19.  Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

Now once again we have John the Baptizer brought before us as a witness.  The Greek word marturia, from which we get our word “martyr” (“u” and “y” are the same letter in Greek,) is the word used here, and indicates the testimony of a witness.  Once again, John the author is using John the Baptist as his first witness as to Who and what Christ is.

In this passage we have our first occurrence of the word “Jews” in the book of John.  There is a great misunderstanding regarding this word, and clearing up its meaning, particularly in the writings of John, will help us immeasurably in understanding what is to follow.  The word “Jews” in the book of John is not used to mean “Israelites” as opposed to “Gentiles” as it is in our modern-day English.  Rather, the word is used to mean the religious leaders of the nation of Israel.  It is usually applied to such men as the Pharisees, Sadducees, elders, priests, and scribes.  This might seem strange to us, as we think of “Jews” as merely meaning Israelites or those from “Judah.”  Yet I think we could grasp this use of “Jews” the best if we could think of it along the lines of what we might say of some great patriot of our country.  “He’s a real American,” we might say.  What do we mean by this?  Are we implying that many others are just fake Americans?  No, of course not.  What we mean is that this person is an embodiment of all an American should be.  He is patriotic, he is self-sacrificial, he is dedicated, just as anyone who truly loved and represented his country should be.  This is what we would mean if we would call someone a “real American.”

In the same way, the religious leaders were looked at as the model of what a true Jew should be.  IN looking back on it we see their hypocrisy, their greed, and their rejection of Christ, and we do not form a very high opinion of them.  Remember, though, that in their day, they were greatly looked up to and respected.  They were looked at as the continuation of the Maccabean movement that had saved the true worship of God from idolatry.  They were Israel’s watchdogs, if you will, those who assured and maintained the purity of their religion and worship of God.  As such, they were greatly admired.  They were considered by the people as true patriots and the personification of the perfect Israelite.  AS such they would call them “the Jews.”  The idea wasn’t that they were Jews and everyone else wasn’t anymore than calling someone a “real American” would indicate that everyone else wasn’t.  Rather, they were looked at as the “super-Jews,” just as a true patriot would be looked at as a “super-American.”  Thus the common people called them “the Jews,” and John uses this term in this way throughout his books.  Only when the term is used in contrast with a Gentile does it ever refer to just Jews in general rather than the leaders.  Yet very few modern Bible scholars have noticed this!  If we read our ideas of what a Jews is into the occurrences of this word in the book of John, we will not only find ourselves hopelessly confused, but we will start forming all kinds of wrong ideas.  That the Jews rejected Christ in John is clear.  Yet that the common people did not reject Him is also clear.  Yet if we read the term “Jews” as applying to all Israelites including the common people, we will be misrepresenting the truth.  It is the leaders who are called “Jews” in the book of John, and they were the ones who rejected Him.  To say anything else is to misrepresent the Word and slander those who accepted Him so gladly.

Now the Jews, that is, the religious leaders in Jerusalem send an envoy to John the Baptist.  Their purpose is to investigate him and determine who exactly he claims to be.  Some are wondering if he is the Messiah, whereas others think he is the fulfillment of some other great prophecy of the Old Testament.  This envoy from the Jews is to determine who John himself claims to be.

20.  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

The figure “Pleonasm” is used here, as it is commonly used throughout the Scriptures.  In this figure of speech, somehting that is said is repeated a second time in a slightly different way so that we cannot mistake its meaning.  John most clearly confessed and did not deny the fact that he was not the Messiah.  He was most careful to maintain this in such a clear way that no one could mistake what he was saying.

21.  And they asked him, “What then?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No.”

These were other ideas that the Jews had as to who he might be, relating to prophecies of great men to come.  Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (II Kings 2,) yet he is prophesied to come again before the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6.)  “The Prophet” was a man like unto Moses, whom Moses predicted would come and do a similar work for Israel as the one he himself had done (Deuteronomy 18:18.)  Again, John most clearly denies that he is either of these.  In spite of his clear denial, there are still some today who insist that he was Elijah!  Since Elijah is a grown man living in heaven and John had been born as a normal baby to Zechariah and Elizabeth, this seems a most unlikely scenario.  Those who want to make him Elijah say he was “spiritually” Elijah, which basically means that he wasn’t but they are going to pretend he was anyway.  Yet John’s clear statement here makes all such speculation void.  He was not Elijah.  (See also my message on “Matthew 17.”)

