Summary: John the Baptist had doubts as to Jesus being the Messiah so asked for evidence, receiving details of His Mission and Identity and a Commendation.
JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THE MESSIAH
John the Baptist was a great personality, very much in the mould of the Old Testament prophets. In fact he was the last in their line. As a young man he’d had an inner urge to serve God. No doubt his parents had told him of the special circumstances surrounding his birth, of the angelic visitors to both his parents and the prophetic messages and instructions they received (Luke 1:13 and 26). This must have been a powerful influence in the formation of his character and stimulus to his vocation as the rather eccentric figure he cut as a young prophet in the Judean wilderness, living on locusts and wild honey and clothed in camels’ hair. But more than that was his message to the crowds who were quickly attracted to this phenomenon. He denounced the evils of society, branding the ecclesiastical leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, as a brood of vipers, warning them to “flee from the coming wrath” (Luke 3:7). The burden of his message was his urgent plea for repentance and he baptised those who accepted his message. There was some speculation as to whether John was more than a prophet as people were “wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ” (3:15). But no, he said, he was “in the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isa 40:3): A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’” (3:4). It was:
THE CALLING OF THE MESSIAH’S MESSENGER
The highpoint in John’s ministry was when Jesus asked him to baptise Him and it was revealed to John that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and announced Him to the crowds, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). That was the climax, but the anticlimax soon came! Like for all of us, a moment of blessing can quickly be followed by a change of circumstances, to a dark night of doubt and disappointment. John was in serious trouble (Matt 14:1-12). He was a courageous man. It wasn’t his habit of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing. He was incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it. He had spoken out too definitely for his own safety. King Herod of Galilee had paid a visit to his brother in Rome and while there had seduced his brother’s wife. When he returned home he dismissed his own wife and married his sister-in-law. John publicly rebuked Herod, who took his revenge and threw John into the dungeons of the fortress near the Dead Sea.
John was paying a high price for his fearless denunciation of immoral behaviour by the king. It must have been agony for John, used only to the freedom of outdoor life in the desert, now to be kept confined to a grim prison cell. It was then that he was assailed by questions and doubts. Only a short time ago, at the peak of his ministry, he drew “crowds coming out to be baptised by him”, warning them “to flee from the coming wrath” and telling them that “The axe is already at the root of the tree, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9). He expected his words to be vindicated by Messianic action by Jesus in a political deliverance of Israel from its Roman oppressors and routing out evil in high places. But it didn’t seem to be happening as he thought it should. John questioning seems to infer some:
CONFUSION AS TO THE MESSIAH’S MISSION
One of the most direct questions asked by Jesus was, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matt 22:44). It’s the question that Jesus posed to the Pharisees who were in controversy with Him. This is perhaps the most searching question that can be asked of anyone because it probes into the heart of a person’s relationship with Jesus. It’s a question that everybody should be able to answer after giving it careful thought. We need to resolve the matter for ourselves and be certain we have the answer which will be accepted by God when it’s demanded of us on the great Day of Judgement.
John’s detention in Herod’s prison prevented him from doing it himself so he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11:3). It’s something that John the Baptist had thought through, long and hard, but the problem was that he wasn’t sure what his answer was and so instead of answering Jesus’ question of "what do you think about the Christ?" he asked Jesus to give him the answer. Jesus had openly accepted John’s ministry and had asked John to baptise Him. He had been so sure that Jesus “was the One who was to come”, the long expected Messiah. But now, in the loneliness and depression of the dungeon it was all so different. If we’re not careful, like John, our pre-conceived ideas can blind us to the truth. Even choice servants of God get despondent.