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?”
Early in the Gospel of John, a group of religious leaders comes to visit an eccentric religious figure who is most often referred to as John the Baptist. They’ll ask John if he’s come to fulfill various Old Testament prophecies associated with the coming Messiah.
Who are you?
John 1:19: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
It’s reasonable that they would want to find out who he is. I think it’s important to understand the time in which they lived. For centuries, the Old Testament had pointed forward to one sent from the Lord. People had all sorts of expectations for the type of ministry that this sent one would have.
This was fulfilled in Jesus but people didn’t yet know Jesus. So all they had were their expectations and assumptions. What Jesus actually did was not quite what anyone expected.
A lot of people expected a great religious teacher. Jesus certainly was that but he was ore than that. But his purpose was to bring freedom not law. A lot of people expected a great king. Jesus is that too, he’s the king of kings. But he did not have the mighty earthly kingdom that people expected. Others expected a great general who would lead Israel to victory and back to a restoration of their land in the face of Roman oppression. Jesus is the one who leads his people to battle evil and leads us to Spiritual victory.
And people believed various ideas from those categories.
So you suddenly have this man who’s calling people to repent, who’s baptizing. In the other gospels, we see John calling out religious authorities.
And so people are curious.
Maybe he’s connected to the promised savior. Maybe he IS the promised savior. Others might have been skeptical and thought it would lead nowhere.
Before Jesus, there had been people who claimed to be the promised savior of the world.
“Who are you?”
Are you the Christ?
John’s first response to the Jewish leaders is given in verse 20: He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
First thing John confirms. He is not the savior. One thing that’s important to understand. The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It’s his title.
Jesus’ parents were not Joseph and Mary Christ.
Jesus is The Christ.
Christ comes from the Greek word “Christus” which means “anointed.” It’s the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” They both mean the same thing: anointed.
The significance of that is that in the Old Testament, various divinely assigned offices such as the king and the high priest would be anointed with oil at the beginning of their term. Some of the Old Testament prophets were also anointed.
There are also passages in the Old Testament which were understood as pointing forward to a future deliverer who was anointed. John the Baptist had an important ministry.
But he was not the Lord’s anointed, he was not the Lord’s Christ, and so he’s quick to point that out. He’s not the anointed savior.
Verse 21:And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
Are you Elijah?
Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament.
Much of his ministry revolved around calling people to faith and proper worship of the Lord.
He was obedient to the Lord in his life and ministry.
There are several miracles that God does during the time of Elijah’s ministry.
Two more things that are noteworthy about Elijah.
The Old Testament tells us that God brought Elijah directly to heaven without dying.
2 Kings 2:11: And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven
Secondly, the book of Malachi, which is the last book found in our Old Testament concludes with these verses from Malachi 4:5: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
So God says that he will send Elijah before the great and awesome day of the Lord.
So some expected a literal second coming of Elijah. For those reasons, it’s a pretty reasonable question for the leaders to have asked this of John.
He tells them no.
John is not Elijah however it should be noted that John’s ministry is really fulfilling this prophecy about Elijah. John is not a reincarnated version of Elijah or a second coming of Elijah, but he is the one who is sent from the Lord with a divinely given ministry to call people to repentance.
But John confirms that he is not Elijah.
So they try again:
Are you the prophet?
Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
When they ask John if he’s THE prophet, they’re actually referring to a specific passage. Deuteronomy 18:15 tells Israel about a successor to Moses. This passage also came to be understood as pointing to a grater prophet.
Verse 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—
They wonder if John is this person. In reality, that passage is ultimately pointing forward to Jesus. But once again, John answers the question in the negative. He is not the prophet.
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?”
John isn’t the Christ, he’s not Elijah, he’s not the prophet.
So then who is he? Continue reading.
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