Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we thank You that You have been good to us in ways we don’t often understand. I pray that we would be a people who are receptive to the person and work of Christ and discover more and more through this book and other resources what it means to be one who approaches You, comes and sees You, follows You, remains with You and to discover the terms of discipleship. We pray in Christ’s’ name. Amen.
We have seen that as we looked at the prelude or prologue to John’s gospel that it gives us an extraordinary portrait that is not to be found in the synoptic gospels. In John 1:1-18 we have a picture of Jesus as the cosmic Christ who preceded the heavens and the earth. In fact, it was through Him that all things were made, nothing came into being apart from Him. We saw His preexistence, His work as Creator, His work as the One who illuminates the work of the Father and reveals Him to the world, as the One who is the Word, and the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.
It’s pretty common in our time for people to confuse the idea of Christ with some kind of cosmic consciousness. It’s a common notion that when we hear Christ these days especially from folks who are involved in the new religious synthesis, He is not just Jesus but is a force or principle or a higher level of consciousness that anyone can ultimately attain. This is simply not the case, from the gospels and epistles Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One, and a specific Person as part of the Trinity. He was predicted in the Old Testament, specifically, we learn about who He would be, where He would be born, what He would accomplish and so forth. This is something that is related to a person and not just to a force. Jesus is the Christ and there is no other manifestation there is no other God-Man. There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved it’s the name of Christ. He makes this message available to all people.
The scriptures, which emphasize this, especially as John was writing later in the 1st century, have to deal with this problem. People were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh because they were becoming a little more Gnostic as time went by. He has to refute that and say that the Word really did become one of us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. So in this gospel, we see the gospel of the divine Christ while we also see His humanness. We see Jesus is the Son of Man but also is the Son of God this is going to be emphasized throughout the connection between the two. He is the One who manifests the glory of the Father.
The Law was given through Moses (v.17) but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. We have this contrast. The Law led up to Christ but you see the Law could never save anybody. The Law could only bring us to a point of seeing God’s perfection and righteous requirements but nobody could keep the Law. The Law was never intended to save people. It instead was designed to be a schoolmaster to drive us to dependence upon the One that God would send the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. He alone fulfilled the perfect and righteous requirements. Now it is possible for us to be righteous before God because Christ offers His very life to those who would follow Him. The perfection of Christ is placed in our account. It is through that then, that we become people who through the power of the indwelling Spirit are capable then of fulfilling the righteous demands of the living God.
As we look at the last part of John 1:19-51, I want us to just walk through certain themes. I’ll comment on various components. I want to tell you that this is a gospel that is so rich and so multi-layered that we could spend an enormous amount of time unpacking all the profound implications that are here. If I did that we would have a very lengthy study indeed so instead I’m kind of moving us through more or less a chapter at a time. Do I expect a lot of people to read these? No, but I’m still going to post them and make a few comments on the material along the way.
In John 1:19 we have a picture of the testimony of John. That’s an important word because I want you to understand that this section relates to testimonies. We will have testimonies of men whose lives were affected by their encounter with Jesus Christ. The testimony of John is followed by the testimony of two of these disciples. We see later in chapter 1:35, the account of Andrew and an unnamed disciple. We also see Philip and Nathaniel. These are all testimonies of their encounters with this One. These testimonials, which are the word martyria, are the word for testimony. Does it have a familiar ring to it? It should – martyr – a martyr was one who bore witness to or testimony of another. These are accounts of people who had some personal encounter with Him so that He is not merely a principle but a Person. They must receive and come to know and welcome Him into their very lives.
If we understand this idea, we’re going to see that this section of John, particularly 1:19-51, gives us a portrait of the nature of conversion and the nature of discipleship. We’ll see men coming even here in slightly different ways to Christ. I want you to observe that there’s an incarnational dimension here where John focuses on these kinds of historical events and uses them to paint a theological tapestry but his primary concern as I see it here, if for us to understand what conversion and discipleship is really about. How does one encounter Him? How does one now grow in relationship to Him?
