Who Is This Guy?

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”                 (John 1:19-21)

John the Baptist’s influential ministry began to raise the eyebrows of the Jewish leadership of his day. Indeed, his message began causing such a stir that the authorities in Jerusalem sent delegates to question him, “Just who are you?” You can only imagine the prodding he received. It reminds me of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they were being relentlessly pursued by a group of bounty hunters which they were unable to shake. The gang asked themselves a similar question: “Who are those guys?” These prominent Jewish leaders should have known full well from prophecy that John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Christ rather than sitting and scratching their heads in wonder.

“Secular learning, honour, and power, seldom dispose men’s minds to the reception of divine light.”-Matthew Henry

It was so like John the Baptist to not only confess but to confess freely that he was not the Christ. The greatness of this forerunner of Jesus is found in John’s own words to his disciples when they came to him with questions regarding Jesus’ growing popularity. The crowds were beginning to follow Jesus instead of John!

To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:27-31)

“God’s faithful witnesses stand more on their guard against undue respect than against unjust contempt.”
-Matthew Henry

John the Baptist did not come upon the scene to present himself as some great one. While his spirit, his conversation, and his doctrine of repentance commanded respect, he had no intention of elevating himself to some lofty position. Dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey, he was more interested in doing good than appearing great. How necessary that thought and action are in modern day disciples of Jesus as well. Oftentimes it is we who find ourselves in the limelight (and unfortunately enjoying it I’m afraid) rather than our Lord. It is He who is to be glorified and magnified.

John the Baptist also refused the honor of being called Elijah. However, he was prophesized under that name, and he came in both the power and spirit of Elijah. Jesus said of John in the book of Matthew:

“The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.” -William Booth

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he 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 has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:7-15)

Take It to Heart

John the Baptist was a true prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit even from the womb, proclaiming God’s requirement of repentance, sent by God to be the forerunner of His Son and an example of humble obedience to every follower of our Lord Jesus. “He must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30)