In the scriptures, John the Baptist is portrayed as a forerunner to Jesus the Christ. The Gospel of John tells us that the Baptist referred to himself as the ‘voice’ in the desert urging people to prepare the way for the Lord. (Jn 1: 15f) John’s mode of preparation included baptism with water. In the economy of salvation, water is seen as a symbol of purity. However, John the Baptist preached that after him, there would come one greater than him, who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. Consequently, his work was to bear witness to the coming one. In John 1: 29-34, we witness this testimony of John the Baptist as outlined below:
Vs 29-30: John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God:
Ø He takes away the sins of the world
Ø He ranks ahead of John the Baptist
Ø He existed before John the Baptist
Vs 31-32: John describes his mission and the baptism of Jesus:
Ø The Baptist was sent to baptize with water
Ø The Baptism was to make Jesus known to Israel
Ø The Baptist saw the Spirit rest upon Jesus like a dove
Vs 33-34: John spells out his testimony about Jesus:
Ø He did not know Jesus apriori
Ø He saw the Spirit come down and rest upon Jesus
Ø He saw and testified that Jesus is the Son of God
Key Words and Phrases
ü The Lamb of God: In the Old Testament, the lamb was used to symbolize ‘a sacrificial victim’ and a figure of innocence and helplessness. The suffering servant discourse mentions a lamb being led to the slaughter that does not say a word. (Is: 53 7) The book of revelation uses the word ‘lamb’ 28 times to refer to Jesus though in a victorious and vicarious sense.
ü Testimony: Also known as ‘witness’. In the Gospel of John, it points to an eye witness sent by God to testify to the Truth that Jesus is Lord. Thus, John the Baptist is a witness and John the evangelist witnesses and testifies as well.
ü Spirit: Etymologically, it comes from the Hebrew word ruah, which loosely translates to Breadth, Air and/or Wind. In the New Testament, especially with the baptismal formula in the Mathean account, it is used vis a vis Father and the Son. In the Johannine account, the Spirit plays the role of the ‘paraclete’ and continues to guide the Church on its pilgrim journey.
ü The Son of God: This phrase is used by the fourth evangelist to emphasize the divinity of Jesus. John’s Gospel is known for its High Christology. From John’s Gospel, the reader is left with only two options as to who Jesus is: He is either God (Divine) or a very bad man who lied; he would thus bear the mantle of “the most dangerous liar or lunatic in history” The latter could not be further from the truth given the testimony of Jesus through all the Gospels.
This passage is a prototype of John’s gospel in view of its plot and characters. It contains some indispensable trademarks of the author of the Fourth Gospel. For instance, there is ‘double entende’ in the use of the phrase ‘the Lamb of God’. The reader is left wondering whether this is the lamb in the Passover discourse as outlined in the book of Exodus, or the sacrificial lamb in Isaiah 53 or still the victorious lamb in the book of Revelation. There is also the use of repetition motif. This brief extract is replete with repetition. Twice, it talks of the one who sent John the Baptist to baptize with water, twice John confesses that he did not know Jesus and twice the Baptist describes the Spirit coming down upon Jesus and remaining thereupon.
As we discussed above, this particular pericope suggests that John the Baptist did not know Jesus. On two occasions, the Baptist says that “I did not know him”. (Jn 1: 31 and 33). Many commentators on this passage, including St. Augustine of Hippo point out that Jesus and John the Baptist probably knew each other prior to Jesus’ Baptism. They were cousins, and their parents visited with each other. (XXX). There is also scriptural evidence in the synoptic gospels that John recognized Jesus when he came for Baptism and knew that he (Jesus) was superior to him. (John). Consequently, as Augustine rightly points out, the Baptist knew a lot of things about Jesus but the one thing he did not know for sure was that Jesus was the Son of God. Despite the inferiority complex, Jesus accepted the Baptism of John so that in “in receiving what was inferior from an inferior, He might exhort the inferiors to receive that which was superior”.
The testimony of John the Baptist that Jesus is the Son of God augers well with the entire Gospel of John. John the Evangelist makes it clear that it is for the sake of this testimony that the entire Gospel was written. “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in his name”. (John 20: 31) The authority of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, testifies to his divine nature as well. The apocalyptic Lamb points to the eschatological dimension when Jesus will eventually overcome all the powers of the evil one. The Salvific mission of Jesus surpasses the geographical boundaries of Israel. The witness of John the Baptist hints at the universality of Jesus’ mission when he says that he will take away the sins of the world.
On the whole, the witness of John the Baptist is a good example for Christians who desire to carry on the mission as witnesses of Christ. As Paul VI said, “People today listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses”. The Baptist was neither self centered nor selfish. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah and directed his followers toward him. He was humble enough to deny that he was The Prophet or the one who is to come. Rather, he indentified himself as a forerunner, a voice preparing the way. The Baptist did not brag about his consanguineous relationship with Jesus. He had no hidden agenda for self glorification but rather did the work for which he was sent by God. Consequently, in the person of John the Baptist we learn the lesson of true pastoral charity. It involves putting God’s expectation above every other expectation.
Cited and Consulted Works
Kreeft, Peter, You Can Understand the Bible, A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book in the Bible. Ignatius Press: San Fransisco, 1990.
Ashton, John et al., The Interpretation of John, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986.
Augustine, Tractate V
Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John, Double day and Co., NY: 1966.
R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel,A study in Literary Design. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1983.
The Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV, 1989.
 Bible Dictionary……………..p. 491
The Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV, 1989.
 Ibid ……p. 840-845
 Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible, A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book in the Bible. Ignatius Press: San Fransisco, 1990. p. 198
 Ibid, p. 201
 R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel,A study in Literary Design. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1983. p. 86-88
 Augustine, Tractate V, 1, 33.
 Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible, p. 204
 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Double day and Co., NY: 1966. p. 59
 John Ashton, et al., The Interpretation of John, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986. p 45-46.
 Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 1975.