“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him [John the Baptist] and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”” (John 1:29–34, NASB95)
John had established before his questioners that he was not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet. He told them that he was a man sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Lord. And then the very next day John was shown the One for whom he was sent to make the way. He identified Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Here before them was indeed the Christ, and John knew that Jesus was eternally God—existing before John as fully God with the Father and Holy Spirit. He also knew that Jesus was God’s special sacrifice sent to once and for all pay the price for man’s sins. This was not to be a universal salvation in that every single man becomes saved, but a salvation freely given to those who believe and who call upon Jesus for that salvation. When Jesus shed His blood it was fully adequate to accomplish this for all of man in general, but was only to be appropriated to those who believe.
John was able to identify Jesus not because of a special glow or anything remarkable about Him as a man, but because John saw the third person of the Trinity—the Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove out of heaven. John testified to this fact. He had seen the Spirit descend on Jesus identifying Him truly as Son of God. As I reflect on these verses recording the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry we find at His baptism the fullness of God represented. The Son had come, sent and identified by the Father, and marked and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And as we talked about in the last post, even when we baptize believers today, we mark this special transformation in our lives (the forgiveness of sin and the newness of life) with our public baptism in the name of our One God manifest in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke also wrote about this special beginning, and from them we get some details that John [the apostle] did not provide. Matthew wrote that “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.” (Matthew 3:13–15, NASB95) John recognized just how short he had come in relation to God’s perfect standard of holiness and in relation to the perfect nature of the Son of God. As such John tried to turn the table and have Jesus, who did not need to repent, baptize John instead. But Jesus stopped Him and told John that it was necessary for Him (Jesus) to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” Though Jesus had no unrighteousness in Himself He had come to take on Himself the unrighteousness of man, and in His baptism He was identifying Himself with this very purpose. Jesus had come to offer up Himself in death by His shed blood as the sacrifice for man’s sin, and he had come to demonstrate His power over that death by being resurrected to life demonstrating His power to give life back to man. This is what happens when the Spirit makes us a new creation at the moment of our salvation, and it is what is testified to when we follow ourselves in public water baptism. God intended that Jesus start His public work with the same act that we are commanded to do after we place our trust in Jesus for our salvation and identify ourselves with Him forever.
So, John consented to baptize Jesus. “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,” (Matthew 3:16, NASB95) Luke added that after His baptism that as Jesus was praying to the Father, the Father spoke and the Spirit came. “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”” (Luke 3:21–22, NASB95)
From that moment forward the gospels switch their focus. John was sent to point the way, and now the Way had come. Later in John chapter 3 we again find John continuing to testify of Christ. But in this passage there is an ominous clue of things that were to come for John. In this passage we read that he had not yet been imprisoned, as we read eventually happened to him in Matthew 4:12. And as we proceed through the gospels we find that John remained imprisoned, and while there he heard the stories of what Jesus had been doing. In Matthew chapter 11 John sends his disciples to affirm that Jesus was indeed the “Expected One” in the off chance that maybe he had made a mistake and was sitting in prison for nothing. “Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”” (Matthew 11:2–3, NASB95) Jesus gave John the answer He wanted to hear. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”” (Matthew 11:4–6, NASB95)
After John’s disciples had returned to give him Jesus’ response, Jesus began to speak to the crowds. While speaking Jesus affirmed John saying, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11–15, NASB95) Surely Jesus was not saying that John was Elijah, but He was saying that John had come to fulfill the promises of the Elijah prophecies. As the angel said to John’s father, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15–17, NASB95)
John had fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent, and as he sat in prison he had this confirmed by our Lord. John had not made a mistake. And knowing this he was eventually beheaded. Mark chapter 6 records for us that on Herod’s birthday Herod had John beheaded and his head delivered to Herod’s daughter on a platter as thank you behest at the urging of her mother in gratitude for her dancing to please her father. Once this was accomplished the daughter gave John’s head to her mother Herodia, and Jesus apostles were permitted to take John’s body which they then laid in a tomb. Following this they reported back to Jesus what had happened. “And He [Jesus] said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.”” (Mark 6:31a, NASB95)
John had come to proclaim the message of repentance and salvation, and in the end he died with the assurance and the eternal realization of just how true his words had been. The Lamb had given salvation, and He continues to do so today. John may have lost his head to gain eternity, but many, many more have held onto their heads and lost their lives.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)