Summary: John the Baptist pre-figured and prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus but the religious authorities of the day could not understand what John was doing in his preaching and especially in baptising Jewish people when there was no need to do so.
THE WITNESS OF JOHN (John 1:19-28)
In this 1st chapter of John’s gospel he begins his message, his good news to demonstrate that Jesus is the Mind, the Reason, the Word of God come into this world in the form of a human being.
Having set down this central thought, John now begins to tell the wonderful story of the life of Jesus.
The Jews came to cross-examine John the Baptist and as the opposition, they were the people who later set themselves against Jesus intent to destroy Him.
And so we see this opposition right at the start of this gospel.
John in the 4th Gospel has two main themes, the 1st is the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, the 2nd is the story of the rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jews:
• the story of God's offer and man's refusal,
• the story of God's love and man's sin,
• the story of Jesus Christ's invitation and man's rejection.
The 4th Gospel is the gospel in which love and warning are uniquely and vividly combined.
The deputation which came to interview John the Baptist was composed of two kinds of people.
Firstly, there were the priests and the Levites and their interest was very natural, for John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.
In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent; if a man was not a descendant of Aaron nothing could make him a priest; if he was a descendant of Aaron nothing could stop him being one.
Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.
Then secondly, there were the Pharisees who were probably members of the Sanhedrin and one of the functions of the Sanhedrin was to deal with anyone who was suspected of being a false prophet.
John was a preacher to whom the people were flocking in hordes and the Sanhedrin may well have felt it their duty to check up on this man just in case he was a false prophet.
The incident shows how suspicious orthodoxy was of anything unusual and John the Baptist did not conform to the normal idea of a priest; and he did not conform to the normal idea of a preacher.
Who was this mad man, dressed in camel’s hair, who ate locusts and wild honey – who was this wild man with his message, who was he claiming to be.
(i) So they asked him if he was the Messiah - The Jews were waiting, and are waiting to this day, for the Messiah and there was no one idea of what the Messiah would be like.
Some people expected the Messiah would bring peace over all the earth.
Others expected one who would bring in the reign of righteousness.
But most expected one who would be a great national champion to lead the armies of the Jews as conquerors over all the world.
Some expected a supernatural figure straight from God and still more expected a prince to rise from the line David, the root of Jesse.
Frequently Messianic pretenders arose and caused rebellions, so it was natural to ask John if he claimed to be the Messiah.
John completely rejected that claim; but he rejected it stressing: "I am not the Messiah, but, if you only knew, the Messiah is already here."
(ii) They then asked him if he was Elijah, after all John the Baptist dressed and acted as they expected Elijah once did.
It was the Jewish belief that, before the Messiah came, Elijah would return to herald his coming and to prepare the world to receive him.
Elijah was to come to arrange and settle all disputes that he would bring together again families which were estranged.
The belief that Elijah would come before the Messiah goes back to Malachi 4:5 and it was even believed that Elijah would anoint the Messiah to his kingly office, as all kings were anointed, and that he would raise the dead to share in this new kingdom.
But John denied any such honour – it was NOT his.
(iii) They then asked him if he was the expected and promised prophet.
It was sometimes believed that Isaiah and, especially, Jeremiah would return at the coming of the Messiah.
But this is really a reference to the assurance which Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy 18:15 : "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren -- him you shall heed."
That was a promise that no Jew ever forgot and they waited and longed for the emergence of the prophet who would be the greatest of all prophets, the Prophet par excellence.