“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27*).
Who did this John that was baptizing people out in the wilderness think he was? That’s what the Pharisees and Jewish leaders wanted to know. Was he Messiah? Was he Elijah, who had not died but was carried off to heaven in a chariot and would come again at the end time? Was he the Prophet, the one like Moses who also would come in the last days?
No, no and no. John’s answers were short. He was getting annoyed.
The Jewish leaders were also annoyed. “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22).
John answered in words that echoed the promise of Isaiah 40:3. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23).
Then the Pharisees in the group stepped closer. They had been sent to interrogate, and they had an agenda — John’s message of repentance had not been very kind toward them. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” they asked (John 1:25).
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27).
No, John is not the Messiah. But he is the one who comes before and prepares the way of Messiah. He is the forerunner Isaiah prophesied about. So he preached a baptism of repentance, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV).
There was no comparison between John and the Messiah who was about to come — and who was already in their midst. John could only baptize with water. But Messiah would bring something much greater: fulfillment to the messianic promise God foretold through the prophet Ezekiel:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:24-27)When Messiah came, God would not only baptize his people with clean water and wash away their impurities, he would also give them a new heart and a new spirit. Indeed, God would put his own Spirit in them!
John’s answer to the Pharisees, then, was indirect: John baptized with water … but Messiah was already among them. Those who had ears to hear would be able to understand. On the next day, however, when the Pharisees were gone, John saw Jesus coming and said, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:30-31). Jesus had already been baptized by John at this point, and John testified about it:
I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:32-33)John could only baptize with water, but he who was baptized with the Spirit is also the one who now baptizes us with the Spirit. And throughout the Gospel of John, we can see this means for us:
Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)*All Scriptures in this post, except where noted, are taken from the New International Version.
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:34-35)
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you." (John 16:12-15)
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)