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John 1:19-28 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:58 mins

Day One: John's Testimony
John 1:19-28
John Lesson #012
August 2, 1998

So we come to the second section of John, where John moves from talking about who Jesus was in terms of His relationship to God to the presentation of the logos to the nation Israel. Never again will John use the word logos in this Gospel. This begins in 1:19 and the presentation of the logos to Israel extends down to the end of chapter twelve. We now have four days in the life of John the Baptist from 1:19-51, and really, down to the end of chapter two we have the first week in the public ministry of Jesus Christ. This the week that has impressed itself indelibly on the mind of John the apostle. Remember that John was in his nineties when he wrote this Gospel while living in Ephesus. It is the product of an old man who has reflected upon these things for years, and upon those three marvellous years that he had with the public ministry of our Lord, listening to Him and watching Him, and watching how He related to people in everything He did. So we get a portrait of our Lord in the Gospel of John that is very intimate. Very much we see the person of Jesus and in terms of some of His intimate relationships.

This man is in his nineties and yet he goes back very specifically to a period of seven days that occurred in what was probably his late teens or early twenties, and he remembers precisely what happened on each day. Because on the third day in this chain of events something happened, something so phenomenal that he remembers the exact hour in which it occurred; and that was when he met the Messiah personally, and it changed his life forever.

From verse 19 we have the witness of John. Then we look down to verse 29 where it says: "The next day." Again, in verse 35: "Again the next day." Then in verse 43: "The day following," and in 2:1: "And on the third day." Why all this emphasis on chronology? One of the things that we learn here from extra-biblical sources, the Mishnah which encompassed the writings of the Jewish rabbis and their various traditions, we learn that a wedding was either on a Wednesday or a Thursday according to Jewish practice. If it was a widow remarrying the wedding was on a Thursday, but if it was a first time wedding and the woman was a virgin then it was on a Wednesday. What we can conclude from this is that on a Wednesday Jesus and His disciples went to the wedding at Cana. So if this was Wednesday then Monday and Tuesday were travel days. Sunday is the fourth day. So it is on the third day, on a Sabbath, that John the apostle meets the Lord Jesus Christ for the very first time. We learn from that passage that it was about the tenth hour, v. 39, which was 4pm. So he is going to give us this summation here of the first week in the public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

John 1:19 NASB "This is the testimony [witness] of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?'" We have seen that there are various witnesses in the Gospel of John. John writes the Gospel for one purpose, John 20:31. The underlying concept of the book is that of a court room and John is going to establish the principle on trial: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Let's establish that. Let's call forth our witnesses to come up to the witness stand and give their testimony about who Jesus Christ was and what he did. The first witness called to the stand is John the Baptist.

The word here for witness is the Greek word martureo [marturew] which is a very legal term and refers to someone who provides evidence, who functions in the role of a legal witness in a courtroom. The witness is going to present physical facts, historical facts, biographical facts in order to provide information so that we can believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Faith always has an object, and that object can be expressed as a rational proposition. Faith is not irrational, as the critics would have us believe, but it is based on certain evidence; it has something that it apprehends, something that it focuses on. It always has some facts or some proposition as its object. When faith is in faith, that is mysticism and subjectivity, and it is irrational. John 20:31 NASB "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." So we are going to establish the principle that Jesus is the Messiah [Anointed One]. Never in John's Gospel do we get any indication that there is anything necessary for salvation other than believe. We don't learn anything about extra requirement—obedience to the law, circumcision, being baptized, anything else; it is simply faith alone in Christ alone. This is the testimony of John the Baptist.

John the apostle calls his first witness to validate his claim about the gospel, verse 19. If we look down to verse 24 we find out a little more about this group of priests and Levites: "Now they had been sent from the Pharisees." The Pharisees were one of two major religious parties that dominated the politics of Judea at the time. There were the Pharisees on the one hand and the Sadducees on the other hand. The Pharisees are the religious conservatives and they emphasized morality and strict obedience to the letter of the Mosaic Law. The Sadducees are the religious liberals. They don't believe in angels, they don't believe in a resurrection life, they just believe in a general observance of the Mosaic Law, not a specific obedience. The Pharisees are comprised of a number of different people, although even among their group (most priests were Sadducees) there were some conservative priests and Levites who were part of their group, and it is this group of priests and Levites who were sent out from among the Pharisees in order to evaluate John the Baptist and his ministry. Why is that necessary? Under the regulations of the Mishnah it was necessary for a formal commission to go out and evaluate the claims of anyone who might be the Messiah. This is the background here.

The reason they sent out Levites and priests is because of John the Baptist's background. Remember his family is a Levitical family. His father was Zecharias. In Luke 1:5 we are told that Elizabeth and Zacharias both came from the tribe of Levi, and that Zecharias was one of the priests who functioned in the temple.