This is the testimony of John the Baptizer who was introduced in verses 6-8, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.” This is a hint- an anticipation- because people will inquire of him. Who are you? Who do you claim to be? He’ll in effect say I’m not the light. I point beyond myself to the One who is the light.
John 1:19-20, “ Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” That word would be the Anointed One and there is a good history that led up to that particular word.
Before I go any further though you’ll see it says the Jews sent to him priests and Levites. Now it is interesting because the word Ioudaios is used 71 times in John’s gospel. Many have said it’s ascribing to the Jews evil behaviors, disbelief, rejection and rebellion. You must understand it actually and especially focuses on the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and especially those who had authority over the temple. This is not an anti-Semitic gospel. Jews wrote it, about Jews and about One who is, in fact, the Jewish Messiah. It can’t be anti-Semitic. It’s rather focusing on some Jews, in fact, it even says of a Jewish man that the Jews put him out of the temple. You see where I’m going with that? It’s the same sort of misunderstanding that will, in fact, form the kind of anti-Semitic comments or claims about Mel Gibson’s, The Passion, but it’s really lies and misunderstanding of what that term means.
The Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites, leaders from Jerusalem, because he was causing something of a ruckus. After all, thousands were coming to this guy and he was a rough looking character. We find from the other gospels that he dressed in a rough manner with a leather belt. He ate locusts, which by the way were kosher. It was one of the clean insects you could eat. The fact is John was not your ordinary character. He was very much a prophet in the line of Elijah. We are invited to see obvious parallels between him and Elijah. Elisha would be more a portrait in many ways of Jesus. You might even say Elijah is to Elisha as in some ways as John the Baptizer was to Jesus. There’s an analogy there because Elisha had a double portion and you see a lot of miracles like the feeding of a multitude and raising the dead that are similar to some of the miracles we see in the life of Jesus. In any case, John was a rough-hewn character indeed. People were flocking out because you see the concept of a prophet coming back was something radical and fantastic after four centuries of prophetic silence. The last prophet was Malachi in 425 B.C. When the word got out that one who was coming with the authority and power of a prophet everyone flocked out to see him. This spiritual desert, this darkness, this dirth was now suddenly being overcome by one who would point to the light that was dawning. He was not the light but he pointed to the Light that would come.
This was an exciting idea and you could well imagine the more interest it caused the more concerned the Jewish leadership became. Who are you? Who do you claim to be? He answered – I am not the Christ (v.20), if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not the Messiah. I’m not the Anointed One. So then they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” (v. 21a) That’s an interesting thing because if you turn to Malachi 4:5, you see the idea though of Elijah and certainly this was something that was being developed. “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” In Mark 8:27- 29 speculation was rife about this concept. “Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said, “John the Baptist (obviously this would be after John the Baptist’s death and so they say you’ve come back from the dead), others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” This is the question all of us must ultimately answer.
There’s this issue here but I’d also like you to turn to Matthew 11:14, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come.” So what does that mean? Turn to Luke 1:17, putting it all together, “And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah…” So in one sense, he’s Elijah but in another sense, he’s actually one who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. He’s not the fulfillment of all that’s promised yet. There’s this other image of the fullness that will come.
In any case, they ask him about that, he’s not the Messiah, he’s not Elijah, then are you a prophet? This is an illusion to Deuteronomy 18:15, which talked about the fact that Moses predicted, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you- from your fellow Israelites; up must listen to him.” So they ask, are you that prophet, the one who would come? And again he answered no. So John, articulating the essence in one regard of the relationship with Christ is one who denies himself and points beyond himself to another. True discipleship is where you point beyond yourself and lead people to another. Rather than lifting up and exalting himself because he could well have been tempted to so, after all the crowds were large and he had a powerful impact, instead he points beyond himself. This was not just an act of personal humility where he’s focusing on himself. There are certain perverse forms of humility that will do that. The person is actually all preoccupied with himself or herself. True humility occurs when you are preoccupied with another- when you are preoccupied with the grace and person of God. Your eye is off of your self and that is exactly what John is in effect doing.
