This is He of whom I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.'
I. JOHN'S DISCLAIMER. No doubt there was an expectation, general and eager, of One who, in accordance with Hebrew prophecy, should be the Deliverer and Ruler of God's people Israel. From varying motives - in some cases with spiritual yearning, in other cases with political expectation - the Jews turned anxiously towards every personage of distinction and influence who arose among the people. Thus they turned to John, whose character was austere and inflexible as that of a Hebrew seer, and whose popular power was manifest from the multitude of his adherents and admirers. In these circumstances, John's first duty was to give an unequivocal answer to the inquiry of the Jews. This inquiry was pointed and particular. Was John Elias, again visiting the people who revered him as one of their holiest and mightiest saints? There was something in his appearance, his habits, his speech, that suggested this possibility. Or was he "the prophet," less definitely designated? Or could it be that he was none other than the Messiah? The times were ripe for the advent of the promised Deliverer; John evidently possessed a spiritual authority, a popular power, such as Israel had not seen for many a generation. To every such inquiry John had only one answer: "I am not." In this disclaimer we recognize both the intelligence and the candour of the forerunner. A weak mind might have been overpowered by interest so profound and widespread. A self-seeking and ambitious mind might have taken advantage of such an opportunity to assert a personal authority and to climb to the throne of power. John was superior to such temptations. Though greater than others born of women, he did not aspire to a position for which God had not destined him. In fact, he was too great to wish to be aught but the herald and the servant of him who was to come.
II. JOHN'S CLAIM. A just and admirable modesty was not, indeed never is, inconsistent with a due assertion of position and duties assigned by God. He who knows what God has sent him into the world to do, will neither depreciate his own work nor envy another's. The claim made by John was very remarkable. He affirmed himself to be:
1. A fulfilment of prophecy. The circumstances of his birth and education, taken in conjunction with certain declarations of Old Testament Scripture, must have suggested to John that he held a place in the revealed counsels of eternal wisdom.
2. A voice. Often had God spoken to Israel. In John he spake yet again. To him it was given to utter by human lips the thoughts of the Divine mind. Not that this was mechanical function; John's whole soul was inflamed with the grandeur and the burning necessity of that message of repentance which he was called upon to deliver to his fellow countrymen. Nothing but the conviction that his voice was the expression of Divine thought, that he was summoning men in God's Name to a higher life of righteousness and faith, could have animated him to discharge his ministry with such amazing boldness. Nor could any other conviction have overcome the difficulty he must at first have felt in publicly witnessing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.
3. A herald, and one preparing the way of a great Successor. It was his to make straight the Lord's way. It was his to announce the Messiah's approach, and to direct the attention of Israel to the coming in lowly guise of Israel's King. It was his. to subside into comparative insignificance, to withdraw from publicity, in order that he might make room for One whose presence would bring the realization of the brightest hopes and the most fervent prayers. It was his to administer the humbler baptism with water - the symbol of a better baptism to be conferred by Christ, even that with the Holy Spirit.
1. Learn the completeness and harmony of the Divine plan. The revelation of God proceeds upon an order which may be recognized both by the intellect and by the heart of man. The wisdom of the Eternal arranges that all preparation shall be made for the appearance of the world's Saviour; the morning star heralds the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. God's ways in grace are as regular and as orderly as his ways in providence.
2. Learn the dignity and preciousness of Immanuel. One so honourable as the Baptist yet deemed himself unworthy to serve the meek and lowly . Jesus - to act as his meanest attendant. Lowly was his attitude, and reverent his words, when the Son of God drew near. Surely he, who was so regarded and so heralded, demands our homage and deserves our love. - T.
This is He.I. IN HIS WORK as the Lamb of God.
1. 'The object offered in sacrifice. The Lamb of God applies to Christ(1) in His personal character.(2) In His sacrificial character.
2. The object or effect of the sacrifice "taketh away," etc.!
3. The burden removed by the sacrifice: the world's sin.
II. IN HIS PERSON (ver. 30). These words meet us for the third time. The human and Divine natures are exhibited in one sentence. How profoundly the Baptist believed in the pre-existence of Christ.
III. THE MODE OF IDENTIFICATION.
1. I knew Him not. He did indeed know Him, and hence hesitated about baptizing Him (Matthew 3:14). The son of Elizabeth must have known the Son of Mary. The Baptist means that he did not know Him as Messiah.
2. Jesus was revealed to John by the descent of the Holy Ghost.(1) The sign. The Dove emblematized the consecration of the Redeemer to His Divine work.(2) The two baptisms — the one in water, the other in the Holy Ghost — the one that Christ might be made manifest unto Israel, and unto repentance for the remission of sins; the other not a sacrament that Christ was to institute for the Church, nor which any priest or minister could give; it was a baptism of regenerating grace — such a baptism as Simon Magus never had although baptized with water; such a baptism as the dying thief enjoyed although not baptized with water.
(Prof. Croskery.)Notice —
1. The evidences of Christ's excellency and Godhead when He came into the world are not cunningly devised fables, but most certain and infallible truths, for John bare record, saying, "I saw," etc.
2. Christ in His solemn entry to His offices was sealed from heaven, that so the Church may learn to embrace Him with all respect. Therefore doth the Spirit descend upon Him in this visible way, and the Father bear witness to Him (Matthew 3), all the persons of the Trinity manifesting themselves on Jordan's bank.
3. Christ is endowed with the Spirit from on high for executing of His offices, and it is made manifest that the Spirit is to be found on Him and sought from Him; for "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven upon Him," where the Spirit, who filleth heaven and earth, is said to descend in respect of that visible manifestation and sign of His presence.