So they come out and ask John who he is. Remember John is a real loner. He operated in a district along the river Jordan outside of Jerusalem which was not on the beaten path. He expected the people to come where he was. It was in the general vicinity to the south east of Jericho that John the Baptist was conducting his ministry at the earlier point, and then he moves north up the river and verse 28 tells us that these things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan. We don't know where that is anymore. The reason we know it must have been north was that it takes more than two days to travel up to Cana, so the location of Bethany is generally agreed to be in a certain area. So word has gone out, and it shook the foundations of the religious community in Jerusalem, that there is this wild looking man out in the wilderness, not very sociable, and yet thousands of people are flocking out to hear this message that he is proclaiming—calling the people to repentance, i.e. to change their mind about God.

John 1:20 NASB "And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ'." John the apostle includes this very important statement because 60 years later there were still a group of people who were followers of John the Baptist who has  established a kind of cult following. What he is emphasizing here is that John never intended that, that he recognized that he was not the Messiah and that his role was to point people to the Messiah. Twice in this verse he mentions that John confesses. This is another important word: homologeo [o(mologew]. We find this word in another very important passage, 1 John 1:19 NASB "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So many people take this word and load it with all sorts of religious baggage and in a religious context they think of it as some kind of emotion—feeling sorry for your sins, emoting, bargaining with God and promising you will never do that again. Yet the context of 1 John 1:9 is a legal one. It is the context of a court room. In 2:1 Jesus is defending us as our defence attorney and we make a confession in court. There we learn that that word simply must mean admission of guilt, not feeling sorry for sins. If it di, then our passage in John 1 would be meaningless. Think about it: "And he felt sorry for his sins, and he emoted and felt guilty and did not deny, and he felt so bad that he wasn't Jesus!" That wouldn't make very much sense. So we see right there that homologeo just can't have an emotional connotation here. It is a technical, legal word for the legal admission of guilt or innocence by an accused party. So John makes an admission here, that is the fundamental meaning of the word, and John uses it twice to make clear the point that John the Baptist realizes that he is not the Messiah.

So now the religious crowd from Jerusalem would have to sit back a little. So let's go to the next bank of questions. If you are not the Messiah, then who are you? John 1:21 NASB "They asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' And he said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'" Notice how his answers get shorter and shorter. John just doesn't want to be distracted by all of this evaluation and everything, he is not going to explain his answers in detail. Go away, leave me alone! But they keep pressing him for information. They want to know who he is. This is a time of incredible turmoil in Israel. They had been under questions from Rome and there were people showing up every other week claiming to be the Messiah. The religious leaders had misinterpreted the Old Testament and they were looking for a Messiah who was a political figure who would come and free them from the oppression of Rome, who would be a military conqueror, and there are many passages in the Old Testament that relate that to the Messiah. But that is what He will perform at the second coming, it was not His task at the first advent. So they had wrongly interpreted the Scriptures and they were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah. But there were many who had an accurate perception of what the Messiah would be like. For example, Nathanael, John 1:49, and the woman at the well in John 4:25 NASB "The woman said to Him, 'I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us'." Furthermore, the messianic expectations at the time drove people to evaluate the Scriptures to see what they said about the Messiah. E.g. John 5:39ff where we see that the Scriptures are another of John's witnesses that he marshals to the witness stand to give testimony about Jesus Christ.

John 5:45-47 NASB "Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" But they had negative volition and they rejected what Moses said. Moses made it clear, but because they rejected him they would reject Jesus Christ. So there were clearly those who had messianic expectations but the majority had expectations based upon erroneous concepts.

They asked John if he was Elijah? What did they mean by that? In the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5 there is a prophecy that Elijah would come back at the end of the age: NASB "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD." The great and terrible day of the Lord is a term referring to the Tribulation following the church age which immediately precedes the 1000-year rule and reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. When Jesus came, in the first part of His ministry He was offering the kingdom to the Jews. Theoretically, if they had been positive and accepted Him as their Messiah then the kingdom could have come then. Remember there was no prophecy related to the church age in the Old Testament, so it was a legitimate offer. But God in His omniscience knew it would be rejected and that Christ would be crucified. Nevertheless it was a legitimate offer and they reject the kingdom. John functions as a partial fulfilment of this Elijah prophecy. He comes and dresses as Elijah, he has a ministry similar to Elijah, he has a personality that is similar to Elijah, and if Christ had been accepted then John would have functioned within this role of expectation as Elijah.

They go on and ask him a second question after he denies being Elijah: "Are you the prophet?" And he said no. This also relates to an Old Testament prophecy. Moses had written in Deuteronomy 18 that they could expect a great prophet from among them. Deuteronomy 18:15 NASB "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him… [18] I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. [19] It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require {it} of him." The Jews had always interpreted this verse to refer to a specific kind of prophet, a prophet greater than Moses, greater than any Old Testament prophet. They realized that there was a connection between this prophet and the Messiah. Matthew 11:13 "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. [14] And if you are willing to accept {it,} [Jesus as Messiah] John himself is Elijah who was to come." But they don't accept Jesus, so John is not Elijah.

