6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
(John 1:6-8 NIV)
As we continue our journey through the prologue to the Apostle John’s gospel, we move from eternity past to a brief stopover to introduce John the Baptizer. John and Jesus are related by family, but more importantly, by their ministry (Luke chapter 1).
We might ask ourselves why John the Apostle would stop to make note of John the Baptizer. If we jump past the prologue, we see John the Apostle including John the Baptizer as part of his Gospel (starting in John 1:19).
As a seasoned and masterful storyteller and preacher, the Apostle John knows that he must carefully introduce the characters into the story, clearly delineating them from one another as well as connecting the dots between those in the story. John began his Gospel using a preaching and storytelling voice; he now moves to more of a narrative voice as he introduces and describes John the Baptizer.
John the Apostle also knew he must remove any doubt of Jesus as Messiah in the central theme and character of his Gospel. Many thought that John the Baptizer was Messiah, which John the Baptizer consistently and categorically denied every time. John the Apostle knew this issue well and made this distinction between Jesus and John the Baptizer by linking John the Baptizer to Isaiah’s prophecy as Messiah’s witness:
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
(Isaiah 40:3-5 NIV)
As a Jewish person, John the Apostle also knew the importance of witnesses to establish a matter as truth. According to Jewish law (Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15), any serious claim had to be substantiated by two or three witnesses.
So what was the critical matter at issue? Jesus as Messiah.
And who were the witnesses?
- John the Apostle (John 1, 1 John 1:1-4)
- John the Baptizer (John 1:29-34)
- God Himself (John 1, Luke 3:21-22)
John the Apostle knew that Jesus was misunderstood, and there was much controversy as to whether Jesus was indeed Messiah. John sought to clarify this matter first and foremost by Isaiah’s prophetic record and John the Baptizer’s denial of himself as Messiah.
We have much to learn from John the Apostle’s simple but profound account of John the Baptizer:
- Our story must always point to Messiah, and not be about us
- We are witnesses of Messiah through our character, our life, and our relationships
- We must not be surprised when Messiah (and our witness of Him) stirs up controversy
One last thought: the term “witness” (v. 7) in the English language is “martyria” in Greek. Both words come from the same root word we derive our English word “martyr”.
John the Baptizer’s witness of Messiah cost him his life. John the Apostle’s witness cost him his exile from his homeland.
What are we willing to give for the One who gave all for us? It is both a solemn and joyful question to ponder.