Week 5

John 1:29-39

Seeing Jesus

1:29-34 The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.” I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came baptising in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.’ John testified, saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. I didn’t recognise him, but he who sent me to baptise in water said to me, “On whomever you will see the Spirit descending and remaining on him is he who baptises in the Holy Spirit.” I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

John described a series of incidents that took place on three successive days, thereby conveying a sense of the pace at which events were now moving and of their importance to the purpose of his narrative. On the first of these three days, the Pharisees took their leave of John the Baptist. John had informed them that one who was greater than he was actually present among them, but they did not think it worthwhile to wait and see what this meant in practice. So they came and they saw, but probably left on the day preceding Jesus’ arrival on the scene, thus missing the opportunity to hear John’s testimony about Him.

On the second day in the series, John saw Jesus coming towards him and recognised Him as the ‘man who is preferred before me, for he was before me’, about whom he had previously spoken. John explained that he had come into the wilderness because God had sent him there, in order to reveal the Messiah to Israel. God had instructed him to baptise people (as a sign of their repentance), so that they would be ready to receivethe One whom God was sending to them. God had also informed John that he would see the Spirit descend on the promised One, empowering Him for His mission in the world.

John had been filled with the Spirit from the womb of his mother Elizabeth and he had leaped within her when Jesus, in the womb of Mary, came near to him. Jesus now took the initiative and purposefully walked towards him, and John instantly recognised Him as the One about whom God had spoken. John had obeyed God’s call to come into the wilderness and baptise, and now he saw the promised One whom he was to reveal to Israel. John’s response, in a spirit of deep personal humility, was to divert attention away from himself and to direct all eyes towards Jesus. Although Jesus was six months younger than he was, John insisted that Jesus had existed before him and that He was in every respect greater.

This was a very dramatic moment, as John ceased to speak about the One who was to come and now proclaimed His arrival with the words, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ The Synoptic Gospels indicate that John’s preaching had hitherto focused on the need for repentance and the prospect of coming judgement. He had previously described the Messiah as the One who would lay the axe to the root of the trees and who would burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.[1] John’s choice of words, as he now introduced Jesus, is very significant. They did not cancel John’s previous statements, for Jesus will one day judge the world, but first He had come into the world to remove the sin that made such judgement necessary and otherwise inevitable. As we will see later, the apparent conflict between Jesus as judge and Jesus as saviour would cause problems for John the Baptist when he languished in prison.[2]

The description, ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’, obviously arose from John’s Jewish worldview, as formed by the Scriptures, and people who heard him speak would have made the connection with the animals that were sacrificed in the Temple for cleansing and forgiveness. There is a discrepancy within the account of the Akeda (the binding of Isaac) in Genesis 22 that was noted by Jewish scholars and is relevant here. In response to Isaac’s question, ‘Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham replied, ‘God will provide [to] himself[3] the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’Significantly, God, on this occasion, provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns rather than the lamb that Abraham and Isaac had envisaged. This incident was prophetic of the Messiah through whom God provided, to Himself, the sacrifice of a willing lamb rather than an involuntary ram.[4]

The more popular expectation of the Messiah, as subsequently demonstrated in the events of Palm Sunday, was of the king who would reign on David’s throne. However, there was also a recognition that the Scriptures, particularly in Isaiah’s prophecy, also described a suffering Messiah.[5] John’s stated mission was to reveal the Messiah to Israel but, consciously or unconsciously, his words also encompassed the Gentile world.

John was already aware of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, prior to His baptism. The sign that God had promised revealed the way in which Jesus would live as a man on earth and also how His followers would follow in His steps. John saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus and also remain on Him. This was different from former times when the Spirit would come upon a chosen person for a particular season and purpose. Jesus’ work in death and resurrection would allow the Spirit to come and live within God’s people in intimate relationship. They would be guided and empowered by the Spirit in the same way that Jesus was.

Having received these powerful revelations of Jesus’ identity and role as Messiah, John responded in worship and witness: ‘This is the Son of God.’

