Rev. Haak is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
These verses begin the historical part of John’s gospel. In the prologue (vv. 1-18) John has spoken of the deep and weighty truth of Christ’s personal deity and incarnation. Now we come to the narration of Christ’s earthly ministry. We note that John does not include anything of the first 30 years of our Lord’s life but begins at once with “the record” or witness of John the Baptist. (The only details of Jesus’ first 30 years are given in Matthew 1 and Matthew 2 and Luke 1 and Luke 2.) And that “record” of John the Baptist is to Christ’s deity: “This is the Son of God” (v. 34).
John the Baptist is one of the most remarkable personalities in the Bible. His coming was foretold in the Old Testament prophecies (Is. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; Mal. 4:4-6). His privileged work was to be the forerunner of the Lord (Luke 1:7). He served thus by preaching repentance, with baptism as a sign of the remission of sins (Luke 3:3-9). Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets (Matt. 11:7-9). He lived as a Nazarite in the desert and was filled with the Spirit from his birth (Luke 1:80). Multitudes flocked to the Jordan River to hear him, resulting in the conversion of many people, among whom were publicans and soldiers (Mark 1:5; Luke 3:10-14). His ministry was marked by scathing rebukes of the religious formalism of his day (Luke 3:7-9). John the Baptist, then, was the divinely appointed harbinger of the Lord whose calling it was to make ready a people for the appearing of Christ and personally to point out the Christ when He appeared (Luke 1:41). Is not this the purpose of the preaching of the gospel by the church today?
Verse 19 informs us that the popularity of John caused the Jews to send a delegation to John the Baptist to inquire concerning his identity. John faithfully and humbly answers their questions and unmistakably identifies himself as the forerunner of the Christ. He also makes plain the reason for his baptizing. John administers the sign of what the Christ will indeed do, namely, baptize with the Holy Ghost. John also shows humble faithfulness to his task by emphasizing the pre-eminence of Christ over the forerunner.
What a moment in the history of the unfolding of God’s covenant salvation is recorded in verses 29-34! Here at long last the promised Savior stands before His people in all the grace of God as the only sacrifice for sin. It was for this moment that John had been sent, and it was for this moment that all the people of God had waited for 4,000 years. All the Old Testament promises pointed toward this moment of the coming of the Christ to begin and accomplish the work of God. Really, having completed this task of pointing out the Christ and witnessing of His deity, the work of John the Baptist is completed. Never was there a fuller testimony given to Christ upon earth than that which was given by John the Baptist. We know nothing of the Christ unless the Spirit gives us to see Him with John the Baptist’s eyes and we rejoice in Him as “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 13:8).
Outline of verses 19-34
1. John and the Jews. vv. 19-28
a. The Jews’ inquiry of John and his answers.
1) “Who art thou?” Not the Christ. vv. 19, 20
2) “Art thou Elijah?” No. v. 21
3) “Art thou that prophet?” No. v. 21
4) “What sayest thou of thyself?” “I am the voice….” vv. 22, 23
5) “Why baptizeth thou then?” To prepare the way for Christ. vv. 25, 26
b. John’s acknowledging of Christ’s pre-eminence. v. 27
– the notation is made that all this has transpired at Bethabara on the Jordan River. v. 28
2. John and Jesus. vv. 29-34
a. John’s great moment: Pointing out the Christ as God’s Lamb! v. 29
b. John’s words of explanation for his baptizing. vv. 30, 31
c. John tells of the Spirit’s anointing of Christ and Christ’s baptizing with the Spirit. w. 32, 33
d. John confesses the deity of Christ. v. 34
Questions for Discussion and Further Study:
1. What was the purpose of the ministry of John the Baptist? What Old Testament prophecies spoke of him? Why did he labor in the wilderness? What is the significance of his dress? (Matt. 4:3). Explain the parallels between John the Baptist’s ministry and the preaching today.
2. What were the motives behind the Jews sending this delegation to inquire of John concerning his identity?
3. Why did the Jews ask if John were Elijah? How did the Jews understand the prophecy of Malachi 4:4-6?
5. What is the importance of John’s using Isaiah 40:3 as the prophecy which explains his identity and mission? Why did John cry in the wilderness rather than in the temple?
7. Discuss the significance of the humility of John before the Christ. How does this speak to us? (I Peter 5:5)
8. What is the meaning of John’s words to the Jews in verse 2, when he says “whom ye know not”?(See Rom. 2:17-19.)
10. What are the thoughts suggested by the Savior’s title, “The lamb of God”? (See Gen. 22:8; Ex. 12; Is. 53:7; I Peter 1:19.) Show that already in this title we have implied the truths of substitutionary atonement and satisfaction for sin.
11. Why did the Holy Spirit descend upon Christ as a dove? (See Matt. 4:13-17.)
12. What does John mean when he says that he “knew him not”? (v. 31) How was the Spirit’s descending upon Christ at the time of His baptism a crucial sign of His identity and the work that He came to do?
13. What is it to be baptized with the Holy Ghost?
14. Discuss how verse 34 ties into the main purpose of John’s gospel.