John 1:19-34- The Ministry of John the Baptist
Explanation- Here we encounter the purpose, as well as the limitation of John the Baptist’s ministry. His purpose is clear- to, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’. It was prophesied in Isaiah chapter 40 that one would come as the forerunner of Messiah, and in these opening verses of the Apostle John’s gospel it is revealed that John the Baptist was this one to come. This is his purpose, to declare that Messiah’s entrance into human history! Unbeknownst to these religious leaders stood one who superseded them all. I would not necessarily take this to mean that Jesus was present at that very moment, but the idea was this- that in the midst of Israel dwelt the prophesied Messiah. He had finally come and John was sent to declare His arrival.
With John’s purpose also came certain limitations. When questioned by those of the Sanhedrin on whether he was Elijah (see Mal. 4:5) or the prophet (see Deut. 18:15), John replied with a firm ‘no’. This poses a controversy, Christ Himself referred to John the Baptist as Elijah in Matthew 11:14, yet John denies this relation in John in verse 21. This can only mean that there would be a dual fulfillment concerning the prophesy of Malachi 4:5. The first being a spiritual coming of Elijah in the coming of John the Baptist, whereas the second being an eschatological, physical coming at the second advent of Christ. This would lead me to believe that John’s negative reply was in relation to the secondary fulfillment. He was not the final Elijah set to come in accordance to the Second Advent, but he was sent forth in the spirit of Elijah to declare the Lord’s coming.
Also important to notice is John’s understanding of his place in light of the Messiah’s ministry. John was not the primary focus. Elsewhere he says that he must decrease so that Messiah may increase. John’s ministry was temporary and served as sort of a catapult for the mission of Messiah. He came to point men to Christ, not to make a name for himself. This is evident in his speech when he says that he is unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the Messiah. John understood that the Christ was the center focus. He rightly declares Him to be the, ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. The purpose of the cross is shadowed in this statement as we reflect on the sacrificial atonement that Christ would soon make to free His people from the bondage of sin and death.
Application- Looking to this passage I see the importance of John’s understanding of his own ministry. Specifically, that, like him, we are to decrease so that Christ may increase. Christian life and ministry is not meant to be a matter of self-promotion, but we are called to live with the glory of God on display. Pride is the killer of spiritual life and if we are seeking to live a life characterized by God’s blessing, favor, and presence then it must be a life of humble submission to the authority and will of Christ. Making a name for ourselves is not nearly as important as seeking to have Christ’s name lifted on high. The goal of every Christian should be to magnify our Lord. If that means that we will suffer reproach for the sake of Christ, then let us count it all joy! As Paul says to the Philippians, it has been granted unto us not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for His name’s sake (Phil. 1:29). Let us take joy in our humiliation knowing that our reward in heaven is full!