John 1:22, “Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John then speaks and if you go back to Isaiah 40, a fairly well-known text at the time, we hear about a voice crying in the wilderness. Also Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God.” John 1:23, “John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” In effect John is telling us that, I have come in the wilderness of the world’s need and in doing so the gospel is pointing men and women to the One who alone can satisfy the world’s need- nothing else will do. We seek position, power, possessions, prestige and discover again and again none of those things really satisfy our deepest longing and our deepest needs. Here is the one who can actually prepare the way and in effect, it’s also a hint about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There’s a very real sense in which you have to prepare a way for the Lord in your life- in your own heart. You have to clear a highway for Him to come so He removes all the crooked in conduct and narrow in outlook and He opens up a way to Himself. There’s an anticipation of that idea or dimension in discipleship.
John 1:24, “(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)” This is already a hint of what’s to come. If we know the gospels at all, we know that just to use the word Pharisee was a hint of opposition and rejection. It’s already anticipating the drama that will continue to unfold and reach a climax with the passion narrative.
They are very persistent. They’re still not quite satisfied with the idea of one crying in the wilderness. John 1:25, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” What authority do you have? The Jews had these areas where they would baptize Gentiles and so proselytes would go and be baptized, immersed, and they would come out and become Jewish proselytes. They also had ceremonial cleansing. The idea of baptizing a Jew would be something quite different. The only way in which there’d be a basis for baptizing someone who was already Jewish would be that there is a new age, a new dimension, dawning. What is this message that you’re communicating? What is this new thing that is occurring? Some kind of transition is being hinted at here.
John 1:26, “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize.” Again this anticipates the response of the Pharisees- they never really do get it. They never do know Him. Although it does mention in the other gospels that some of the Pharisees did come to believe Him but they were secretive about that but most of them never came to know Him.
John 1:27, “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” You see when you had a disciple of a master; the disciple even then would still not do the work of a slave- to untie the thong of a sandal was something only a slave would do. He says I’m not even worthy to treat Him as if I were a slave. You see the exaggeration there, the emphasis that he’s making. He’s developing this theme. He is so much higher than I. I can’t even function in the role of a slave before Him- let alone be one who is familiar in a casual way. There’s a sense of authority- One who’s coming in power. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.
John 1:28, “These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing.” Frankly, we don’t have a clue as to where that was- somewhere in the province of Perea, which is on the other side of the Jordan but nobody knows what that Bethany was. It’s not the Bethany that’s near Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. This is a different one- all this took place in the wilderness.
John then was a prophet. John was Jewish, in fact, he was related as a cousin- he was connected with Elizabeth. He was fully Jewish.
His water baptism was negative rather than positive. It cleansed but it bestowed no gift by which you could stay clean- only Jesus could supply the gift that would keep us cleansed.
We have this portrait then of John prior to the actual arrival of Jesus but we’ve already seen Jesus in this marvelous prologue that lifts Him up and gives us a marvelous portrait of who He is.
This all takes place on the first day and then there’s the second day. John 1:29, “On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In verse 36 he says it again- Behold, the Lamb of God. Other than Stephen’s use of the phrase, the Lamb of God, you don’t find this until the Revelation. We have this image here- a different way of looking at Him. Paul never calls Him the Lamb of God in that way. We see this picture. What does that Lamb of God imagery mean? John is given an insight. John has already baptized Jesus and he’s been led by prophetic insight to recognize Him as the One for whose coming Israel was seeking.
John 1:30, “This is the one about whom I said, “After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because He existed before me.” This goes back to verse 15 and John’s earlier testimony. He’s referring back to his earlier testimony but now he says and at that point, “I did not recognize Him but I came baptizing with water so that He could be revealed to Israel.”(v.31)
John 1:31, “Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on Him.” It was by divine revelation, divine disclosure, as a gift of God that John was able to recognize Him. By the way, that is how all spiritual truth is apprehended at the end of the day- it is something that is a gift of God. God gives us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the spirit of illumination and the heart who wants to find Him. There’s a divine disclosure in which we can come to grasp that. In this case, it’s when he saw the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven.
John by the way, unlike the synoptics, in this particular account, focuses on the Spirit (mentioned 3 times). The synoptics mention the baptism itself and the testimony of the Father. Part of the reason for this is the idea of that the Spirit- He’s the One who is going to baptize you in the Spirit and with fire- the idea of the Spirit coming upon Him. Now that idea was known in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God. He would come and anoint and empower some kings, prophets, judges and so forth but it was not a permanent affair nor was it really internal. We have something very unique here. This is something for the first time- He remained upon Him. The Spirit is now permanently upon Him and for the rest of His ministry, Jesus will walk in the power of the Spirit. In fact, He will be the One who opens the gate so that we can be baptized with the same Holy Spirit so that we can enter into a communion with Him as members of the body of Jesus Christ. We have these anticipatory concepts that are being conveyed in this text.
We have several dimensions here. How would a Jewish observer, hearing John’s testimony, associate, behold, the Lamb of God? One might associate the offering of Isaac. You recall when Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, in Genesis 22:7-8, “Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together.” Parenthetically in verse 5, “So he said to his servants, “You two stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you.” Abraham didn’t know how that was going to happen but Hebrews tells us he was convinced God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be. That’s a powerful and radical understanding. The point is one could well associate the Lamb of God with one who takes our place, a substitute; which is what actually happens of course in this imagery. God will provide the Lamb.
I want to stress something parenthetically here. We have something that is utterly unique in the world- only in the biblical vision do we have God sacrificing for us. It’s to be found nowhere else. You will not find God suffering for people anywhere else. This is unique. He suffers in order that through His suffering we might know Him. He suffers not only to pay for our sins but also to put us in a condition where now we can be welcomed into His very presence and become a part of His eternal family. His intention then is to go to that great extreme, that level of descent, in order to raise us up into newness of life. It took something that radical. That’s why Galatians puts it so well. If it were possible to keep the law- if righteousness came (by works) by keeping the law- what about the work of Christ? What is he going to conclude? Christ then, if that were the case, died needlessly. Such a radical thing would not have been necessary. The law condemned us. It did not save us. It is a schoolmaster that would lead us to faith and reveal the perfect character of God and His expectations that could not be met by us. He Himself underwrites the cost of His own creation and in doing so makes it possible for us to be people of whom it is said- the sin of the world has now been taken away and placed on the Lamb of God.
Another way of looking at it would be perhaps some might associate it with Isaiah 53 and the passage of the Suffering Servant. Whenever one does Jewish evangelism this is the passage you’d normally start with because it’s the clearest, most explicit portrait of Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. There are obvious reasons why this is the case. Many Jews, especially starting with Maimonides, tried to argue that this was actually talking about Israel- the Suffering Servant. The text makes it very clear that actually, it was Israel who was the cause of the One who suffered. Surely our grief’s He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried. We esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted but He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. This is the people of God now speaking- showing that they realize that they in fact misunderstood and at the crucifixion it was because of their sin He was crucified. Verse 7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open His mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
I also think you that you can’t miss the obvious image and that is the Passover. If you turn to Exodus 12 you have the clearest presentation of the details associated with the Passover- look particularly at Exodus 12:13-17 and you will discover a wide variety of aspects that portray in anticipation the work of Christ. The lamb that would be the Passover lamb had to be a year old in the prime of life, had to be sacrificed between the 2 twilights; which would be between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, had to be on the 14th day of Nisan which was exactly when this took place- the Great Passover; which is associated with the work of Christ Himself, and many other details such as don’t break the bones and so forth. There are many things that anticipate the work of the Messiah. If you’ve ever been to a Jewish Passover ceremony, they are intriguing especially when you see Christ in the Passover. The matzoh itself is pierced and striped and unleavened. They take it, break it and put half in the afikomen, cover it up and it is hidden for a period. There is a lot of symbolism that goes on.