January 15, 2023
This story happens sometime after Jesus’ baptism. John does not describe Jesus’ baptism, nor the 40 days of testing in the wilderness that happen immediately after. Jesus’ baptism is mentioned, but not described, and the wilderness time is never even mentioned. Why does John leave them out? Well, the simplest explanation is that John wrote his Gospel last, after the other three were written. Maybe he just didn’t figure that story needed to be told again.
After the theological introduction in the first 18 verses of chapter one, the first thing John describes is the religious elites coming to John the Baptist and asking him who he is. John denies that he is the Messiah, asserting instead that he is the one sent to “prepare the way for the coming of the Lord,” to point others to the Messiah.
The next day, he points Jesus out saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away sin? There are several layers of meaning.
First, there were the daily sacrificial lambs. Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the nation. John’s father was a priest, so he would be familiar with this. Technically, John himself could have been a priest, as well. Perhaps he was for a time before he wandered out into the desert to be a prophet.
Second, there is the Passover lamb. Every year at Passover, every Jewish family would sacrifice a lamb as a remembrance of the first Passover, when the angel of death went through Egypt, killing every first-born male, except in the homes of the Hebrew people, whose doorposts were painted with the blood of a lamb. In this understanding, we see that Jesus also saves his people from death.
Third, there were several prominent prophecies in the Old Testament about a Lamb of God. One was Jeremiah 11:19: “I was like a lamb being led to slaughter… ‘Let’s destroy this man and all his words,’ they said, ‘so his name will be forgotten forever.’” And the best known is Isaiah 53, where the prophet declares of the Messiah, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter… he did not open his mouth… he will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” These prophecies foreshadow both Jesus’ trial and execution and tell of his sacrificial death. Together, all three of these pictures fill out what it means to say Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist goes on, “One who comes after me is greater than me.” The normal use of the phrase to “come after someone” means to follow them, as a disciple follows a rabbi. This reinforces the idea that at least for some time, Jesus followed John. John “knew him” and yet “did not know he was the one.” John and Jesus were cousins of some sort. They certainly knew each other, but John was apparently unaware that Jesus was the Promised One until his baptism.
“He existed long before me, and I was sent to point him out to Israel.”
When Jesus was baptized, John testifies, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and resting on him.” There are two things of note here. One is that John says the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus. Normally, it was understood among the Hebrew people that the Spirit might come upon a person for a time to enable that person to speak a word of prophecy or perform some mighty work, but the Spirit generally did not “rest” on people. Yet the Spirit rests on Jesus, remaining with him throughout his ministry.
Second, at this time, most Hebrew people believed that the Spirit did not come on anyone, not for a moment or permanently. They believed the work of the Spirit had ceased with the last of the Old Testament prophets, such as Zechariah and Malachi. The Spirit’s return would mean the Messiah had come. The claim that the Spirit is on Jesus is a claim that he is the Messiah, that God is beginning a new work.
“And he will baptize with the Spirit.” Spirit in Greek is PNEUMA, and in Hebrew, RUACH. Both words mean “wind, breath, or spirit.” The Spirit is the power of God at work. The Spirit brings truth to people, reveals the truth, and empowers God’s people to proclaim the truth. The Spirit illuminates our understanding of God and his Word and empowers people to live according to God’s Word and proclaim it. The Spirit is also a purifier. He purifies God’s people from sin and empowers them to live holy lives.
“I testify that he is the Son of God.”
The next day, John the Baptist does something unusual for a rabbi: He sends his own disciples off to follow Jesus. That required great humility, but it is the responsibility of a Jesus-follower. We are not to attract people to ourselves, pretending we have all the answers. We are to point others to Christ. He is the answer.
Jesus asks them, “What do you want?” It’s an important question because many people were looking for many different things at that time, as they still are today. The Pharisees and Scribes wanted precision, to know all the answers from their Law and traditions. The Sadducees and chief priests wanted power and influence in society. The Zealots wanted a bloody revolution. The Essenes wanted escape, to go live in the desert away from all the insanity of the world. In the midst of all that, who wanted more of God?
“Where are you staying,” they asked Jesus. It was rude in that culture to ask for something directly, so you asked in a roundabout way. This was basically saying, “Can we come with you? We’d like to learn more.”
“Come and see.” And this happened about the 10th hour, 4 PM by our reckoning. That little detail was the kind of thing that would be remembered by someone who was there. That tells us that the second, unnamed disciple is none other than John the Evangelist. Up till now, it’s been John the Baptist. Now we see John the Evangelist.
We don’t know what they talked about the rest of the day, but it convinces them that Jesus is the one they have been hoping for. The next morning, Andrew goes to find his brother Simon. Andrew is mentioned prominently three times in John’s Gospel, and every time he is bringing someone to Jesus. “We have found the Messiah,” he says. Messiah in Hebrew, or Christ in Greek, means “Anointed One.” Normally kings were anointed, but prophets could be as well.
Jesus gives Simon a new name, CEPHAS in Hebrew, which is PETROS, Peter, in Greek, meaning “rock,” a sign of who he will become for the early Church.
One of the most prominent things in John 1 are all the different names and descriptions of Jesus. He is called Lamb of God, the one who takes sin away, “Greater than I,” One who existed long ago, the One on whom the Spirit rests, the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, Son of God, Messiah. If you go on to the end of the chapter, he is also called “The One Moses and the prophets wrote about,” and King of Israel.
These are important names for an important person. Is Jesus important to you? Have you found him to be the Answer? If so, then how can you not tell others about him? When these first disciples found Jesus, when they found him to be an important person, the Answer they had been looking for, the first thing they did was to tell others about him.
The Church has not done a good job of that lately. Maybe we assume people aren’t interested. Maybe we’re afraid of being rejected for what we believe. Whatever the reason, if Jesus is truly the Answer in our lives, then we should be eager to tell others about him.