22.  Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?”

They had run out of ideas as to who he might be, yet they do not want to return to their masters without something to report to them.  John is clearly a great figure, and the Jews cannot believe that he is not the fulfillment of some prophecy somehow.  So at last, instead of setting forth their thoughts, they ask John for his.  Who does he himself claim to be?

The word “sent” here is the Greek word pempo and means a simple sending, not a commissioning with authority, as the more technical apostello does.

23.  He said, “I am
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the LORD,”’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John answers their question and identifies himself.  He is indeed the fulfillment of a prophecy, but not one of those they had thought of and set forth.  Rather, he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3.  He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  This was not considered one of the greatest or most anticipated prophecies in Scripture.  John could have garnered far more glory for himself by claiming to be Elijah or one of the prophets.  Yet John was not interested in glory for himself, but only to bring glory to his Lord.  Thus he takes his proper place, unspectacular as it may have been.

24.  Now those who were sent were form the Pharisees.

This confirms what I said above about the true identity of the “Jews.”  For those who let Scripture settle the meaning of words, this statement could not be plainer.  Yet for those who hold fast to anti-Semitic theology, such an explanation is unacceptable.  They insist on blaming all the Israelites for rejecting Christ, and the testimony of Scripture will not turn them from this belief.  Yet the truth in the Bible is clear for all who wish to seek it.

25.  And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

As I said above, this prophecy that John claimed to fulfill was not looked on as being one of great importance.  Thus the messengers of the Pharisees question John’s authority to baptize.  They were expecting baptism, as Ezekiel 36:25 had predicted, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”  Yet it seems to them that if he is not Christ or Elijah or even the Prophet, how can he claim to have authority to baptize followers as he is doing?  Why would people want to follow “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”?

26.  John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.

John’s answer clearly points to his purpose for baptizing.  He is not baptizing followers for himself.  Rather, he is baptizing them to prepare them to follow the One Who was coming after him, Christ Himself.

The Pharisees did not yet know Who Christ was, although He was already among them.  Yet He would soon be revealed, and that revelation would start with John himself.

27.  “It is He Who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

John points to the One coming after him, Jesus Christ, as the true purpose of both his ministry and his baptizing.  Not only that, but he willingly takes the subservient place, admitting that he is not even worthy to loosen the sandal strap of the Lord.  Humility indeed!  In this, John is an excellent example for us all.

28.  These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

This identifies for us the place of John’s baptism.  This place on the Jordan was near Jericho.

29.  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold!  The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!

The next day John’s prediction of One coming after him comes to pass.  John sees the Lord Jesus coming towards the place where he is baptizing, and John gives testimony to Him.  He calls Him the “Lamb of God.”  This is possibly in reference to Isaiah 53:7, where the Lord is described as “a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”  Not only that, but John predicts the work that the Lord has come to do: take away the sin of the world.  “World” again is kosmos, and indicates His intention, not just to pardon individual men, but also to remove sin from the very system and order of men called the world.  This will happen in the future when God’s Kingdom comes to earth at last.

30.  “This is He of Whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man Who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’

John positively identifies the Lord Jesus as the One he had spoken of earlier.  He is the One Who was preferred before John, and this in spite of the fact that He was younger than His cousin.  He had existed before He became a man.  He had been in the beginning.  He was God Himself.  John’s testimony here helps establish the point that the author John is trying to make: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God!

31.  “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”

John would have had no special knowledge of Christ over anyone else.  Yet he was given such knowledge so that he could fulfill a great purpose: to reveal Christ to Israel.  He was the one who was to draw back the curtain and announce Who was standing on the stage.  Moreover, this was the purpose for his baptizing with water: to reveal Chris to Israel.  His purpose was never to save people from their sins by baptizing them, nor did he ever suggest that such a thing would be accomplished by baptism.  Those who claim that baptism is to wash away sins are totally wrong.  Moreover, his baptism had nothing to do with believers today.  It was for the purpose of revealing Christ to Israel.  Once that was accomplished, his baptism was no longer necessary.  Many today try to find some other purpose for baptism with water.  Yet no other purpose is given in Scripture.  They attempt by doing this to justify committing water baptism today.  Yet there is no Biblical justification for such.  John was the Baptizer.  We have no right to carry on his work today.

