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Lesson 6: John 1:19-28

John 1:19-28
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Background Information
Two famous prophets from the Old Testament are seen in this text by different forms of their names. Elias is the same as Elijah and Esasis is the same as Isaiah. These were the same men as we know by the more familiar Elijah and Isaiah. English speakers use an Anglicized form of their original Hebrew names. Likewise John and the Pharisees were either speaking Greek or Aramaic rather than Hebrew, so what you see here are the adaptations of these familiar names to those languages from the Hebrew.

You will see the word “Jews” used here in a way that is perhaps unique to the New Testament. By our definitions, everybody involved was Jewish. John was. His questioners were. The expected Christ was. At this point in history, the term Jew especially applied to those who lived in and around Jerusalem. It doesn’t change the Jewishness of the other characters in this story, but it does give an idea of the stratification that was taking place in that society at that time. 

Those who were sent to John were priests and Levites. The descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron were the legal priests for Israel. They were the ones who offered the sacrifices and served as the spiritual leaders of the nation. The family of Aaron was part of a bigger “family,” or tribe, who had descended from Levi. The rest of the Levites also served in and around the temple, but they were not allowed to make sacrifices or enter the most holy area of the temple. Since religion and politics were very intertwined in old Jerusalem, and the country was under Roman occupation, it is possible that some of the leading priests weren’t of the family of Aaron but Roman political appointees. 

The text mentions that these priests and Levites were Pharisees. You will meet the Pharisees often as you study the life of Jesus Christ. They were a sect within Judaism. The Pharisees included some of the religious leaders of the day.  Unlike the competing sect, the Sadducees, they held to all the basic beliefs of Judaism and recognized the whole Jewish Bible as coming from God. Most Jews were neither Pharisees nor Sadducees. The Pharisees tended to see themselves as spiritually superior to both the Sadducees and the common people who weren’t in any sect. Unfortunately, many Pharisees were hypocrites that pretended to be very holy while treating other people unfairly. By telling us that these men were Pharisees, John the apostle is telling us that John the Baptist was dealing with some very opinionated religious experts. 

You will notice the Pharisees asked John if he was the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet. The related Scriptures should help give you an idea of what they were thinking of. The Christ, Elijah, and the prophet were spiritual leaders whom the Old Testament predicted would come to Israel. The Christ (the same as the Messiah) was the great national Deliverer Who was to come as God’s representative, establish Israel in God’s grace, and rule the world. When we speak of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ, we are admitting that we believe that He is indeed, this person. Elijah had been a famous prophet in Israel’s history. According to the Old Testament (The Jewish Bible) Elijah would come before the Messiah to get the people ready for Him. The identity of “that prophet” isn’t so clear in the Old Testament. Commentator Adam Clarke wrote that the scholars of John’s day interpreted a text in Deuteronomy, which actually applies to the Christ, to refer to yet another future prophet. In any case, John denied being any of these, but as the related Scriptures will show, he did fulfill the role predicted of Elijah, but in a spiritual sense rather than being Elijah returned from Heaven as the scholars of the day expected.

Related Scriptures
Deuteronomy 18:15 (Likely basis for “that prophet”)
Isaiah 40:1-5
Malachi 4:5-6 (The Old Testament prophecy about Elijah’s future role.)
Luke 1:5-17 (Concerning John the Baptist)
Matthew 3:1-12 (An overview of John’s ministry and his baptism)
Matthew 16:13-17
Matthew 17:10-13
Acts 11:12-18
Acts 19:4-5

  1. Who did the Jewish leaders suspect that John the Baptist might be?
  2. Who did John tell them that he was?
  3. Was John literally the Old Testament prophet Elijah, or one through whom God worked in a similar way?
  4. Did Jesus view John as fulfilling Elijah’s ministry?
  5. John’s baptism was to signify two things in people’s lives. What were they? (Hint: they can be found in Acts 19:4)
  6. According to Matthew 3:6 what did people do when John baptized them?
  7. Did the people know the identity of the One John said was coming after him?

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