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John the Baptist’s Testimony – John 1:19-35

John the Baptist's Testimony - John 1:19-35

Gospel of John Bible Study Notes, Week 3

Who was John the Baptist?

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  John 1:19-28  (NIV 2011)

Throughout his Gospel, the apostle John aimed to provide credible witnesses and testimony, including his own, to prove that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah.[1] One of John’s main witnesses in the opening chapters of his Gospel is John the Baptist. The gospel writer begins verse 1:19 with: “Now this was John’s testimony . . .”[2]

John the Baptist was a powerful preacher and prophet whose life’s purpose was to prepare Israel for their coming Messiah. In Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist’s ministry is regarded as the end-time appearance of Elijah, and John is described as having “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17 cf. Malachi 4:5-6).[3]

Certainly, Matthew thought John the Baptist was Elijah, or at the very least, an Elijah-type figure; and in his Gospel, he records Jesus as saying, “. . . if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was destined to come” (Matt. 11:14). In John’s Gospel, however, John the Baptist denies that he is the Christ, Elijah or the Prophet when interrogated by a delegation of priests and Levites (John 1:19-21).

Why did John the Baptist deny that he was Elijah or the Prophet?

John the Baptist’s role was to prepare the way for the Messiah and he humbly attests to this (John 1:23). If he had admitted to being Elijah or The Prophet, there is little doubt that he would have become a figure of veneration and worship. John the Baptist did not want this adulation. John the Baptist was a great person (Luke 1:15a); however, he wanted to point to Jesus Christ whom he always insisted was much greater and more powerful than himself (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-16). It was important for John’s audience, particularly those in Ephesus who venerated John the Baptist, to understand this point (cf. Acts 19:1-4).[4] One way that Jesus was superior to John the Baptist was that John baptised with water but Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33 cf. Acts 19:1-7).

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
John 1:28-34 (NIV 2011)

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he exclaimed, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). It appears that John already understood that Jesus’ ministry was like that of the sacrificial lambs who bore the sins of those seeking atonement in Jewish ceremonial sacrifices (Num. 28:16-22).

At this point in time, Jesus had probably just recently returned from his 40-day wilderness experience (which is not recorded in John’s Gospel), ready to begin his public ministry.[5]

In John 1:30-34, John the Baptist goes on to describe what happened when Jesus had previously come to him to be baptised. He was retelling the account of Jesus’ baptism as a past, completed event. In this speech, John the Baptist describes that he had (previously) seen the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove and remaining on Jesus. He concludes his speech with his powerful testimony that Jesus is the Son of God.


[1] If we look at the first five verses of John’s first letter we can see again that the author is presenting his teaching as a reliable first-hand witness to the ministry and person of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-5).

[2] The same Greek word (martyria) may be translated as either testimony or witness. It is the same word which we get martyr from, as many early church martyrs were martyred for testimony, and effectively used their death as a way to further broadcast the Gospel message.

[3] Malachi 4:5-6 are the very last verses of the Old Testament, leaving a 400-year pregnant pause before John the Baptist appears.  (The Hebrew Scriptures do not end with Malachi.)

[4] As mentioned in the Introduction, some people in Ephesus venerated John the Baptist above Jesus (cf. Acts 19: 1-5). The Clementine Recognitions reveal that as late as 250 AD, John the Baptist still had disciples who regarded him as the Messiah.

[5] The trial and temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is recorded in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13.

« John’s Prologue – John 1:1-18
» Philip, Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel and Jacob – John 1:35-51
» Water into Wine – John 2:1-12

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