32.  And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.

Once again John is called upon as a witness.  Rather than the author of the gospel telling us the story of Christ’s baptism, John here is called on as a witness to attest to what he saw and heard.  Moreover, the baptism itself is not mentioned, but only the descending of the Spirit.  This is because, though baptism may be appropriate for Christ as a King (Matthew,) a Servant (Mark,) and a Man (Luke,) as God the Lord needed no baptism, and so it would be inappropriate for it to be mentioned here.  Moreover, it would do nothing to help John’s objective of proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life through His name.  That is why John ignores the baptism and focuses only on the descending of the Spirit.

Notice that the Spirit descends “like” a dove.  It does not say that the Spirit was a dove or turned Himself into a dove.  The Spirit is not a dove, but a spirit, and thus cannot be seen with the human eyes.  This dove was a likeness the Spirit displayed so John could view His descending and confirm that it indeed had happened.  Moreover, the Spirit “remained upon Him.”  Of course Christ did not go around His entire life with a dove sitting on His shoulder like a pirate carrying around a parrot.  Though the Spirit remained on Him, the dove form disappeared, only being necessary for John to be able to confirm what happened and report it to us as a witness.

33.  “I did not know Him, but He Who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

Again John confirms that his knowledge of Jesus as the Christ was not due to some inherent knowledge he had, but rather was given to him for a purpose by God.  He Who sent John to baptize had told him to look out for the One Who would have the Spirit descend on Him like a dove.  This One would be He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  Yet “Holy Spirit” here does not have the definite articles, “THE Spirit THE Holy,” as the word “Spirit” does earlier in the verse and also in verse 32.  When the articles are not there and the Greek reads simply “spirit holy,” the emphasis is not on the person of the Holy Spirit, but rather upon His works.  In that case, it would be better thought of as holy power than as the person of the Holy Spirit.  Christ does not baptize with the PERSON of the Holy Spirit, but rather with His holy power.

34.  “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

Thus John concludes his witness.  He testifies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  To the Israelites who had so respected John and his ministry this testimony would be most compelling.  Thus John’s witness is the first great proof offered here in John’s gospel as to Who and what Jesus is.  Remember, this is the point of the gospel, and this is why he wrote this treatise.

35.  Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.

Now John the author moves on to the next day, and is going to offer the testimony of some of the disciples that Jesus is the Christ.  The story begins with John the Baptist standing with two of his as-yet unnamed disciples.

36.  And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

John looks intently at the Lord Jesus, and bears witness to these men as to Who He is: the Lamb of God.  This solemn pronouncement by their respected teacher must have moved these disciples deeply.

37.  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

The two disciples hear this, and are immediately intrigued by the Lord.  They make a decision, and choose to follow Him rather than John.  Indeed, this may well have been John’s intention for these two disciples in standing with them and making this pronouncement.  If so, what a submissive attitude he took towards God!  Rather than seeking in increase his followers and hold on to the best and most faithful of them, he instead sought to point them to the Lord.  This is a good attitude for us to emulate.  We are not seeking followers for ourselves, but only followers for God.

38.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”  They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”

The Lord asks them what they are seeking.  Their question in return point to their intention.  Although they do not come right out and ask it, they want to stay with Him.  A noble intention certainly.  What better thing might we do even in our dark and sinful day than to seek to stay with the Lord?

Notice that they address Him as “Rabbi.”  Never will you see the disciples using with the Lord the familiarity that is common in our day even between men and their superiors.  They never call Him “Jesus.”  Always they use some title such as “Lord” or “Teacher.”  Yet today many men are bold to call Him “Jesus” in their prayers, as if he were some sort of buddy they were hanging out with.  He is our Master, He is our Savior, He is our Lord.  We know how much He loves and cares for us because of His death for us.  Yet is it really right for us to address Him as if He were our neighbor next door?  We should all consider this, I think.  Perhaps our Lord deserves more respect than to just be called “Jesus.”

