09 July 2002              .
A Prayer of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
By Edgar Jones

What are we to make of this rugged prophet and preacher of repentance and divine wrath?  Was he a true messianic herald?  Were his words, like those of Jesus, divinely inspired?  Must we take his words as true in every respect?

These questions come to light with fresh urgency when we begin to consider how John identified himself and how he identified Jesus, then compare these identifications with those of Jesus.  There are two gross contradictions that cry out for explanation.

1. The identification of John: Jesus identified John as "Elijah who is to come" but John denied that he was Elijah.

2. The identification of Jesus: Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd who "lays down his life for the sheep" but John identified Jesus as "The Lamb of God."

We will first look at the contradictions in detail, then briefly examine the identification and character of John, and follow with our conclusions.

I. Elijah

Jesus said of John:

Matt.11[13] For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John;
[14] and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli'jah who is to come.
(compare also Matthew 17:10-13, Mark 9:9-13)
But John said of himself:
John.1[21] And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not."
This is a radical contradiction that cries out for explanation!

II. The Lamb of God

Jesus said of himself:

John.10[11] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
But John said of Jesus:
John.1[29] Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
[36] and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"
This is another radical contradiction, in that the shepherd is never the lamb.  It is interesting that nearly all Christendom takes John's word rather than that of Jesus, although they may give Jesus lip service as the Good Shepherd, they then almost universally identify him as a lamb slain for the sins of humanity -- a sacrificial bearing of the wrath of God for the sins of humanity and payment of the human "sin debt."  But if, as he said, he laid down his life as a shepherd, he could not have seen himself as a lamb.

III. John as Jesus saw him

Jesus made several specific statements regarding John that we list here:

[7] As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind?
[8] Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses.
[9] Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
[10] This is he of whom it is written, `Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'
[11] Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
[12] From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.
[13] For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John;
[14] and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli'jah who is to come.
Jesus (v. 10) identified John as the messenger of Malachi 3:1,  just as he had identified him as Elijah (v. 14), based on the prophecy of Malachi 4:5.  His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus (v. 10).  John comes in for high praise; not only was he a prophet, he was "more than a prophet." (v. 9)

We would expect a high evaluation of John from Jesus, for he had submitted to his baptism.  Yet for all the praise, in which he rated John the greatest of men (those born of woman, v. 11), he then left him out of the kingdom.  Men will come from East and West and sit down in the kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets . . . except John the Baptist! (see Luke 13:28, 29; Matt. 8:11)

And yet, Jesus stated that John came "in the way of righteousness."

[32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.
We begin to see why Jesus qualified his evaluation of John when we read his distinction between the messages of the two men:
[16] The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the
kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.
Jesus undoubtedly saw John as the last of the old prophets who came under the Mosaic Covenant to bring the messages of God to the People of Israel.  Therefore the authority of the Law and the Prophets ceased with John, and Jesus thereafter installed a new administration heralded as the "Gospel of the Kingdom." For this reason, as Jesus explained in the Fourth Gospel:
[33] You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.
[36] But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.
Jesus stated that John "has borne witness to the truth" -- but clearly not always.   And  in proceeding to explain that his testimony is greater than that of John, we understand which of them we must believe when there is a contradiction.

IV. John as he saw himself

John also saw himself as the fulfillment of prophecy, but of a different one than that set forth by Jesus:

John 1
[22] They said to him then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"
[23] He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."  (see Isaiah 40:3)
He surely saw himself as one sent to prepare the way for the messiah, but when he began to compare himself with Jesus, the rugged and fearless preacher became the meekest of men:
[25] Now a discussion arose between John's disciples and a Jew over purifying.
[26] And they came to John, and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him."
[27] John answered, "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.
[28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.
[29] He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.
[30] He must increase, but I must decrease."
[31] He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all.
[32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony;
[33] he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.
[34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit;
[35] the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
[36] He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
He sees himself as only the friend of the Bridegroom, Jesus as the Bridegroom, who has the bride! (v. 29)  Now, John must decrease as Jesus increases.

And we see in John's own words concerning himself and Jesus  (for he is making a comparison here) that he, John, is a man of the earth, and his words are of the earth, for "of the earth he speaks."  But Jesus is the man of heaven and is above all, for he "utters the words of God." (v. 34)  Here John recognizes that the words of Jesus are superior to his in all respects.  He furthermore recognizes Jesus as "the Son" and surely saw himself as only a servant.  Therefore John did not know, as did Jesus, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  When there is a contradiction between the two, John himself says go to Jesus, for "he must increase, but I must decrease." (v. 30)  This amplifies the significance of Jesus' utterance:

[15] No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Conclusion: John's ignorance

Jesus affirmed that John "has borne witness to the truth." (John 5:33)  but there were certain things that expose John's ignorance of truth, and these involve this very issue of the identification of both John and Jesus.

1. The simple fact is that John did not know the identity of Jesus:

[19] And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
This question, coming shortly before John's death, speak for itself and casts a question mark over anything John may have previously said about the identification of Jesus.  Did he really identify Jesus as the lamb of God?  If so, he later came to doubt it, and therefore he had no confidence in his own identification of Jesus.  Why should we?

We can just as easily believe that John was never guilty of such an identification, in which case it may be no more than a Paulinist redaction, inserted to strengthen the continuing false doctrine that identifies Jesus as a sacrificial lamb.

2. The simple fact is that John did not even know his own identity!

Jesus, the man from heaven who spoke the words of God, identified John as "Elijah who is to come."

But John denied it.

So I have no reluctance in ignoring John's identification of Jesus, while at the same time admiring John as the greatest of those born of women and not of God.  And where they differ, as they do in identifying Jesus as the shepherd/lamb, it is Jesus, the man of heaven, who speaks truly.  John, the man of earth who spoke from the earth, did not know.

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