Sorry - cannot display this picture in this browser, it is a view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

John 1:15, 19-36


John the Baptist.


These online Bible study notes or guides are free for you to use for small groups, for individual Bible studies, or as Bible commentaries.

If you would like to PRINT or copy this study, click HERE for the PDF file.




15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’)


19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

21 They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’

He said, ‘I am not.’

‘Are you the Prophet?’

He answered, ‘No.’

22 Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’

26 ‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.


Now John turns our attention again to John the Baptist.


The importance of John in the divine scheme of things probably is summed up best by the testimony of Jesus himself. “Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11).


Because he had played such an important role in introducing John to repentance and faith, and subsequently to Jesus himself, John includes him here at the start of his Gospel. But he makes sure that we understand he was not the Messiah.


15 John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’


If anyone needed further proof, John the Baptist himself had denied that he was the Messiah: ‘I am not the Messiah.’ (v19).


But before he continues talking about John the Baptist, John can’t stop himself from telling us more about Jesus – who was the Messiah!


16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

(These verses were covered in our previous study.

For the rest of this section ‘John’ will refer to John the Baptist, otherwise there may be some confusion!)


God had sent many prophets to his people in the past and the last one was probably Malachi. What had Malachi prophesied?


Malachi 3:1

‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.

4:5

‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.


The people had returned from exile but their land was still under foreign control. So they waited expectantly for this promised messenger.


Control of their land had passed from Babylonia, to Persia, Greece, Egypt, and Syria. The Jews had revolted under Judas Maccabeus in 167bc, but Rome had regained control in 63bc.


And still they waited for a word from God – but there had simply been agonising silence for the last four hundred years. Now maybe at last God had sent them the promised messenger.


19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’


A high-powered delegation consisting of Priests, Levites and Pharisees (v24) had been sent from the religious authorities in Jerusalem.


Besides the ‘Messenger’ of Malachi they were also waiting for the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and the Messiah himself. (It is possible to find around sixty prophecies in the Old Testament relating to the coming of Jesus – the Messiah of God. There is a list of many of these at the end of this study.)


But John emphasises here that he was not the Messiah.


21 They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’

He said, ‘I am not.’

‘Are you the Prophet?’

He answered, ‘No.’

22 Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’


This was covered in detail in the study on Elijah (1 Kings Elijah 21) but I have repeated part here:


We have a difficulty in John 1:21 where the Religious Leaders came to John and asked him outright ‘Are you Elijah?’ to which he replied ‘No’. Compare that with the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:14 if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.


John knew he was John, not Elijah, and it was not for John to say that he had the spirit of Elijah. That would be for other people to recognise. The important thing here is contained in what Jesus said: ‘if you are willing to accept it’.


To accept that John was the forerunner means that we must therefore accept that Jesus was the Messiah. And that was the sticking point for the Religious Leaders. But for those who were to accept Jesus as Lord, John was truly their Elijah.


For those who still find this a problem, it might help to look at the prophecies concerning Jesus. In passages such as Hosea 3:5 and Ezekiel 34:23-24, the Messianic king is called "David." But this does not mean that Christ is a reincarnation or resurrection of David, or that David was prophesied to return to earth to reign. David was simply a ‘type’ or an example pointing to Jesus.


23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ (Isaiah 40:3)


John knew he had been called by God for this specific purpose and was therefore happy to identify himself with this prophecy. But the religious leaders with their well-developed systematic theology couldn’t accept that an outsider could take the authority to preach ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 3:3) without their authorisation.

However they had correctly concluded that if he was to be genuine he had to be either ‘the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet


24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’


They may well have had in mind the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:25-28

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.


In the minds of the Pharisees, someone who baptised like John must surely be the expected Messiah.

26 ‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’


Note ‘I baptise with water’ – the first part of Ezekiel’s prophecy – in verse 33 he will identify Jesus as ‘the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit’.


John was already aware that his job was not to be a prophet, foretelling the coming of Christ. Rather it was to be a herald, or ‘Messenger’, announcing that the messiah was already here, and preparing the people to meet him. Compared to him, John was an unworthy slave – they should be looking for the Son of God.


(Already here? Yes – be patient- we will cover this in verse 32!)


28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’


(Bethany? No-one knows, several sites have been suggested)


Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!


This is the heart of the Gospel of John – would someone like to explain the significance of the title ‘Lamb of God’?

Sin cannot be ignored, it must be punished. ‘The wages of sin is death’ Romans 6:23. But the book of Leviticus teaches that God will accept a substitutionary sacrifice, and for the time being that was to be a sinless perfect animal. But that was always looking forward to the time when Jesus would give his life in our place – as the Lamb of God. Once Jesus had died in our place: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9 (see also Romans 5:12-21).


I myself did not know him’ v31


John’s birth had been miraculous. (You may want to read Luke 1:5-45)

Mary, Jesus’ mother was herself in the early stages of pregnancy. She was told (Luke 1:36) by the Angel Gabriel that miraculously, Elizabeth (‘barren’ ) and Zechariah (‘both well on in years’) were to have a special baby. He too had been announced by the Angel Gabriel ‘he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’. Luke 1:17


Map017

Map017

Mary had travelled at least sixty miles from her home town of Nazareth to a town in the ‘hill country’ of Judah (somewhere between Ephraim and Beersheba) in order to be with ‘her relative’.


Elizabeth, an elderly lady who was by now six month’s pregnant could do with help.


John’s birth was memorable, and during the three months that the ladies were together they would have had plenty to discuss concerning the Angel Gabriel’s prophecies concerning them. Elizabeth and Mary were both expecting special sons.


Luke 1:56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. This suggests that she waited for Elizabeth to give birth before she left. Six months later she was to return south for the census, and the birth of her own baby in Bethlehem.


It is unlikely that Elizabeth would have known of this. Before easy communication news of important events had to be sent by messenger; everything else spread by gradual word-of-mouth. By the time that Jesus was taken to the Temple for circumcision, as Zechariah’s term had ended he would have left the Temple and returned home (Luke 1:23).


Not long after his birth, Jesus was taken to Egypt to flee from Herod. A few years later, when they returned, they decided to go back to Nazareth as the cruel and tyrannical Herod Archelaus had succeeded his father and was reigning in Judea.


Elizabeth and Zechariah, already old, eventually died, and Luke (1:80) records of John: And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Mary knew a lot about John – and obviously told others, like Luke, so Jesus would have also known. John however may well have been orphaned at a young age and there would have been no reason for Elizabeth to have mentioned to him about Mary and her pregnancy. So:


I myself did not know him’ v31


32 Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’


What do you make of the phrase in v33 ‘the one who sent me to baptise with water told me?’

Luke says in 1:15 that John would be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth’ and in 3:2 that ‘the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness


Matthew, (3:13-17) Mark (1:9-11) and Luke (3:21-22) all recorded the Baptism of Jesus. It was a very public act and many would have seen it. But whether the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove, or the sound of the voice of God from Heaven were observed by all or by just John and Jesus we don’t know. If other people witnessed it, they must have been stunned.


But John’s message had changed (v34-36): ‘I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’ and: The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’






Prophecies from the Old Testament

The following list is taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_and_messianic_prophecy


Daniel 9:24-27

Deuteronomy 18:15

Ezekiel 37:26-27

Haggai 2:6-9

Hosea 11:1

Isaiah 7:14, 8:23-9:1 (9:1-2), 9:5 (9:5,6), 11:12, 53:5

Jeremiah 31:15

Micah 5:2

Psalm 2, 16, 22, 34, 69, 110

2 Samuel 7:14

Zechariah 9:9, 12:10





John 1(a) John 1(c) NIV Copyright