John (Part 4): Prologue Final to John's Declaration of the Lamb of God (Ch 1:10-34)
The first section of the prologue, verses 1-5, explained the Communication of God. The second section, verses 6-9, spoke of the Testimony of God. The third section, verses 10-13, show us the Revelation of God. In the progression from one section to the next, John follows “the Word” from preincarnate Creator to the Word made flesh in Jesus.
Verse 10 of the revelatory section starts us out with the connection back to the preincarnate God. By saying “he was in the world,” John explains the infusion of God in his truth, goodness, and beauty that intricately exists in all creation. But even with the infusion, the world in sin rejected him. Verse 11 speaks of the Word coming in physical form to “His own”—this creation of his. But again, in physical form he is rejected by his own people. The good news, however, is that all who do receive him are made his children. These image bearers of faith are not born of blood (human lineage) or of the will of the flesh (human capacity) or of the will of man (human volition). They are born of God—an important concept drawing a striking and absolute difference between the sin-condemned race whose heritage descends from Adam and the sin-relieved race who are newly born of God.
The prologue continues in verses 14 through 18. These verses highlight the activity of Jesus the man that actually parallel the purpose and plan of God the Word that we have seen in the first half of the prologue. Upon reaching verse 18, we read that Christ is with God and revealing God exactly as the Word (communicator/revealer) was with God in verse 1. When the first and last verses of a section are making the same point, it is an indication that the whole section may be constructed as a chiasm, and indeed it is.
A – 1-3 Word was with God
Word infused creation with truth, goodness, and beauty
B – 4-5 Word infused life with light (revelation)
Darkness did not comprehend
C – 6-9 Word (light) testified to by John
John was not the light
D – 10-11 Word was in the world
World did not recognize Word
E – 12-13 Right to be children of God
Born of God
D1 – 14 Christ is the Word become flesh
We observed his glory
C1 – 15 Christ testified to by John
Christ surpassed John
B1 – 16-17 Christ delivered grace and truth
Law did not overcome
A1 – 18 Christ was with God
Christ revealed God to us
By placing the prologue in chiastic form, John shows the parallelism of the purpose and mission of the Word and Christ, centering in the mid-point focus of birthing image-bearing children of God.
Following the prologue, the next major section of the Gospel includes the rest of chapter 1 and concludes at the end of chapter 2. This section may be titled the Purifying Work of Christ (1:19-2:25). It is organized largely by days. In other words, John relates an incident; transitions with a comment something like, “The next day…”; and then provides the next incident corresponding to that next day. So, we will discuss this section according to the “day” division that John uses.
Day 1 begins with verse 19 and continues through verse 28. This section speaks in detail of the Herald’s testimony. In fact, the beginning clause let’s us know that: “This is John’s testimony.” By that clause, John also ties the prologue’s reference to John’s testimony to this more specific detail.
One question we may have at the outset is how does John the Apostle (the Gospel author) know what John the Baptist is saying in this section? Of course, we can understand his knowledge in the same way Luke received his knowledge to write his Gospel—through the testimony of other sources. However, several times in this Gospel John appeals to his eyewitness status to provide assurance of the truth of his statements. In John 21:24, we read that the author both “testifies to these things” and “wrote them down.” In John 20:30, John combines these events with others not recorded as the signs Jesus performed “in the presence of His disciples” of whom John was one. At another time, John insists that the particular event may be believed because “he who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth” (19:35). Therefore, a quality of eyewitness testimony rather than mere story relating seems present in this Gospel. Additionally, five disciples are introduced in this first chapter. Four of them are named. The unnamed one is generally believed to be John himself—a coded way of saying, “I was there.” And this unnamed disciple (whom we presume is John) is said to be first a disciple of John the Baptist. And there we have an answer as to how John the Apostle knew what John the Baptist was saying: John the Apostle was physically there listening as one of the Baptist’s disciples.
Verse 19 tells us that Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites. The Jews from Jerusalem is no doubt the Sanhedrin—the ruling body of the nation. The priests are probably of the party of the Pharisees while the Levites may merely be a contingent of the temple guard to ensure protected passage. That the priests are Pharisees is implied in verse 24. The Sadducees may have been concerned that the Baptist has no messianic plans to raise an army and rebel against Rome, but it is the Pharisees who would, after being satisfied that he has no messianic hopes, continue to probe to find out just how John sees himself in the scheme of OT prophecy and covenant influence.
Upon their first questions, the Apostle emphasizes that the Baptist is willing to provide an answer. He is not being elusive. The Greek actually emphatically states, “He confessed and did not deny, and confessed….” The emphasis is probably first to downplay the exalted status some people may have imagined for the Baptist as the story of his ministry grew in legend in the ensuing decades. Additionally, the Baptist was probably very insistent to downplay his own status. He was not the Messiah, and he had no problem saying so and insisting on it.
The priests seem confused. So, if not the Messiah, was he Elijah or the Prophet? The Baptist answers no to both. Although Jesus does call the Baptist Elijah in Matthew 11:14, Jesus is giving the theologically correct association. The Baptist is a separate person with the spirit of Elijah. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day twisted the OT prophecy to believe that Elijah himself was supposed to bodily return. The Baptist answers the Pharisees’ supposition: no, he is not Elijah returned.
The Prophet is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15. Again, the theologically correct understanding is that the Prophet is the Messiah himself. The Pharisees confused this into a separate person. So, again John says no, he is not their idea of the Prophet.
Totally baffled, the Pharisees ask then why he baptizes. If he is not any of these predicted leaders, why is he performing a ritual that only Levitical priests were supposed to perform? John’s implied answer is that as herald of the Messiah, his baptism is a symbolic representation of a purification of the wrong (Pharisaical) idea that the Hebrew nation is the pride and goal of the covenant. Repenting of that and turning to the Kingdom of Heaven (rather than the kingdom of the Jews’ own selfish imagination) is the point of the repentance and purification. But his activity is merely pointing the way with the symbolical activity of baptizing. The Messiah would baptize as well, not symbolically with water, but rather with the Holy Spirit which would effect true cleansing.
The passage ends mentioning that this baptism was taking place in Bethany across the Jordan. We do not know today where exactly Bethany beyond the Jordan was located. Many believe it was just north of the Dead Sea. It may be more likely that John was baptizing at an area about 10-13 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. This would coincide with the fact that all five of the disciples Jesus gains at this time are from the region. Additionally, the day sequence time period indicates that it would be much too far to travel to Cana if the baptism were close to the Dead Sea.
The Day 2 events are recorded in 1:29 through 34. It begins with John declaring that Jesus is the Lamb of God. It ends with his declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. The term “Lamb of God” is used only here by John (in verses 29 and 36) in the entire New Testament. Of course, the idea that Jesus is the lamb is recorded throughout, even into Revelation. But perhaps the exact phrase is limited to the Baptist’s declaration merely to highlight that this was the duty of Messiah’s herald. He was not merely heralding the current Jewish idea of a national messiah, but rather he was noting the mission to sacrifice that would indeed take away the sin of the world.
John says he “didn’t know him.” Of course, John would have known Jesus on a personal level—they were relatives, maybe first cousins. But his knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah was settled when the Baptist say the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove at his baptism. And even this imagery emphasizes the contrast in ministry while highlighting the perfection of Jesus’ ministry. John baptized symbolically with water. Jesus, the Messiah, would baptize with the Holy Spirit.