05.03 The Witness Of John The Baptist

05.03 The Witness Of John The Baptist

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.03 The Witness Of John The Baptist

Unit 05

The Early Ministry Of Jesus


Chapter 03

The Witness Of John The Baptist


05.03.00.A. JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACHING IN THE WILDERNESS, Illustration by Godfrey Durand, 1896 (2)

05.03.00.A. JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACHING IN THE WILDERNESS, Illustration by Godfrey Durand, 1896. John the Baptist, more accurately known as John the Baptizer, preached in the small villages throughout the Judean Desert and along the Jordan River. He not only told them to repent and be baptized, but also told them they needed to be ready to receive the One they were expecting.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.03.01 Bethany JOHN EXPLAINS HIS MINISTRY

05.03.01 Jn. 1:19-28 Bethany 




19 This is John’s testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 He did not refuse to answer, but he declared: “I am not the Messiah.”

21 “What then?” they asked him. “Are you Elijah?”

“I am not,” he said.

Are you the Prophet?”

“No,” he answered.

22 “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?”

23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord — just as Isaiah the prophet said” (Isa. 40:3).

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 So they asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John answered them. “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know Him. 27 He is the One coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie.”

28 All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


During the previous four centuries not a single prophet spoke to the Jewish people, even though expectations of a messiah were growing exponentially. Then the miraculous births of two babies caused a public sensation. John the Baptist, the first of these infants, when he reached the age of service had a following that evidently grew quickly.  As the son of a priest, the temple personnel anticipated his immergence as a prophet – and he did not disappoint them. But they were not thrilled about his message. The Pharisees could not accept John’s lifestyle of self-denial, of fasting, avoiding wine, but neither could they later accept Jesus who did not fast and enjoyed wine.

John preached to those living in the desert areas near Jericho and the Dead Sea, but it is unknown if he traveled extensively elsewhere. Jesus preached in the Galilee area through which ran the Via Maris, an international route of many caravans and travelers. John’s area of ministry appears not to have crossed the Via Maris, although he was close to the major roads leading to and from Jericho. So his message was more confined to the Jewish population, especially to the priests and Levites, many of whom lived in Jericho.  Yet his message was carried far and wide as evidenced in Acts 19 when the Apostle Paul met a couple in Ephesus who were followers of John, but they had not heard of Jesus.

As stated previously, the Jews and many other people groups were expecting a messiah (small “m”) who would be a political leader and resurrect the Davidic Empire of a millennium past.  Therefore, the Sadducees, priests, and Levites asked John if he was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet.  Each time John denied the identification but said that One greater than he was about to come.

“John’s Testimony.”  When the New Testament writers used terms such as “testimony” or “bore witness” or “I have seen and testify,” these were statements of legal terminology. These were also common in the Roman and Greek cultures whereby the author placed himself under an oath concerning the truthfulness of the statement made.[1]

“When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites.”  The priests and Levites were usually Pharisees, and in this case, the leading Jews[2] of the temple sent them.[3]  This group was an official delegation from the Sanhedrin that came specifically to ask questions to determine if John claimed to be the Messiah.[4] (Later, when Jesus confronted the leading Pharisees, they were part of the same aristocratic leadership.[5])  The temple was controlled by the high priestly family of Annas whose son-in-law, Caiaphas, held the position of High Priest. The more conservative religious party, the Pharisees (v. 24), accompanied them.  Everyone listened carefully to what John had to say so they could determine if he could be the expected revolutionary political-messiah. The Sadducees did not want a political-messiah to ruin their comfortable and corrupt lifestyle. The common people, however, were anxiously waiting for a messiah who would relieve their economic oppression and cleanse the temple of the religious corruption.

Into this religious caldron came John the Baptist, who had the audacity to publicly condemn all of the religious leaders. Everyone was aware of their corruption and arrogance, and while many priests and Levites were not within that greedy clique, their leadership definitely was. Some may have remembered John’s miraculous birth to an elderly priestly family, but others were so steeped in a corrupt lifestyle that they cared little about any miracles or the truth of God’s Word.

“I am not the Messiah.” Since the expectation of a coming messiah was so intense, John knew what the priests and Levites were going to ask, “Are you the messiah (Christos in Greek)?”  The word “messiah” to Jewish minds was the one whom God was to send who would restore adherence to the Torah, overthrow the Roman Empire, usher in the Davidic Covenant, and expand the land of Israel to the geographical boundaries of the Davidic Kingdom.  Most significantly, their concept of the messiah would make the Jewish nation the international superpower. They had to ask, if John was this man or was he the return of Elijah who would announce the coming of their Messiah. He immediately responded and his incessant words left no peace with anyone.  He made his point clear and precise.

