believe or question if he [John the Baptist/Witness] was the Messiah, or any of the others they have been waiting for since the prophecies in Isaiah. I wonder if we are missing a portion of the story or if a portion was left out because it seems as if it goes straight to John declaring that he is not the messiah, just from the priests and rabbis questioning ‘Who are you?” Did John already know why they were coming to him? I may be looking too much into it but who knows. After John states that he is not the messiah, the people go down the line and ask him “well are you Elijah then??” and then if he is a prophet. John answers that he is not to both questions. To provide the priests and rabbis with an answer to take back to those who sent them John states in reference to Isaiah 40: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23 NIV) I had not looked as deeply into the context of Isaiah 40 prior to reading this post so it is very cool to see that John was referencing to a prophecy that was “inviting people of Israel to come out of exile and return the wilderness where the Lord will meet and lead them back to the land as he did in the original Exodus” (Long, 2011) Meaning that John was referencing to the Messiah coming, inviting them to come out of exile. John seemed to be a ‘modern-day’ prophet.

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  11. The reason that the Jewish leaders sent Priests and Levites to John with the purpose of finding out who he was. And when asked who he was, John the Baptist told them the honest truth. He said, “I am not the Messiah (John 1:20).” He told them right away that he was not the promised anointed one they were waiting for. Then the leaders asked if he was Elijah, and he responded no to that question as well. At this point the leaders were probably getting annoyed with John because they then asked him if he was a prophet. And he answered no to that question. And then they were like tell us who you are so we can go and tell the ones who sent us. John the Baptist quoted scripture to answer yet another one of their questions but they didn’t understand it. And then they asked him why he baptizes people. “I baptize with water, John replied, but among you stands one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not fit to untie (John 1:26-27).”
    He basically tells them look I’m not the guy you’re waiting for. I’ve been sent to prepare the way for him. But the guy you are waiting for is already here among you. He already answered their questions, John knows he is not the Messiah or a prophet or Elijah. You would think that if the prophet Elijah came back he would have announced himself as the prophet that the Jews have been waiting for. John tells them the one that is coming he is unfit to untie his sandals. Which emphasizes the humility that John has. Because untying someone’s sandals was a task for slaves, and yet John sees himself as unworthy to even do such a task as that. And to answer the second question I don’t think Jesus thought that he was the Messiah. I think he knew he was the Messiah. Because of his closeness with God. As well as his birth, I’m sure Mary and Joseph would have told him of his birth story by the time he started his ministry. In Luke 2 tells the story of when Mary & Joseph along with Jesus and their family went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. And when it was time to leave they left on they way back they realized Jesus was missing. They found him at the Temple sitting, and talking, with the teachers of the law asking then questions (2:46). Mary asked Jesus why have you done this, and Jesus response was this: “Why were you searching for me? He asked Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:49).” Even at a young age Jesus knew about his connection with God.

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  12. I believe that the people that came to hear John the Baptist’s messages still perceived them to be true. It would be hard to come up with a conclusion because we obviously weren’t there to hear of these teachings, we can only read them today through our Bibles. I like that John denied himself in front of everyone else. The fact that he told people that he is not a messiah, a prophet and that he identified himself as a “voice crying in the wilderness”. It speaks a lot of his kind of character because HE knew that Jesus would come to those in the wilderness. If a pastor today is honest about who he is, and what he is not, the chances that the crowds will understand their messages about the Truth are far more likely to be understood than if they were preaching and then identified themselves to be a prophet. John knew about the light of God, he came to bear witness to those without the light. I really enjoy verse 26, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John is just doing what he is called to do by God. I think the darkness in some of these areas was so dominate some of the people were confused at hearing any truth, and some were so desperate to hear this kind of news. Which made it difficult for John to preach. However, he still delivered the message

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  13. I love how John is very clear with who he is not. He was on a mission from God because he could have taken the easy road and claimed to be Elijah or the Christ but he was very clear that he was neither. The Jews thought they knew what he was but they did not he was a witness to the person that they had looked for, for years but in the end who they would reject. John the Baptist was not what they expected just like Jesus was not what they expected. The Jews wanted to put John in a box just like they wanted to put Jesus in a box because they wanted to know who he was and what he was all about. They thought Jesus was there to establish an earthly Kingdom and to overthrow the Roman oppression on Israel but Jesus’ plan was much bigger than that. Just like John was very clear that he was not the Messiah or Elijah, Jesus was very clear that he was and is the Messiah. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God in verse 35 leading to some of John’s very own disciples to leave John to follow Jesus. In verse 49 Jesus confirms Nathanael proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God further indicating that Jesus is the Messiah to which the prophets spoke.

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