19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 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?” 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.”24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:19 - 29 (ESV)
We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist. We do know that John was of priestly descent. His father
was a priest and his mother was from the line of Aaron (Moses’ brother). Both were righteous before
God. (Luke 1:5,6). He was strong in Spirit. He was a person of energy and strength; quite charismatic
you can imagine. He lived in the desert (or wilderness) for most of his adult life until his public ministry
began. He was an odd-looking fella clothed in camel hair and a belt and ate locusts and wild honey. In his
public ministry he preached baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. He had disciples. He prepared
the way (or was a witness) for the coming Messiah.
The religious leaders sent some priests and Levites to question John the Baptist. They were sent to ask
John about who he was. This was not a casual “Who are you?” question. These leaders were coming to
find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet.
At this time Israel was under Roman leadership and they had lost their sense of independence. There was
a profound sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation. The Jews
believed that Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and to establish his Kingdom through
the Nation of Israel.
John, however, fervently denies that he is the Messiah. He acknowledges that he is neither Elijah, nor the Prophet. He does say that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He is the one who is laying the foundation for the One that all of Israel is awaiting, the Messiah.
The leaders also asked by what authority he was baptizing? According to theologian D.A. Carson, “Their
interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish
groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e. proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to
Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the
Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is
baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking
around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end
 Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel of John p. 145 Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing Company
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