A Study of John 1:19-42
In our study of the Gospel of John, we’re coming today to chapter 1, verse 19, which is the beginning of the body or the main story of the content, after the marvelous prologue that we looked at last week. Let’s read this section, beginning with John 1:19. I want to make one note at the beginning. The Gospel of John was written by the apostle John, but he opens his book by talking about another man named John, who was John the Baptist. So there are two Johns here, and in this passage the apostle John is talking about John the Baptist:
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked Him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
All this happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw hem following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Just who do you think you are? Have you ever asked yourself that? Are you grappling with these existential issues of self-identity, trying to figure yourself out. I had the best dad in the world, but he didn’t always understand me when I was teenager. One day he asked what was wrong with me, and I told him I was just trying to figure out who I was. He scoffed at that. He didn’t understand, and on that occasion I just didn’t get any help.
In retrospect, he might have brought me to this passage, which deals with this very issue using three illustrations:
- Who are you, John?
- Who are you, Jesus?
- Who are you, Peter?
And if we can figure out who they are, we can figure out who we are. So let’s have a stab at it.
Who Are You, John?
Look at verse 19 again: Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
Just who do you think you are?
Most of us Bible students have underestimated the sensational nature of John’s ministry. Let me try to describe it. After the prophet Malachi, there had been no great anointed preacher in Israel for 400 years. The Hebrew text of the Bible stopped. Centuries passed. And suddenly news spread that an Old Testament-like figure was preaching with tremendous power in the Jordan Valley. He looked like an Old Testament prophet. He sounded like one. God was speaking to them again. This was a great awakening and word spread mouth to mouth. Crowds began gathering by the thousands from all over Israel and from all over the Mediterranean world. Later the apostle Paul would discover that people in far off places knew about John’s ministry even though they had not heard Jesus. His preaching struck Judah like an earthquake.
And so the Jewish high priest and the Jewish officials in Jerusalem sent a delegation down the Jericho Road, across the Jordan River, and the managed to press through the crowds to get to this eccentric evangelist, and they had one question.
Just who do you think you are?
Verse 20 says: He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
There was undoubtedly a lot of speculation that John the Baptist was the long-awaiting Messiah, but he said, “I am not. That’s not who I am.”
Then asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
There was a tradition based on some Old Testament verses that the prophet Elijah, who had been taken to Heaven in chariots of fire, would return to announce the coming of the Messiah, but John said, “Nope. That’s not who I am.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
Moses had predicted that one day a great prophet would arise, referring to the Messiah.
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us answer to take back to those who set us. What do you say about yourself.”
I don’t have time to parse John’s answer, but in essence John simply said, “I am coming before the one, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
My identity is bound up in the one, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.
That’s a pretty good way of answering the question: “Who am I?”
You will never find yourself until you find Him. And you won’t find your identity until you find the one, Jesus, the straps of whose sandals you and I are not worthy to untie.
Who Are You, Jesus?
So if we can’t find out who we are until we find out who He is, then who is He? And here we have the single most remarkable introduction of a notable person ever recorded in human history.
Verse 29 says: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John the Baptist could have said:
- Look, the Messiah Israel has awaited for 2000 years!
- Look, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David!
- Look, the Ruler of the kings of the Earth!
- Look, the Eternal God made Flesh!
- Look, the Savior of the whole World!
All those things would have been true. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist reached out and grabbed hold of the Scarlet Strand that ties together the entire Scripture, Genesis to Revelation. It’s what J. Sidlow Baxter calls The Master Theme of the Bible.
And I’ll you—it’s very difficult for critics of the Bible to explain the unity and progression of this master theme of Scripture.
It begins in the early chapters of Genesis, when God slays an animal to clothe Adam and Eve, and then He asks their children, Cain and Abel, to bring an acceptable offering. Abel brings a lamb, the finest of the firstborn lambs his flock. This proves to be an acceptable sacrifice.
