THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, CHAPTER 1, VERSES 19-28
1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
1:20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
1:21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
1:22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
1:23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
1:24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
1:25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
1:26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
1:27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
1:28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
SECTION 4 JOHN 1: 19-28
THE WORD IN RELATION TO JOHN THE BAPTIST: THE PREFERRED ONE
1:19 And this is the record of John- the apostle now begins the main part of his gospel after the prologue in verses 1-18 in which he set out the main principles governing him as he wrote. John the Baptist had a unique role. Not only was he one sent that men might believe on Christ, verse 7, but he was also the one who introduced the Lord Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry. See Acts 13:24, where Paul declared that John preached before His coming, or entrance. He was the porter who opened the door for the True Shepherd to come amongst the sheep, John 10:3. The apostle John does not call him John the Baptist, but rather the witness. Baptist emphasises his public work of baptising, whereas the word witness emphasises his personal testimony.
When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? remember that John was the son of a priest, so possibly some of those sent to him were his relatives. In John’s gospel the title Jews means the Jewish authorities. They are coming from the centre of Judaism, Jerusalem, no doubt anxious as to whether John represented a threat to their authority and position. When they ask who he is they are enquiring as to his claims. This expression can be used even if the person asking knows the other, see Ruth 3:16. Naomi knows who her daughter-in-law is, but does not know the outcome of her visit to Boaz, and whether Ruth is now his prospective wife. The thought is, “What position do you hold; what is your status?”
1:20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ- John does not deny that he is a man sent from God, but he does confess that he is not the Christ, or Messiah. From Daniel 9:24-26 it would be possible to know that the time of the manifestation of the Messiah was near, and the Jews are wondering if John is He. Despite being the greatest prophet among those born of women, Luke 7:28, John is quick to honour Christ. The people later thought that Christ was John the Baptist come back from the dead, Matthew 16:14, which says much for his likeness to Christ.
1:21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17, but his birth is carefully recorded by Luke to show, amongst other things, that he was not Elijah back from the dead. Similarities with Elijah include appearing suddenly on the scene; his clothing of skin; being persecuted by a wicked woman; denouncing the sins of a king; a messenger of judgement and wrath; depressed when he felt his ministry had not achieved anything; giving way to a successor. Elijah is prophesied by Malachi to return when God judges the earth in the tribulation period, Malachi 4:5,6; Matthew11:14, but John the Baptist announces the One who came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them, Luke 9:54-56.
Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. The word prophet has the definite article before it, so the prophet is some well-defined person, as well-defined as “the” Messiah. The people of Israel requested that the direct voice of God at Sinai not be heard any more. So God promised “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him”, Deuteronomy 18:15-19. That this prophet was Christ is made clear by Peter in Acts 3:22. In John 7:40, 41, the people were confused about this prophet, thinking Him to be a different person to the Messiah. Perhaps this gives a clue as to why John sent to Christ to ask if he was really the Christ, or whether they should look for someone else. The Lord’s answer emphasised His miracle ministry and His preaching ministry, showing that He combined the prophetic ministry as The Prophet, with the miracle ministry of The Messiah, Luke 7:18-23.
1:22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? Frustrated by his denials, they press John to give them an answer. He had purposely made his three-fold denial to dispel any illusions they might have about him being the Messiah. Once he has done that, he is free to declare who he is. Notice that even when he tells who he is, he emphasises the person of the Lord, as his father did in his song, Luke 1:67-80, where Zecharias spoke more about the unborn Christ than his own, long awaited new-born son. He must increase, I must decrease, was John’s motto, John 3:30, and should be ours too.