39.  He said to them, “Come and see.”  They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).

His response to them, “Come and see,” was an invitation to them to join Him, as they had asked.  John does not mention where it was that He was staying, but only that they remained with Him that day.  The tenth hour according to Hebrew reckoning would be the tenth hour of daylight, or about 3:00-4:00pm.

40.  One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Thus we learn the identity of one of the disciples involved here.  It was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.  The other disciple’s identity is never mentioned.  This may be because this disciple was John himself, as John is careful never to directly mention himself in this book.  It also could be that who the disciple was is inconsequential to the story.  The important point is what these disciples believed that made them leave John the Baptizer and follow the Lord Jesus.

41.  He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ).

Andrew’s first thought the next morning was to find Simon his brother and tell him what he had discovered.  Being close to my own brother, I can well imagine Andrew running to tell his brother the good news.  We find out what exactly Andrew thought about the Lord Jesus in what he tells Simon here.  He had heard the words of John the Baptist calling Him the “Lamb of God,” he had seen the Lord Jesus with his own eyes and spoken to Him, and now he had made up his mind.  He too now believed that this Jesus was the Messiah.

If there was any question in anyone’s mind as to the meaning of “Christ,” this verse should clear it away.  “Messiah” is the Hebrew word and “Christ” is its Greek translation.  Thus there is no difference between these two words other than that they are in two different languages.  They mean the same thing.  Yet there are many today who act like they do not.  Even such a great scholar as E.W. Bullinger in his appendixes to the Companion Bible suggests that the term Jesus Christ, “In the gospels it means ‘Jesus the Messiah.’  In the epistles it means Jesus Who humbled Himself but is now exalted and glorified as Christ.  Care should be taken to note the various readings.”  Although we will admit that care must be taken in noting the divine names and titles used of Jesus Christ, I cannot agree that this word means one thing in the gospels and another in the epistles.  It may be that in the epistles the word takes on the special meaning of indicating His exaltation.  Yet if so it does not mean that Christ in the epistles does not mean “Messiah.”  Christ doesn’t MEAN Messiah, Christ IS Messiah.  They are the exact same word.  If the word “Christ” takes on a new meaning in the epistles, then the word “Messiah” takes on a new meaning as well.  The two words cannot be separated, for they are the same word.  There just isn’t any difference.

That said, some people make a great difference between these two words.  For example, I believe that even many dispensationalists have been guilty of calling the Lord “Israel’s Messiah,” although this term is never used in Scripture.  Yet these same dispensationalists are bold to proclaim that we are part of the “Body of Christ.”  This may sound good in English, but in reality these people are clearly guilty of opposing themselves.  How can He be “Israel’s Messiah” if we are part of the “Body of Messiah”?  How can we be part of the “Body of Christ” if He is “Israel’s Christ”?  These people are guilty of treating these words as if they are different, when in fact they are exactly the same.  Then they have based false doctrines on this imagined difference!  We must not be guilty of such a thing.  We must always remember that “Christ” and “Messiah” are one and the same word.

42.  And he brought Him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

We do not know what Simon’s reaction to his brother’s words was.  We just know that Andrew led him to the Lord.  When the Lord saw him and first showed that He knew his exact identity, and then He gave Simon a new name.  Here again we see the same name in different languages.  First He calls him Simon son of Jonah.  Jonah in Hebrew (Jona in Aramaic) is the same word as John in Greek, so here we have the third John we have encountered so far in this book.  Then He gives Simon the new name of Cephas.  Cephas in Aramaic is the same word as Peter in Greek, and is “Stone” in English.  Simon Stone was to be his new name, but we are more used to calling him Simon Peter.  This is the first look we get at this man, who was one of the three greatest of His disciples.  Andrew his brother was already a disciple of John the Baptizer, but we do not know if Peter was or not, although he certainly was nearby and very well could have been.  Yet if John the Baptist was not enough to convince him to become a disciple, the Lord Jesus was, and from now on these two brothers follow the Lord together.  Interestingly, Peter becomes one of the three elite disciples, while Andrew does not.  They are both part of the twelve, however.

