Saint John assumes everyone is familiar with other gospels' passages regarding John the Baptist, so he does not give a history of this most awesome man. If you would like to read at your leisure, they can be found in Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:1-11, and Luke 1:5-25, 3:1-22.
Prior to John the Baptist's day, only coverts to Jewish faith were baptized. Jews presumed they belonged to God already. John the Baptist was essentially saying that all of Israel needed cleansing and that was offensive to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were an ultra-conservative sect that desired strict observance of God's Law and wanted Roman rulers out of Israel (Palestine).
Sanhedrin was a group of 71 religious leaders from three classes: The Chief Priests (The High Priest and his descendants), Elders - priests and Levites (Levites being special group of consecrated priests), and finally the teachers/lawyers of the Law and Pharisees.
In the Book of John, "Jews" is a general term used to group together the opposition to Jesus Christ and his followers.
WHENEVER JESUS CHRIST IS REVEALED, THERE IS OPPOSITION BECAUSE OF MAN'S SIN.
John's gospel presents the juxtaposition of God's love and man's rejection - the offer of grace and the warning of judgment.
John the Baptist was a priest by descent, so Jewish leaders needed to reign in this unorthodox behavior of baptisizing Israelites. They figured he was either a false prophet (phony) or the Messiah. So they sent a deputation - group chosen to represent others - to check up on him.
The Deputation Asked 5 Questions
1. (Verse 19) Who are you? Are you the Messiah?
Jews anticipated the promised Messiah for two separate reasons:
A. Micah 5:2 promised a Prince of David, which was interpreted as a leader of Jewish armies that would battle the Roman empire and make Israel once again victorious
B. Transcendental Figure that would bring peace and righteousness throughout the world. This hope caused false prophets to pop up occassionally.
Jews never thought John the Baptist to be a great war leader, so they figured if he claimed to be the Messiah, they could arrest him and the disturbance would be over.
In verse 20, John the Baptist clearly, humbly states, "I am not the Christ."
Jews thought Messiah would either give them power or peace. Never did it occur to them that each person needed Jesus to free themselves from a sin nature. We see later that the first disciples, John and Andrew, followed Jesus because He is the Lamb of God. I follow Him, because I know that without Him, I am a sinner through and through. Ask yourself, why are you looking for Jesus?
2. (Verse 21) Are you Elijah?
Elijah never died. He was taken to Heaven in a whirlwind. Malachi 4:5 prophesied that Elijah would return to Earth to usher in the "Day of the Lord."
Jews assumed a man claiming to have authority or audacity to baptize Jews must at least be the great prophet Elijah.
"I am not."
3. "Are the prophet?"
This question refers to a second prophet that would appear with Elijah.
4. (Verse 22) "Who are you? What do you say about yourself?"
Essentially saying "Who do you think you are baptizing Jews?!!"
In verse 23, John calmly responds, "Stop looking at me. I am merely a voice. My only purpose is to prepare hearts for the coming Lord."
John the Baptist is such an amazing example of humility, of selflessness. Our purpose in this world is similar - through our life's actions, we can open people hearts to the message Jesus has for them. The trick is to take ourselves OUT of it. Live each day for the Glory of Christ and let Him take care of the rest.
5. (Verse 25) "Why do you baptize?"
In verse 26, John's response is basically to say that his baptism is merely a symbol of the cleansing we all require. His baptism in water, is simply an effort to prepare hearts for the real baptism of the Holy Spirit which will actually create a newness of life.
In verse 26, he tells the Deputation that the Messiah is standing among them. Unfortunately, they are so focused on dealing with the "problem" of John the Baptist, that they do not hear him and they do not recognize their Savior.
In verse 27, John the Baptist says he is unworthy of untying the Jesus' shoes. First of all, untying a sandal was a slave's job. Even lower than a student to teacher relationship, John was willing to take such a humble position to show his devotion to the true Messiah. Second of all, John the Baptist was an older cousin of Jesus. Even though John was older and John was a descendant of Priests, he seems to have no problem exalting his Lord to the ultimate place of rule in his life (see also verse 30).
The next day, John the Baptist introduces Jesus to the crowd as the "Lamb of God." In Old Testament ceremonies, the death of a spotless lamb made atonement for sins of the Isrealites because without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22), because life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).
Jesus Christ was perfect, sinless; He was the one human that deserved to go to Heaven. God reconciled the sins of the world by offering as a sacrifice the one human that lived up to His call to be holy.
In Genesis, there is one animal killed for each sin.
In Passover Rite, there is one animal killed for each family.
In Atonement Ceremony, there is one animal killed for all of Isreal.
In Crucifixion, there is one sacrifice for all men.
Do you thank God for his grace to offer a perfect sacrifice for you? Do you thank Jesus for the sacrifice He willingly made for you?
Verses 32 and 33 we see that when God first called John the Baptist to his life's work, He told him He would point out the Messiah with the sign of a dove. We will never know if John the Baptist was surprised to find out that his cousin was the Messiah. Surely, he had heard of the odd occurrances while Jesus was growing up. Surely, he must have heard something of Jesus' righteousness and the story of his birth. Either way, John trusted in his faith in God enough to follow the sign, baptize the Christ and proclaim him the Son of God.
Next: The Week of Disciples John 1:35-51