1:35-39 Again, the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’

The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’

They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’

He said to them, ‘Come, and see.’

They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.

The third day is often significant in Scripture, and this new day that had dawned was the third day in the sequence of events.[6] On the previous day Jesus had approached John, but now He walked away from him, never to return. As John stood watching the retreating figure, he knew that he had one last task to perform. He had declared that the coming One, now revealed to be Jesus, was much greater than he himself was. Now his actions had to match up to those spoken words, for he would have to give away his ministry and also his devoted disciples. This was costly, but John did not hesitate to call out, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ Here there is no reference to sin as being the reason for the lamb. Perhaps the focus was now on the Passover lamb. In the Exodus account the death of the lamb procured life and freedom for those who sheltered under the blood. It was the means of deliverance from bondage and the beginning of a new phase of life under the reign of their true King.[7]

John and Andrew, as yet unnamed, also had to make an instant choice, one that would shape their lives and destinies. Should they leave the charismatic prophet, and his proven and successful ministry, and follow the unfamiliar person of Jesus, with no guarantee as to the outcome? Moments later, John watched them hurry after Jesus and then disappear with Him into the distance. It was simultaneously the climax and the beginning of the end of his own ministry: a corn of wheat had to fall into the ground and die if the long-awaited harvest was to materialise. John had come and he had seen; now his response was clear and uncompromising and permanent.[8]

Jesus turned and asked the two men, ‘What are you looking for?’Clearly they were looking for the Messiah and, prompted by John, they had set out in pursuit of Jesus. However, they were not yet ready for this simple but searching question. They had heard John’s witness to Jesus but they were not yet comfortable to share the deepest longings of their hearts with Him. They addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’, employing an honorific but non-committal title and, in typically Jewish fashion, they replied with a question of their own, ‘Where are you staying?’ Jesus took their question at face value and replied in a way that was both disarming and revealing: ‘Come, and see.’ He did not give information, but instead He opened a door to relationship.

They came, they saw, and they remained. Although their remaining was temporary at this stage, it served to define the nature of true discipleship as being with Jesus.[9] They arrived at the house at the tenth hour (4pm). John’s Gospel contains many references to precise times, pointing to the fact that John was present at the various events described therein; presumably they stayed for the night. Whatever was said and done, during that evening or on the following morning, was sufficient to convince them that the Rabbi was indeed the Messiah whom they had been seeking, and of whom John the Baptist had been speaking.[10] Of course, their understanding of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah would have been very limited at this stage, and would have been coloured by current expectations of the Messiah as a political leader. They would discover the true situation as they journeyed with Him during the next two to three years, and especially as He explained the Scriptures to them following His resurrection.[11]

[1] Matt. 3:1-10; Luke 3:7-9.

[2] Luke 7:18-23.

[3] Lit. ‘to himself’.

[4] Gen. 22:7-8, 13; Isa. 53:7.

[5] Isa. 53:1-12.

[6] See note on John 2:1.

[7] Ex. 12:1-13, 29-36; 19:1-6.

[8] John 3:30; 12:24.

[9] John 6:66-69; Mark 3:13-14; Matt. 19:27.

[10] John 7:6-8, 30, 32, 44; 12:27; 13:1; 17:4.

[11] Lk. 24:44-47.

Reflection: John the Baptist attracted large numbers of people to hear his message, but he had no desire to attach people to himself. Instead, he acted as a sign post and counted it as success when his followers left him to follow Jesus. John did not claim ownership over other people or need them in order to support his public or private image. This set him free simply to fulfil his God-given task. Do get your primary identity from what you do, your job-description, or are you secure in knowing who you are in relationship to the Lord?

Prayer: Father, you have created me in order to have a personal relationship with you. I am amazed at this when I think about it but you assure me that it is true. I am truly thankful that you came into the world in the person of Jesus in order to make this possible. Help me to understand how his sacrifice for my sins and his gift of the Holy Spirit enables me to come close to you. Show me who I am as your creature and your child.

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