43.  The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”

It seem that the Lord wants to leave the area where John was baptizing, but needs to accomplish the calling of another disciple first.  Thus He finds Philip and tells him in two simple words, “Follow Me.”  This is all the motivation Philip needs, and from then on he follows the Lord.  It would be good for all of us to be so yielded to the Lord that all it would take would be a word from Him and we would drop everything and follow Him.  The Lord does not call people in this direct way in our dispensation of grace, yet this is still the sort of submissive attitude we all should have to our Master.

44.  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

Thus at least three of the twelve were from this same city.

45.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Philip’s relationship to Nathanael is not explained.  Most likely they were friends.  Nathanael is not on any of the lists of the twelve apostles, but “Bartholomew” is always listed with Philip, and many commentators believe that Nathanael and Bartholomew were two different names for the same person.

Notice that after exchanging two words with the Lord (at least, as far as we can tell, verse 43,) this is what Philip believes about Him.  The belief that these disciples expressed is another bit of evidence John gives to try to convince us of the great object of his book.  Philip identifies the Lord as the son of Joseph.  If we take the word “son” in its technical meaning of a representative of the father, the Lord would qualify, since, as the oldest male, His would have been the sonship place in the family.  However, if Philip thought, as many probably did at the time, that the Lord Jesus was the blood son of Joseph, he was, of course, mistaken.

46.  And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Obviously, Nazareth did not have a very good reputation.  Nathanael is skeptical that the Messiah could have come from there.  But Philip is so confident in what he has found that he is convinced that, if Nathanael will but come and see Him, he will be convinced as well.

47.  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

The Lord did not need anyone to tell Him about Nathanael.  He knew Nathanael very well, although Nathanael had never before met Him.  Thus the Lord testifies as to Nathanael’s character.  He is a true Israelite, a “prince with God,” as Israel means, and a man in whom is no guile.

48.  Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Nathanael wants to know how the Lord knows so much about him.  The Lord Jesus replies that He saw him while Philip was talking to him under the fig tree.  This must have amazed Philip, since the Lord hadn’t been there to see their conversation.  However, this still did not entirely explain the Lord’s knowledge, for just viewing their conversation under the fig tree would not have told the Lord these two facts about Nathanael’s personality and character.  However, the Lord as God could bring to mind all the facts that could be known about anyone, and so He could know all He wanted to know about Philip.

Notice the use of the Hebrew idiom, “answered and said.”  In English we might use the word “replied.”  This was a common way of speaking in Hebrew, although it was not common in Greek.  Although the Bible was written in Greek, it was written by men who were native speakers of Aramaic and thus had an Aramaic/Hebrew mindset in the way they thought and spoke.  This does not necessarily prove that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic and then translated to Greek, as some speculate.  A book written by a native Aramaic speaker, even if written in another language than Aramaic, would be likely to take on certain characteristics of the Aramaic way of speaking.  This is what we see in the New Testament.  Besides this, we need to remember that in many ways much of what we have of ancient Hebrew is the Old Testament.  It could be that some of the figures of speech and what we would think of as the “ways of speaking in Hebrew” were really figures and methods of speaking developed by God Himself as an author for use in His Word to convey the thoughts He was trying to convey.  Some of these speech patterns then that modern scholars think of a “Hebraisms” may actually not be that at all, but instead ways God uses to successfully communicate.  Thus, it should not surprise us if some of these common phrases and figures used in the Old Testament also appear here.  After all, although written in two different languages, all these books have the same Author.

49.  Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

Notice Nathanael’s confession of faith.  Philip had called Him the “Son of Joseph,” but now Nathanael realizes the truth and calls Him the “Son of God.”  Not only that, but he also realizes the truth that the Lord is the Messiah, the King of Israel.  His testimony here is another witness to the premise of John’s book, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

50.  Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I say to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”

The Lord basically tells Nathanael that, “You haven’t seen anything yet!”  He had just demonstrated a fraction of His power by displaying what we might call “Divine knowledge.”  Nathanael would witness many more miracles before the three years of His ministry were up!

51.  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

This is an amazing prophecy that the Lord makes.  As far as we have it recorded, this prophecy was never fulfilled in their lifetime, and Nathanael never saw this.  If so, then this prophecy awaits its fulfillment in the future after Nathanael is raised from the dead.

Notice the Lord’s use of the term “the Son of Man” of Himself.  This was a common phrase He used to refer to Himself.  He is indeed the representative of man to God.  That is the meaning behind this phrase.