The declaration clearly reveals the expectation of the messiah. The term Messiah means the Anointed One[6] and was used in reference to anointing a king for his special service (1 Sam. 16:1, 13; 21:11).  It was also applied to the priest and his special service (Ex. 40:13-15; Lev. 4:3).  While the Old Testament language describes the anointing of any king or priest, John specifically spoke of the Anointed One.

But there was a reason when they asked the question, “Are you Elijah?”  The question had to be asked because John’s dress and lifestyle was that of the ancient prophet. By doing so John followed the Jewish tradition of emphasizing the importance of his message and work. Two examples are Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

  1. Jeremiah once instructed the people not to mourn for their deceased loved ones to symbolize the coming disaster for Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 16:5-9).
  1. Ezekiel refused to mourn the death of his wife as a sign of the pending destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (Ezek. 24:16-24).

After John’s 30th birthday, the priests, Levites, and even Sadducees took special attention. So when they saw him dressed like Elijah and listened to his message, they immediately recognized him to be a prophet – the first in nearly four centuries. Later, when Jesus said Elijah had already come, He meant that John fulfilled the Elijah prophecy – John was not the physical return of Elijah, but fulfilled the prophetic words of earlier prophets.

 05.03.01a (2)


“Are you the Prophet?”  There clearly was some serious questioning taking place. But the word “prophet” often had direct implications for the expectant political-messiah who would defeat the Romans. Among the various Jewish sects, there were debates as to whether Deuteronomy 18:15 was a reference to a prophet like Elijah, or if this was a messianic prophecy – a deliverer. But most were thinking of a political-messiah like Moses led his people out of Egyptian bondage.  People interpreted Malachi 4:5 to expect a literal return of Elijah because he never died (2 Kg. 2:11).  Some believed Elijah would return and announce the end of the world.  The message of John, however, was a fulfillment of the prophecies of Elijah, namely that he (John) was the one who would announce the coming of the true messiah. Therefore, John denied that he was the Christ, Elijah, or “the prophet” of Deuteronomy 18:15.  He was not the reincarnation of Elijah; but he did hold the office of Elijah.  Within that office, John prepared the people to hear the words that would come from Jesus (Mal. 4:5-6). Yet he did not replicate any of the profound miracles that Elijah performed; he functioned only within the limits needed to prepare the way for Jesus. Those who accepted the messages of the Baptist and of Jesus had recognized that Elijah had come.

Make straight the way of the Lord.”  Kings would go to war in the springtime after the winter rains produced abundant crops, but the roads were frequently damaged by those rains.  Therefore, they sent out road crews to repair roads not only for their armies, but also for commerce. The phrase, “make straight the way for the Lord,” had direct implication that a king was soon to come.

From the Dead Sea Scrolls is a comment that shows that even the Essenes were expecting the messiah to come. They also believed that they needed to be purified from the evils of this world and go out into the desert wilderness and prepare the way for the Lord. For new members, that “purification” was defined not only by holy living, but also by studying the Torah.  Note the following:

And when these become members of the Community of Israel according to all these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of unjust men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written “Prepare in the wilderness the way of …, make straight in the desert a path for our God” (Isa. 40:3). This (path) is the study of the Law which He commanded by the hand of Moses, that they may do according to all that has been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets have revealed by His Holy Spirit.

Dead Sea Scroll, The Communtiy Rule 8:13-17[7]


All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan.” The name of the village, Bethany, is believed by many scholars to be the shortened version of “Bethabara,” meaning house of the crossing.[8]  The area east of the Jordan River was known as Perea, although that name was seldom used. Bethany/Bethabara was located a short distance above the Dead Sea in modern Jordan and was where John the Baptist preached and where he baptized Jesus. The phrase, “house of the crossing,” is an extremely powerful image because John was ushering a new era of the Messiah at the same site where the Israelites crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land – a new era for life.[9]


05.03.01.Q1 Why did John the Baptist say he was not Elijah (Jn. 1:21), but Jesus said that he was (Mt. 11:13-14; Mk. 9:13)?

Clearly there is an apparent contradiction between these two passages.  However, the meaning goes beyond the literal understanding of the words. Assume for a moment that the conversation would have taken place with modern terms. When John was asked “Are you Elijah?” he probably would have said, “No. My name is John.” The context of the passage is a request for a physical identity, not a prophetic one. John also denied being “the Prophet” because that had messianic implications.


