1:19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
- The men would have come from the Sanhedrim, which was the high council of the Jews at the time. This council was composed of both Pharisees and Sadducees, and was in charge of the religious affairs of the Jewish people, along with other things (cf. Barnes Notes), though I’m not sure exactly what else fell under their purview. It seems likely that they would have been a sort of representative voice for the Jewish people to the Roman occupiers.
1:20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
- His correct answer here assumes that they asked the question, or at least meant to ask the question as to whether or not he was the Christ.
- Barnes says that this is the true mark of a gospel minister, “all Christians, and especially all Christian ministers, however much they may be honoured and blessed, should be willing to lay all their honours at the feet of Jesus; to keep themselves back and to hold up before the world only the Son of God. To do this is one eminent mark of the true spirit of a minister of the gospel.”
1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
- Note the two different people they mention here. They mention Elijah (Malachi 4:2-5), then they mention “the Prophet”, this is the prophet that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” The Jews thought of this prophet as someone who would arise prior to the Christ, but they were wrong. The Christ (Jesus) and the Prophet spoken of this in passage are actually one in the same.
- Calvin notes that, “But in this passage John has a different object in view, which is, to show that he has no special message, as was usually the case with the prophets, but that he was merely appointed to be the herald of Christ.”
- So there is a sort of comparison between an expected Prophet and John the Baptist here. John denies that he is the prophet saying “no”, but Christ later will say that he is the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:9) and fulfilled the role of Elijah as well (Matt. 11:14; Mark 9:13). He is a combination of the two, so to speak, though he has no specific prophetic message. As Calvin states, “The distinction lies in this, that the voice crying, that a way may be prepared for the Lord, is not a prophet, but merely a subordinate minister, so to speak; and his doctrine is only a sort of preparation for listening to another Teacher. In this way John, though he is more excellent than all the prophets, still is not a prophet.”
- So it is appropriate to say that Christ Himself was perhaps the ultimate prophet that Moses was speaking of. In fact, Peter makes this very clear in Acts 3:19-22 when he says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”
1:22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
- Note how they demand that he must give some kind of account. They really seem pushy. It is obviously a test of John that God is allowing to bring Himself glory. We will all face this moment, when people see the way our lives are changed as a result of Christ’s work in us. The question will inevitably come, but what we say on behalf of Christ is a matter of obedience. Will we give honor and glory to Him? Or will we shrug off the compliment and puff ourselves up? What our response is to this question shows how gospel-focused our lives really are.
1:23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
- This phrase is referring to John’s mission to prepare the hearts of those men and women who would be soon hearing the message of the Christ. He is making their hearts and paths (so to speak) straight. He is baptizing them in a baptism of repentance in preparation for the gospel message.
- This was not the same kind of baptism that we receive today. When we are baptized today we do so as an outward signification and identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who had been baptized in the baptism of John were not identifying with the coming Christ, but rather showing an outward desire for repentance.
1:24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
- The reason this was such a poignant questions was because it was unusual to baptize Jews the way John was baptizing them. It was customary to baptize proselytes (converting gentiles), but it was not customary to baptize Jewish people who by their natural descent from Abraham would not have been considered so unclean as a pagan gentile.
- Baptism, then as now, was a sign of cleansing and repentance and John was here adding something to the normal religious rites and order, and this (combined with his popularity) were worthy of attention from the highest officials.
1:26-28 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
- It is significant to note that the sandal of a man was a very dirty and disgusting piece of clothing. Slaves weren’t even required to unleash the sandal off their master’s feet, because that was considered below a slave and ill treatment. Such was the humility of John. How unlike the typical young pastor in popular evangelical circles! Instead of grabbing for the brass ring, he got down on his face and counted himself unworthy to even touch the dirty sandal of the man coming after him.
How do we teach this to our children? If you were to tell your children on the way home today that you learned about how Jesus was and is the Word of God, what would you say?
EXAMPLE: This morning we learned more about the mission of John the Baptist. John was a man who was sent from God to prepare the hearts of the people of Israel for the coming of their Messiah. Who was the Messiah (savior) they were looking for? (JESUS). Right! Jesus. And John’s job was to help all of the people of Israel repent of their sins and prepare their hearts to hear what Jesus was going to say. Do you know what it means to “repent?” Well, to repent means to “turn” from your sin and your wrong actions and ask God to forgive you. That’s what John the Baptist was sent by God to do! Just like the people of Israel were supposed to repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness, we do the same, by asking Jesus to forgive us of our sins. Only Jesus can forgive us of our sins, because only Jesus died and paid the penalty for our sins.