The Witness of John

John, in his gospel’s prologue (1:1-5), identified Jesus as a shining light that darkness could not “apprehend” or overcome. He then added, “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light that all might believe through him” (John 1:6-8).

John the Baptist was sent into the world to bear witness of the light. While John’s birth was not a virgin birth (as was Jesus’); it was unusual. His mother, Elizabeth, had been barren all her married life and when John was born, she was said to be stricken in years. The birth of John was promised to his parents (along with his mission), just as the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary. The scriptures which predicted his birth are not as numerous as are those who centered around the Messiah, but his birth was prophesied just as was the birth of Jesus. Isaiah was the first prophet to specifically prophesy of his coming when he wrote, “The voice of one that crieth, ‘Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level and the rough places a plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it” (Isaiah 40:3-5). The Old Testament closed with a promise of his coming saying, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day come and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of children to their fathers, less I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). Mark’s gospel (considered to be the first of the four gospels written) begins with Malachi’s prophecy to introduce the ministry of John (Mark 1:1-3). It was this prophecy of Malachi which was the basis for the general expectation among the Jews that the prophet Elijah would personally return, and it was this same prophecy Jesus referenced when he identified John the Baptist as “the Elijah” which was to come (Matthew 17:10-13). So powerful was John’s preaching that all of the common people believed John was a prophet, albeit unlike many of the other prophets, he worked no miracles (John 10:41).

John was the end of one era and the beginning of another: “The law and the prophets were unto John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it” (Luke 16:16). From this passage we see that until John the subjects taught and studied centered around the law and the prophets; after John the preaching swirled around the “kingdom of God”. John was “one of a kind”. Jesus asked, “What went ye out in the wilderness to see? A prophet, yea and more than a prophet…. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”  (Matthew 11:11). John was the herald of the coming Messiah! Unfortunately for John, while he preached of the approaching kingdom, he was never in it: he died before it began. The “least” (KJV) in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John: greater because John was never in the kingdom.

John was sent to announce that the kingdom, predicted through many prophets in the years before him, was coming. He was sent to prepare a people for that kingdom and for the Lord by commanding them to repent of their sins and be baptized for the remission of them (Mark 1:4). He was to prepare the people for the Lord by telling them He was coming, then to identify Him when He did come. He knew Jesus was that One because He who sent him to baptize in water had given him a sign how to identify that One. Whomever John saw the Holy Spirit descending upon and abiding was the Messiah. It was upon Jesus, when He was baptized, that John saw the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and abiding upon Him (John 1:31-34). John testified that the “Coming One” was the Eternal One because John described Jesus thusly: “He that cometh after me is become before me, FOR HE WAS BEFORE ME” (John 1:30). John also identified Jesus as “The Lamb of the God that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). John’s testimony regarding Jesus caused many of those who had been his disciples to leave him to follow Jesus   Such was part of his mission and John knew this would happen. He said, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The apostle John introduced John the Baptist into the text because of the important role he played in the personal ministry of Jesus. But as significant and important to Christ’s work as John was, the writer of the gospel hastens to remind us that “He was not the light but came to bear witness of the light” (John 1:8).

Jim McDonald

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