1:23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. Zecharias was struck dumb by the angel because he had not believed the message that he would have a son. Now his son is anything but dumb. The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and the people should learn the law at his mouth, Malachi 2:7, so John, the son of a priest, is imparting knowledge, and truth, but not about the law, but about the One who had come in grace. The contrasts between the word and the voice were pointed out long ago. The word is in the mind, before the voice is heard, so Christ was before John. The word is of more importance than the voice that utters it, so Christ has precedence over John. The truth expressed in the word continues when the voice has died away, so Christ’s glories remain after John has passed off the scene. Note he cried in the wilderness, for the Temple courts were not ready for such a message as John brought. The nation of Israel was in a moral and spiritual wilderness, and it is fitting that John should preach there. John quotes the language of Isaiah 40:3 about himself, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke quote it of him. He is conscious of his mission, and that he is the messenger that Malachi prophesied would come, see Mark 1: 1-4 with its two quotations from the Old Testament. Mark does not quote Malachi 4:4,5 about Elijah coming. The title Lord is “Jehovah”, and so John the Baptist is really setting out the theme of John the apostle’s gospel, that Jesus is equal with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Like John, Christ will be in the wilderness too, but as one who leads His people on the better things ahead, just as the movement of the Tabernacle was the sign for the people to move with it through the desert to the promised land.. The path must be made straight for Him, because He is sinless, and does not walk a crooked way; nor will those who follow Him. They must repent, therefore.
1:24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. These were the “straitest sect ” as Paul, a former Pharisee said, Acts 26:5. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven”, Matthew 5:20. As Pharisees, they would be interested in religious ritual, and are curious about John’s baptism. They are not prepared to enter at the strait gate, for they rejected the counsel of God against themselves by not being baptised with the baptism of John, Luke 7:30.
1:25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? They do not enquire about the person John witnesses to, but are only focussed on possible threats to their influence, if John begins a new movement by baptising. They have listened to John’s denials about himself, but not his affirmations about Christ. See Matthew 2:4-6 where the scribes do not quote Micah 5 as far as “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”.
1:26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; At this point, their ignorance of Christ is understandable, for He has not yet been revealed. John is preparing their hearts for the time when He will be. The fit man who took the scapegoat into the wilderness bearing its load of sin, was literally, “a man standing ready”, Leviticus 16:21 margin. So Christ is amongst them, fit to do the work that will be His at Calvary. John will say in verse 33 that in the past he had not known Him either, but for him that ignorance was changed to insight. We should remember that at this point the baptism of Christ had taken place, He had gone into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil, and had returned. It was the events at Christ’s baptism which convinced John that Christ was the Son of God, see verses 32-34.
1:27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. This is John’s initial statement to this effect; in verse 30 he refers to the statement; in verse 15 the apostle John refers to it. “Preferred” is the translation of a noun, and signifies, “hath precedence over me”. John is not making a comment about the relative popularity of Christ, but is making a statement of fact as to His person. He does not tell the Pharisees why He had precedence over John, for they showed no interest.
All four gospels record John’s saying about the shoes:
In Matthew it is that John does not count himself worthy to bear the shoes of the King as He is introduced to the nation.
In Mark, he is not worthy even to stoop down and do the servant’s lowly task. Even though Christ has made Himself of no reputation and taken the form of a servant, John is still not worthy to do the most menial task for Him.
In Luke, the thought is that he is not worthy to unloose His shoes, with no reference to stooping down. Perhaps the emphasis in Luke’s “domestic” gospel, where so many events took place in houses. So that, just as in Luke 7:44-46 where Simon the Pharisee withheld from his Guest the customary foot washing, the Lord was not welcomed in Israel. John the Baptist was prepared to give Him that welcome and “wash His feet”, but felt unworthy to do so, since He was mightier than he. John realises that to be able to baptise with the Holy Spirit shows greater might than baptising with water.
In John, it is not so much His greater might, but His greater rank, for He has precedence over John. He realises his proper place is at the feet of Christ, but feels unworthy to serve Him in the smallest way whilst there. John knows that worship not service is the first priority of those who know the Son of God in all His greatness.
1:28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. See 10:40. Edersheim says that Bethabara, (East of Jordan and Southeast of the Sea of Galilee), was one of the best-known fords across the Jordan into Perea, 20 miles from Nazareth. Oreb and Zeeb were defeated at Bethabara, in a battle compared by the psalmist, Psalm 83:9-11, with the classic battle between Barak and Sisera in Judges 5. War makes many broken-hearted, whereas Christ came to heal the broken-hearted.