Translations: Chinese GB Big5

John 1:19-34 (web)

John the Baptist

Make straight the way of the Lord

1:19 This is John's testimony,
when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
1:20 He confessed, and didn't deny, but he confessed, "I am not the Christ."
1:21 They asked him,
"What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not."
"Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No."
1:22 They said therefore to him,
"Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.
What do you say about yourself?"
1:23 He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said." (Isaiah 40:3)

1:24 The ones who had been sent were from the Pharisees.
1:25 They asked him,
"Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"
1:26 John answered them,
"I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don't know.
1:27 He is the one who comes after me,
who is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I'm not worthy to loosen."
1:28 These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Behold the Lamb of God

1:29 The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said,
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
1:30 This is he of whom I said,
'After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.'
1:31 I didn't know him, but for this reason I came baptizing in water:
that he would be revealed to Israel."
1:32 John testified, saying,
"I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him.
1:33 I didn't recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me,
'On whomever you will see the Spirit descending,
and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'
1:34 I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God."

Discussion Questions

vs 21 Who is "the prophet" they refer to? (See Deut 18:15)
Why would they ask him about Elijah? (See Malachi 4:5)
In Matthew 11:14 Jesus identifies John the Baptist with Elijah, but here John claims not to be Elijah. How do you resolve this paradox?
vs 23 How does John attempt to "make straight the way for the Lord"? And how might we?
vs 27 What Christian virtue does John demonstrate here?
vs 29 In Judaism how are lambs used to take away sins?
vs 30 Jesus was 6 months younger than John, so how could John say that Jesus was before him? (See earlier in the chapter)
vs 33 Who or what is the Holy Spirit? What did John baptize with? What did Jesus baptize with? What happens during baptism?


Order of events: Given that John is providing a daily record of events, commentators have concluded that the events described here occurred after Jesus' baptism and subsequent 40 day temptation in the wilderness.

vs 19-23 John the Baptist was not the literal Elijah, but more a rather spiritual equivalent in accordance with what the angel spoke of him in Luke 1:17 "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." But concerning the prophecy in Malachi 4:5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." to which the priests and Levites alluded, Jesus says concerning John the Baptist, "if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come." Matt 11:14

"That prophet" refers to Deut 18:15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him." That prophet turned out to be Jesus as Peter affirms in Acts 3:22.

Thus the priests and Levites were incorrect in their interpretation of the literal Elijah preceding the coming of Christ, and their idea that the prophet Moses speaks of was different than Christ. The Muslims are also clearly incorrect today in their position of Mohammed being the prophet spoken of by Moses.

In quoting Isaiah 40:3 note that John operates in the wilderness rather from within institutionalized religion. Such is the case both with John and with Jesus. One might say that they didn't operate within organized religion. In fact both were treated with suspicion and hostility by the institutionally elite. To prepare for the Lord's coming John attempted to make the way straight. Isaiah continues, " Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain." Isaiah 40:4 The mountains are the proud, largely portrayed in the institutionally elite. These need to be humiliated. The valleys are the hopeless sinners. These need to be shown grace and the potential for forgiveness.
The way is also to be straight rather than crooked. People need to stop their crooked ways and go straight.

vs 24-28 His response to their inquisition of why he baptized was basically - "this is nothing compared to what is coming." The synoptics clarify this saying of Christ, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Matt 3:11 John's baptism was one of repentence, but Christ's is one of regeneration. One is associated with water and the other with the Holy Spirit and fire. Therefore realize that when the Bible speaks of baptism it is not necessarily referring to water baptism.

vs 29-34 "The Lamb of God" refers to the sacrifices made under the Law of Moses whereby sins were covered by animal sacrifices. But these were only a symbolic precursor to the atoning sacrifice to be made by Christ on the cross who would substantively take away the sin of the world. Notice he speaks of the world and not simply Israel. Thus from the start the gospel was not simply about God's relationship with the Jews, but God's relationship with the whole world. I think "sin" is singular in order to expressed it as a whole category and thus incorporate all sins.

It is unclear to me exactly what John meant when he said "I knew him not", for John was his cousin and his mother Elizabeth had declared Jesus as Lord even while still in Mary's womb. (Luke 1:43) and John also in the womb had somehow sensed the presence of the Lord Jesus as well (Luke1:44). And furthermore in Matthew 3:14 John revealed that he knew him even before revealed by the signs. It could be that John meant that he did not recognize him as Christ in an official capacity based upon external observations, even though he knew him personally as Christ. The word for "know" here is not ginosko which is a relational knowledge, but oida which is knowledge gained by perception. And although even in the womb he perceived Christ, yet did not perceive him based on external signs. It was here at Christ's baptism that he would officially declare Jesus as Christ - the annointed one - based on the signs given by God and  in a similar manner as the prophets had annointed the kings, so he would annoint this King with baptism.

NIV version used in comments

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015