About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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John The Baptist Denies Being The Christ
 (ch. 1:19-28)

We learn in verse 19 that John the Baptist caught the ears of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They were curious to know just who he was since many people were coming out into the wilderness to hear him speak and to be baptized by him.  The Jewish leaders sent their representatives and asked John who he was. 


When verse 19 speaks of the "Jews", we should not understand these Jews to be the general Jewish public or all the Jews.  The Jews John spoke of here were the leaders of the Jews. 


Those who the leaders sent out to John were priests and Levites.  Remember, the Levite tribe of Israel was the tribe that God appointed to be priest as stated in the books of Moses.  All priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests in the days that John was baptizing people in the
Jordan River.  


In verse 20 John confessed, and the text says, "confessed freely", which gives emphasis to his confession; that he was not the Christ, the long awaited for Messiah of Israel.  The title "Christ" and the title "Messiah" mean the same thing.  "Christ" is Greek.  "Messiah" Is Hebrew. It is clear that everyone was wondering if John the Baptist was the Jewish Messiah who would free them from foreign domination, the Messiah that had been prophesied in the Old Testament.     


In verse 21 the priests and Levites asked John if he was either Elijah.  If John was not the Christ, maybe he might be Elijah who would announce the coming of the Messiah.  Malachi 4:5 and 3:1 tell us that there would be an Elijah type figure that would precede the coming of the Messiah.


John clearly answered that he was not Elijah reincarnate.  With this answer in mind we might want to recall Jesus' words in Mathew 11:14 and 17:12.  There, he said that if you can accept it, John was Elijah.  You might think there is a discrepancy between what John said and what Jesus said.  This is how I view this.  John did not believe he was Elijah who had returned in a reincarnate form.  The Bible does not teach reincarnation, and neither did Jesus when He said that if you can accept it, John was Elijah.  What I believe Jesus meant here is that John came in the spirit of the Elijah that Malachi prophesied about.  As an aside, many Prophetic Futurists believe that another man will come in the spirit of Elijah before the return of the Lord.  Many believe one of the two prophets spoken of in the book of Revelation is in fact this Elijah.


The priests and Levites then asked John if he was "that prophet".  This is in relation to Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses predicted that a prophet, like him, would come to redeem Israel.    


In verse 22, after saying that he wasn’t any of these three people the men asked him just who he was.  They needed to return with some kind of answer. 


In verse 23 John answered by saying, "I am the voice of one calling out in the desert.  Make straight the way of the Lord."  This is a direct quote from Isaiah 40:3.  So, John was not one of the three above mentioned people, but, he, his very existence was a fulfillment of prophecy.  John literally was a lone voice crying out in a real desert, yet at the same time the Jewish nation was in a desert spiritually.  John, a Jew, was crying out in a spiritual desert as well as a literal desert.  He was telling his parched and dry countrymen to repent and return to their God, thus making the way easier for the Messiah to return to them.  We will soon see in John's account that the Jewish leaders refused to hear him.


Note that in verse 24 and 25 there were actually some Pharisees along with the priests and Levites, or, possibly they came later.  These men asked John why he was baptizing if he was not the Christ, Elijah, or that prophet.  What right and by whose authority did he have to baptize Jews? 


When it comes to water baptism, Jews were never water baptized.  Gentile proselytes, that is Gentiles who converted to Judaism, however, were baptized by water into Judaism.  You might then see then why the Jewish leadership was so concerning.  If baptism was never meant for Jews, but for Jewish proselytes, John was baptizing in error.  He was in fact equating Jews with Gentiles and that would have been blasphemous to the Jews.   


It is also interesting to note that pagan religions also baptized their followers.  Christians aren't, and weren't the only ones who baptized people. 


In verse 23 John said that he baptized with water.  We learn elsewhere that this baptism is a baptism of repentance. This means that those who wanted to put their trust in the soon coming Messiah had to first repent.  One needs to repent before believing.  I've said this over and over again, but we need to return to a Biblical understanding of both repentance and forgiveness.  The modern church has adopted worldly ways of thinking in this respect.


The Greek view of repentance was a changing of one's mind when it came to sin.  The Hebrew view of repentance was a walking away from sin, not just changing your mind about sin.  Too often our western Christianity has adopted the Greek version of repentance, but repentance is more than changing your mind about your sin.  It is in fact walking away from a lifestyle of sin.  This is how we should view repentance.


John spoke of the soon coming Messiah, who in verse 26 he said was standing among them.  Whether He was actually standing among them at that very moment we really don't know because John himself did not know who the Messiah was at that point. I would find it very interesting if in fact Jesus was actually standing in the crowd as John spoke these words.  Some might even suggest that the context says Jesus was in the crowd at that very moment.


I often have wondered what Jesus must have been thinking about when he was standing in that crowd listening to John.  He knew John was talking about Him.  He was just waiting for the exact moment to step up and allow John to baptize Him.  I say, "the exact moment" because I am convinced that God has a time-table for all things, and what He does is done at the exact moment. 


In verse 27 John said that he was not worthy to even stoop down and untie the sandals of the soon coming Messiah.  Jews viewed disciples of rabbis to be the slaves of the rabbis.  They were to serve the rabbis in all respects, except, untie their sandals.  John was in fact using a cultural situation to show that He was a slave of the soon coming Messiah.   


I need to mention a contextual problem concerning verse 28.  You will note that the NIV says that John baptized at Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan River.  That would be on the east bank of the Jordan River .  The KJV states that John baptized in Bethabara, beyond the Jordan River.  The question thus arises, "Which version is right?"  The problem stems from the manuscripts we have to translate this passage.  Some manuscripts say Bethany while others say Bethabara.  All manuscripts say "beyond the Jordan " which would be on the east side of the Jordan River.  Scholars say that Origen, (184/185 - 253/254) the second century apologist went to find Bethany on the other side of the Jordan River and couldn't find it.  So, he has Bethabara put in his version of John.  There were apparently two Bethany's, one on each side of the Jordan River.  


The location to this town is somewhat significant because this is where Israel crossed over the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan.  This too was where Elijah was caught up into heaven.  For those who take stock in Biblical typology, this would be one significant place for John to be baptizing and announcing to the coming of the Jewish Messiah

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