4. The Spirit's descending like a dove, a meek, harmless and affectionate creature, pointed out what Christ is in His own nature to them that come to Him, even meek, harmless, loving, and not dreadful; what He is in the execution of His office, even He in whom the Father is well pleased and pacified, and He who bringeth the good news of assuaging the deluge of wrath, as Noah's dove of the drying up of the flood; and what He is in the operations of His Spirit upon His people, that they are made meek, harmless, and lowly as doves, not like birds of prey.
5. Albeit all Christ's members do receive of the Spirit in their measure, yet it is Christ's prerogative to have the Spirit resting on Him; not only as God is the Spirit of one essence with Him, proceeding from the Father and Him, and so is ever present with Him. But even as man by virtue of the personal union, the Spirit floweth and resteth on Christ, and efficaciously worketh in Him all Divine graces and virtues without measure, and immutably, so that none can come wrong to Him at any time for receiving of His Spirit: Therefore, it is said, "it abode upon Him" (Isaiah 11:2, 3).
6. Christ, in taking on our nature, did so cover His glory with the veil of our flesh and common infirmities that He could not be known by bodily sight from another man without Divine revelation and evidences from God; for, without this, John saith, I knew Him not (Matthew 16:17).
7. The Lord is very tender and careful of His servants, to encourage and confirm them in their calling and message; and will not fail to perform what He hath promised for that effect when He sendeth them out; for, John saith, he saw this sign in a peculiar way, as being to him an accomplishment of that promise given to him; for God had said to him, "upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending," etc., and now it was accomplished.
8. The Spirit resteth upon Christ, and was manifested to be on Him by a visible sign, not only for Himself and to point out His excellency, but for the Church's good, and to certify them that He received the Spirit to communicate unto His people.
I. THE CORONATION OF THE KING.
1. The actual descent of the Spirit. It is unnecessary to ask what was the objective material reality here. It is enough that this was no fancy, born in a man's brain, but an actual manifestation, whether through sense or apart from sense, to consciousness of a Divine outpouring and communication.
2. The purpose of this descent. The anointing of the Monarch. But a man is king before he is crowned. Coronation is the consequence and not the cause of royalty. And so the first purpose of this great fact is distinctly stated as having been the solemn pointing out of Messiah for the Baptist first, but in order that he might bear witness of Him to others. But this was not the beginning of His Messianic consciousness, nor of His Sonship. Before His baptism, and ere the heavens opened, or the dove fluttered down, He from everlasting was Son in the bosom of the Father. Christ's baptism was an epoch in His human development inasmuch as it was His first public assumption of His Messianic office, and inasmuch as an advance was made in the communication to his manhood of the sustaining Spirit as fully equipped Him for new calls. His manhood needed the continual communication of the Spirit, and because it was sinless it was capable of a complete reception of that Spirit. So we see in Christ the realized ideal of manhood.
3. The meaning of this symbol. To John the coming of the King was first and chiefly a coming to judgment. John sees two wonders: the Messiah in his Carpenter Cousin and the Spirit, which he thought of as searching and consuming, like a dove. The same as in Genesis 1:2, where the word employed describes accurately the action of the mother bird with her soft breast and outstretched wings quickening the life that lies beneath. What then does it proclaim as to the character of the King.(1) Purity, as the very foundation of His royalty.(2) Meekness and gentleness, as the weapons of His conquest and the sceptre of His rule. The dove will outfly all Rome's eagles, and all rapacious unclean feeders with their strong wings, talons and beaks.
II. THE GIFTS OF THE KING TO HIS SUBJECTS.
1. Christ has nothing that He keeps to Himself. He received the Spirit that He might diffuse Him through the whole world. Salvation is more than escape from wrath, more than pardon. We must rise higher and feel if we would understand the "unspeakable gift" which is the totality of the gifts of His indwelling Spirit.
2. Therefore Christian met, are spoken of in the same language which is used in reference to their Master. "Sons of God," "Priests," "Lights of the World," "Anointed."
3. How full of rebuke and instruction is the symbol in reference to ourselves. The dove-like Spirit is offered to us.(1) Our hearts are like the wild chaos; but He will come, if we will let Him, and brood over our nature and recreate the whole.(2) The dove again was pure and fit for sacrifice: the heavenly dove comes as the Spirit of holiness, and then there is purity in the receiver and .self-sacrifice.(3) The Dove that crowned the King dwells in the subjects and makes them, too, meek and gentle, and imparts the true force of Christian character.(4) Noah's dove came back with one leaf in his beak — the prophecy of a whole world of beauty and verdure. The Dove that comes to us, bearing some leaf plucked from the tree of life, is the earnest of our inheritance until the day of redemption. All the gifts of that Divine Spirit — gifts of holiness, gentleness, wisdom, truth — are forecasts of heavenly perfectness. To us sailing over a dismal sea, He comes bearing with Him a message that tells of the far-off land and the fair garden of God in which the blessed shall walk.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)As a dove did at that time bring tidings of the abating of the water, so doth it now of the abating of the wrath of God upon the preaching of the gospel.
( Augustine.)The Holy Spirit manifested Himself here as a Dove; and at the day of Pentecost in tongues of fire; in order that we may learn to unite fervour with simplicity, and to seek for them both from Him.
( Augustine.)The dove, the symbol of innocence and purity (Matthew 10:16), the abiding and the tranquil hovering over Christ, expressed the tranquil and equable movement of the power of the Spirit in Him, in contrast with the detached impulses given to the prophets (Isaiah 11:2).
(C. Clemance, D. D.)
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