In Genesis 22, two thousand years before the birth of Christ, Abraham and his son Isaac go to the top of a mountain that would become Jerusalem, and Isaac asks, “Where is the sacrifice?” And Abraham said, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” And he said, “On this mountain—the mountain of the Lord—it will be provided.”
Generations pass, and the descendants of Abraham and Isaac are enslaved in Egypt until God sends catastrophic plagues against the land, including the death of all the firstborn. But the families of Israel were told to each take a lamb, slaughter it, and paint the doorframes of their houses with the blood, and because of the blood of the Passover lambs, the Israelites would be shielded from death.
The Day of Atonement
The Israelites fled Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and camped at Mount Sinai, where God established an annual holy day known as the Day of Atonement, during which a lamb would be slaughtered as an emblem of the shedding of blood necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The lamb was to be without fault or blemish—as perfect as conceivable.
From that point, century after century, the priests of Israel offered the lambs of God on the temple altars. And then, 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah added an essential piece of information, a truly shocking revelation in the progressive unfolding of this doctrine. Isaiah revealed that the lamb of God was a person. Isaiah 53 says:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
What Abel, Abraham, the Israelites of the Passover, and the priests of the atonement had been pre-enacting for thousands of years was part of a concatenated, progressive revelation about a single person who was to come.
John the Baptist
That’s why when Jesus walked down the Jordan Valley to the site of John’s great revival, John saw Him and said, “This is the One who fulfills the scarlet strand—this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
But that’s not the end of the scarlet strand. Look at Acts 8, the story of the Ethiopian. This man, a high government official from North Africa, was returning home from visiting Jerusalem in the days of the apostles. Verses 28 and following say: …on his way home (he) was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to the chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth?”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
The Lamb of God didn’t simply die for an individual like Abel.
He didn’t simply die for a family like Abraham’s.
He didn’t simply die for a nation like Israel.
He died for the people of Ethiopia—for all the world.
Now look at how Peter remembered that day by the Jordan River in 1 Peter 1:18: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
And then we come to the book of Revelation, where Jesus is introduced to us during a vast worship service in Heaven. Look at Revelation 5:6 and following:
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Jesus Christ is called the Lamb 33 times in the book of Revelation—one time for each year of His earthly life.
And now, let me show you Heaven. Let me show you the City. Look at Revelation 21:22 and following:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamb is its light….
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve…
With credit due to Sidlow Baxter and others who have taught this long before me, look at the incredible concatenated unfolding scarlet strand that links Genesis to Revelation:
- Abel showed us the necessity of the Lamb.
- Abraham spoke of the provision of the Lamb.
- The Passover emphasized the blood of the Lamb.
- Leviticus talked about the pure, spotless character of the Lamb.
- Isaiah showed us the personality of the Lamb.
- John identified the Lamb.
- The Ethiopian showed us the Lamb was for whosoever of any and every nation.
- Peter spoke of the precious nature of the Lamb.
- In Revelation we see the enthronement of the Lamb.
- And in New Jerusalem we will be with the Lamb of God and serve Him forever.
That’s who Jesus was! And that’s why John introduced Jesus in this way: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the earth.”
Who Are You Peter?
Well, there was a young man from Galilee who had traveled down from Capernaum and become part of the John the Baptist Revival, and he heard what John said. His name was Andrew, and that day he began following Jesus. And the first think he did was to find his brother, Simon, and to bring him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at Simon—a young, impetuous, volatile, immature Galilean and He said to him, “I’m going to give you name. Let’s call you Peter—Simon Peter, the Rock.” And that’s how Simon Peter found out who he really was.
Here’s the lesson of it all. It’s very simple. We will never discover who we are until we discover who He is.
Without Jesus Christ, we have no durable basis for developing our self-identity, self-esteem, or self-worth. I didn’t answer my own question, “Who am I?” until the night I surrendered my life fully to Christ. And somehow the question of my identify was swallowed up by His love for me.
We’ll never know who are until we find who He made us to be, until we begin following the one, the stamps of whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, until we give our lives to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Until we say:
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fear, within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.