05.03.01.Z MAP OF THE TRAVEL ROUTE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.  Little is known of the travels of John the Baptist. Scholars believe his primary area of ministry was above the Dead Sea, on both sides of the Jordan River. See also the 6th century Madaba Mosaic Map (05.02.03.Z) depicting “Bethany beond the Jordan.” Courtesy of International Mapping and Dan Przywara.

[1]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 5.


[2]. The leading Jews in this case would have been the Sadducees and or leading Pharisees.


[3]. The priests and Levites were the two classes of religious leaders employed in the temple. See Josh. 3:3; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ezek. 44:15; Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 5.


[4]. When the gospel writers used terms such as “Jews from Jerusalem” or “Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem” or similar statements ending with “from Jerusalem,” these persons were generally representatives of the Sanhedrin who came to listen, observe, and eventually challenge both John the Baptist and Jesus. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 5.


[5]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 259, n42.    

[6]. Tenney, “John.” 9:35.

[7]. 8:13-17 = Column 8, lines 13-17; Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 109.


[8]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:409.


[9]. Gilbrant, “Matthew” 15; Niemi, “The Life of the Dead Sea.” 44.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.03.02 JOHN INTRODUCED JESUS

05.03.02 Jn. 1:29-34




29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ 31 I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so He might be revealed to Israel.”

32 And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him. 33 I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on — He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God!”


There were two aspects to the message of John.


  1. The arrival of the prophetic Kingdom of God (Mt. 3:2).


  1. The salvation of humanity, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29).


These two themes encompassed the entire ministry of the Baptist.


“The lamb of God.” From the time of the Exodus, God had instructed the Hebrew children to sacrifice a lamb to God at Passover (Isa. 53:7; Jer. 11:19) to commemorate their deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Ex.12:3-6).  After the resurrection, that lamb was symbolic of Jesus who was crucified on Passover to remove the sins of the world.  The Baptist made a three-point declaration that Jesus was


  1. The Lamb of God of Isaiah 53


  1. The One who was to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and


  1. Is the Son of God. The lamb has become a symbol of Christ in Christian art and in

Communion services throughout church history.


Ironically, there was no mention that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed on the cross as a sin offering for the people of the world (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).  The ancient prophets did mentioned the sacrifice of Jesus (although not by name), but neither the disciples nor Jews of His day contemplated His death.


“After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.” Another translation of this paradoxical phrase is, “after me comes a man who is before me.” John recognized that he was six months older than Jesus, but Jesus pre-existed throughout all eternity past.


“I didn’t know him.”  John most certainly would have known Jesus personally; they were cousins.  But John also admitted that he did not completely comprehend the majesty of his kinsman who was born of a virgin.



05.03.02.Q1 Was the baptism by John (Jn. 1:26, 33) similar to the baptism ritual that the Jews performed when a proselyte joined them? 


The public ritual to “baptize with water”and repent from sin is the major similarity of the two baptisms. The Jews required a Gentile convert to renounce all evil, to be completely immersed in water, accept circumcision (for men) and to wear new clothing that identified him as a member of the Jewish community. John required complete repentance and immersion, but not a change of clothing, as his ministry was only to the Jews.[1]



05.03.02.Q2 How does John 1:29 reconcile with Luke 7:19?     


John 1:29 is in reference to a completely different context than is Luke 7:19. The John 1:29 passage was written when Jesus began His ministry and Luke 7:19 has reference to a later time when John the Baptizer was in prison. In the latter situation, John remembered that the messiah would set the captives free, so he naturally questioned why he was sitting in the prison dungeon of the Machaerus Fortress. Under this stressful situation, he also questioned his ministry and the work he had been doing on behalf of his Cousin.


Furthermore, John had his own opinions of what the messiah would be like. He spoke repeatedly and forcefully of the One coming after him as the One who would bring fire and judgment.  But Jesus was not a “fire, hell, and brimstone preacher” calling for repentance.  Rather, Jesus was mild mannered who taught thousands and performed many, many miracles. So it did not take very long for John to have some additional doubts and he asked the question recorded by Luke, especially when he (John) was sitting in prison.  That is why the Baptizer sent a disciple to Jesus to ask this important question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  But what John did not know was that he was correct about his apocalyptic message – because when Jesus returns He will come as the divine judge precisely as he (John) preached.

[1]. Tenney, “John.” 9:36.

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