Another thing we learn about John is that his personality was quite different. He was not the socially accepted personality, and we always discover that people tend worship pastors and ministers almost in terms of a personality cult. They tend to make personality an issue rather than the message. The message is what matters, not the personality. There are all kinds of personalities. Pastor-teacher is a spiritual gift and it is not confined or restricted to one particular type of personality. John had a personality that bothered people and they focused on his personality and in Matthew 11:18 we see the criticism of John: NASB "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!'" He was more of an ascetic. Then the Son of Man, Jesus, came. He was much more socially acceptable and went to all the parties and was in the crowds with the people in Jerusalem: Matthew 11:19 NASB "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" So we see here that they make personality the issue rather than the content of the message. What we need to learn is that the issue is the message, not the personality. If the message is correct, don't worry about the personality.

John is out in the middle of the Jordanian desert preaching a message of national importance and the people who were positive to doctrine, who truly wanted to know about God, came. He didn't buy into this mentality that is prevalent today, that we need to make our churches acceptable to the unchurched and the unbeliever out there so that when they come in they will be comfortable. That is the dominant thought in church growth mentality today, that we need to make our churches a comfortable place for the unbeliever to come so they don't feel like they are being singled out on anything, that they are being made to sing songs they are not used to. We don't want them to sing songs of a music style that they are not familiar with, so let's take all our music, rewrite it, and use rock music, rap, and all of this other stuff. Plato said that when a society, a culture, changes the music changes. What causes a culture to change? Its thought forms. When a culture changes its philosophical orientation its music style changes. Music is not neutral. In contemporary worship the underpinnings of it, the thought, the intellectual foundations of the music and the practices of this are compromising the gospel. We see John not going this way, to Jerusalem to confront people, he goes as far away from them as he can and the people who are positive come. God always supplies the hearers. It is not up to the church to come up with salesmanship techniques and gimmicks that attract people.

John 1:22 NASB "Then they said to him, 'Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?'" They had to go back to Jerusalem and tell the Pharisees in charge what you say about yourself. So John quotes Isaiah 40:3. John 1:23 NASB "He said, 'I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,' as Isaiah the prophet said."

Isaiah 40:1-5 "'Comfort, O comfort My people,' says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins. A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see {it} together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." This is a preparation. The view here is that the Lord is coming back at the end of the Tribulation. It is a prophecy related to the coming of Messiah. They know that that is what it refers to and when John says this he is identifying himself with that role of the one who is preparing the way for the coming of Messiah. He is not the Messiah, he is merely bearing witness of Him.

Verse 24 tells us that these people were sent. John 1:25 NASB "They asked him, and said to him, 'Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?'" If you were a Gentile then according to rabbinic tradition then the way you became a full-fledged member of Judaism was through baptism. So this is a rite or a ritual for non-Jews to signify that they were now identified with Judaism. The basic concept of baptism is identification. But here John is out by the river Jordan and he is baptizing Jews! Why do they need to be baptised? Water baptism signified cleansing and purification from sin, and that sins had been dealt with in terms of judgment. We judge ourselves rightly lest we be judged. Judgment comes before grace. That is the picture of the water. So there is a certain judgment and this is what baptism signifies, the identification of the Jew being baptised with repentance and righteousness. So he is baptizing and he has all of the religious leaders all upset by this. The point of their baptism was simply to show that their sins had been forgiven, that cleansing had taken place. Notice how John sidesteps the issue. He doesn't answer the question. What he does is shift their attention to the person of Christ.

John 1:26, 27 NASB "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'." Chronologically what has happened already (John the apostle doesn't go into it) is that Jesus comes down and there is His baptism by John the Baptist. Then Jesus immediately goes into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and testing. At the end of that forty days, which is going to be day number two, Jesus shows up again for His public presentation. The baptism is like the anointing in the Old Testament. Then there is a period of testing where through His victory over the enemy proving His right to be the anointed one. John is aware that Jesus is there and he says: "Among you stands One whom you do not know." He says. "This is my relationship to Him: "the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." What does that mean? We can pretty much guess that John has the right attitude towards Jesus, he has true genuine humility. He recognizes his role and his place in terms of God's plan.

But something more is going on here and we have to understand some background. John is a spiritual aristocrat. His father served in the temple; his mother was one of the daughters of Levi. They are spiritual aristocracy and he can trace his lineage all the way back to Aaron. John on his own, in terms of his physical birth, could have been somebody of great power and prestige within the priestly hierarchy of his day. He has all the rights to be somebody. He can be great. Matthew 11:11 NASB "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen {anyone} greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He knows that his role in terms of God's plan for salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah makes him to be somebody. He could really go on an arrogance trip because of his background and his role, but he knows exactly what God's plan is for his life and he is oriented to the grace of God.

There is a protocol here. According to the Mishnah every rabbi had a group of students, a group of disciples that gathered around him. They couldn't pay the rabbi anything so they functioned as his servants. But there was one thing, according to the Mishnah, that they would not do. They could not loosen the thong on the sandal. That was the job of a slave. John is saying he is not even good enough to be a slave to this man. So he establishes the hierarchy. There is Jesus, there are the disciples who would do anything except undo the thong on his sandal, there is the slave who would untie his sandal, and he didn't consider himself even good enough to be a slave. So we can see his tremendous grace orientation and humility expressed here.

Then the last thing we are told is: John 1:28 NASB "These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing."