SG-029: 3-1-6 > John Denies that He is the Christ or Elijah
Welcome to the 29th Act of The Synoptic Gospel!
The Synoptic Gospel is a single, complete Gospel account of the life of Jesus Christ, taken directly from the texts of the four Gospels of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Please click on the link below to read Today’s Act:
Act 3-1-6 - John Denies that He is the Christ or Elijah
or, you can read the commentary on the Act first…
– there is another link to the .pdf file at the bottom of the post…
COMMENTARY on Act 3-1-6
This Act is taken entirely from the Gospel of John.
This Act begins with,
“This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ ” (John 1:21)
This “testimony” can also be taken to mean John’s ‘confession’, his ‘statement’, or even his ‘witness’.
“The Jews” here indicates the religious leadership of Judaism, in this case very likely the ruling council of elders that was known as the “Sanhedrin”, many of whom were from the sect known as the Pharisees (John 1:24).
Apparently, as we have previously read, the fame of John had spread far and wide throughout the land, and people were coming from all over the region to listen to the preaching and teachings of John, and to be baptized by him.
This would naturally cause some questions and concern for the Jewish leadership – who was this ‘John’, and why was he doing what he was doing. Who gave him the authority to baptize people or to start a new type of religious observance, as it was clear that the Jewish leadership did not send him and tell him to do such things.
“The Jews sent to him priests and Levites” – these were people who knew the Scriptures and the Law, and would be able to determine and ascertain what exactly it was that John was doing. No doubt, uppermost in their minds was the possibility that he was harming, confusing or otherwise corrupting the people, perhaps even turning them away from God and toward idolatry or Satan. And also, as evidenced by their line of questioning to John, they wanted to see if John might in fact be the expected Messiah.
And this was likely their first question. They asked John who he was, and he answered and said to them, “I am not the Christ.” Again, “Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah.
John here again shows his humility by not claiming to be the One whom they were all eagerly expecting and seeking. It is likely that if John did claim to be the Messiah, then many people would probably have believed him. Of course, no one should ever claim the prerogatives or titles of God, or of His Son.
John then “… cried out saying,
‘This was He of whom I said,
“He who comes after me has a rank higher than I, for He existed before me.”’”
That “He existed before me” is very cryptic and interesting. One might think that John is referring to the fact that the coming Messiah was older than John, but we know that this is not the case. As we have read in SG-005, John’s mother, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant when the angel Gabriel visited the mother of Jesus, Mary, and told her that she would conceive and bear a son. (Luke 1:26-28)
From this it is clear that John is not referring to the chronological human age of the coming Messiah, because in this case, John is in fact at least six months older than Jesus.
The only other possibility is that John is indicating that the Messiah, as a great spirit being, even the Word of God, existed before, or predates, everything, as all things were made “through Him” (John 1:1-3 – see also Micah 5:2), and therefore Jesus, who “descended from heaven” (John 3:13), “has a rank higher than” anyone, including John, who was himself a mighty prophet sent by God.
Those sent from Jerusalem to question John then asked him if were one of several other individuals whom the Jewish people were expecting from the prophecies of their Scriptures. Apparently they started with the biggest claim, Messiah, and were then going to work their way down the list of possible identities for this mysterious man who had appeared and was baptizing.
They asked John if he were the prophet “Elijah” (John 1:21).
This was a good guess on their part, as Elijah was to come before the appearance of the Messiah, even to prepare the hearts of the people, and clearly John was preaching to the people that the expected Messiah was imminently about to appear.
From the prophecy of Malachi, the very last two lines of the Old Testament, written perhaps 400 years before, state:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet
before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
John denied that he was Elijah. But we have already read in the Gospel of Luke about the prophecy of the angel Gabriel regarding John, before he was born;
“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.
“It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous,
so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)
We will examine this claim again, as Jesus will later confirm that,
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:14-15) see also Matthew 17:11-12 and Mark 9:13.
It is clear that unless John was deliberately lying, he was likely not aware that he himself was Elijah, or at least that he came “… in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
The people who were wondering about John then asked if he were “the Prophet”. (John 1:21)
This is likely a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18, which most Christians see as being a future reference to Jesus Christ. It is also possible that some people thought that the expected prophet might here be referring to the prophet Jeremiah, as he is later mentioned in Matthew 16:14.
Perhaps these questioners of John did not associate the Messiah with being “the Prophet”, so that the Messiah and the Prophet were two different individuals. Likely assumed that the Messiah would be much more than a mere prophet, and He was – but He was also at least a prophet – as was Moses, to whom God spoke those words of Deuteronomy.
Of course, the Muslims see this reference from Deuteronomy to refer to the “Prophet” Muhammad of Islam, who like Moses, was also descended from Abraham, and who like both Moses and Jesus, would found a new system of religious worship of God.
Either way, John the Baptist denies that he was “the Prophet”. Obviously John knew that he was a prophet, and he also knew that he was not “the Prophet”.
Those who had been sent to question John, now likely somewhat confused, then asked, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us?” (John 1:22)
John answered them and said,
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)
This is a paraphrase of what Isaiah actually said, in Isaiah 40:3.
They then asked John the obvious burning question, perhaps with some exasperation,
“Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ,
nor the Prophet?”
They asked John this because baptism was a ritual of special cleansing, which the Jews did themselves perform on people, though normally those who were Gentiles (non-Jewish) who wished to become Jews (by conversion).
For the Jews the ceremonial washing was to spiritually cleanse and prepare the people for their conversion. The baptism ritual was not normally performed on people who were already adherents, by birth or conversion, of the Jewish Faith.
So why was this man John baptizing people, both Jews, and likely also Gentiles (Luke 3:14)? Clearly the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem had not commissioned John to do this, and in fact knew nothing about it.
For a Jew to submit to this cleansing ritual of baptism was a sign of their extreme humility and repentance, and it also showed that even though they were already Jews, they were apparently not “clean” or pure enough, as they were, to meet their Messiah.
Perhaps they did not realize that as baptism was used by them to cleanse and initiate a non-Jew into the Jewish Faith, John was using the same ritual, or a version of it, to again, initiate people into yet a new Faith – the new Faith that would be initiated by their Messiah, little did they know it. It seems logical that to enter the new Faith of God, one must always be washed, cleansed and made pure.
“John answered them saying,
‘I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.
‘It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ ” (John 1:26-27)
Here John is showing that the Messiah is already standing (alive on earth) amongst the people, but that they do not know it – they do not yet recognize Him. In fact, no one yet recognizes Him, as we will see.
The last part of John’s statement is a partial repetition of what he stated in the last Act – that he feels himself unworthy to bow down on the ground before the greatness of the Messiah, even to untie His the thong of His sandals. And this should also be our attitude towards God, towards His Messiah, and the Lord Jesus Christ – that each of us, no matter what our skills, our talents, our disposition and aptitudes, should each see ourselves as unworthy to perform any task, act or service for God. It is a token of the greatness of God in His love for us that these things are accepted by Him from us!
The last line of this Act states that,
“These things took place in Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
It should be noted that this “Bethany” is not the little village that is located near Jerusalem, but is probably a reference to another location with an older name, Bethabara, which was located on the east side of the Jordan River, within the district of Perea.
Please click on the link below to read Today’s Act:
Act 3-1-6 - John Denies that He is the Christ or Elijah
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Coming next time:
A new Chapter begins…
Chapter 2 - The Baptism of Jesus The Christ
and the moment we have all been waiting for…
Act 3-2-1 Jesus is Baptized by John in the Jordan River
Unfortunately, I am on vacation for a week, but look for it on
Sunday, August 22nd / 10
May we all recognize the voice of the one crying in the wilderness!