John, Who Do You Think You Are?! (gospel Of John 1.24-27)

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

In the previous commentary section, we read that the priests and Levites who came from Jerusalem were commissioned by the pharisaic fraction of Jerusalem’s ruling elite. They publicly demanded John provide them with his credentials. In rapid fire succession, they asked, “Are you Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?”

These rhetorical questions were really a statement from Jerusalem about John’s lack of proper credentials. John was not the Messiah. He was not Elijah, who was expected to prepare the way for God’s visitation of his people. Neither was he the eschatological prophet of Deut.18:18. To put it simply it was implicit in the committee’s questioning that John had no authority to carry out this mass water ceremony that he and many others called “prophetic” activity. In a later Jesus-related event (Jn.10.24) hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews”) will tell Jesus that, if he was the Messiah he needed to tell them (the emphasis on “them”) clearly. He answered to them that he does not need their Temple approval, since he has the approval of the higher power yet that once indwelled the Temple – Almighty God of Israel – his father.

John’s response bewildered the priests and Levites. He said, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (vs. 26-27).  First, John believed that his authority to do so was based on God’s own approval.  Later on in the Gospel, the author would present these Jerusalem authorities as evil Shepherds of Israel prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 34:8, 12, 16). The author will further show Jesus to be the Good Shepherd of Israel that must govern Israel in their stead. It will be done constantly juxtaposing it to the incompetence of Israel’s formal rulers. When we come to treating John chapter 10 (and we have a long way to go), we will consider in detail the role of Jesus as the good shepherd of Israel in opposition to the Hoi Ioudaioi.

Second, John launched the charge of “not-knowing” that would become a repetitive theme in the entire Gospel, resulting in a fully developed court-case against the evil shepherds. This Gospel will show Jesus to be the true and good shepherd of Israel.

In Jn.1.26 John essentially challenges the delegation by saying something to this effect: “You’ve come to me because you’ve been sent from the official shepherds of Israel. Isn’t it interesting that neither you, nor those who sent you, know about the One who is coming after me? I’m doing here is something – yes, but it is nothing in comparison to what He is going to do.”

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. […] We are introduced to the interesting fact that John’s ministry was not rejected from the start (vs.35) by hoi Ioudaioi, perheps, even enjoying their initial support.  In several ways, John (Yochanan) looked like many other aspiring Jewish prophets who inspired followings and in the end were not themselves important.  It is only when John’s activity began to gain momentum that the investigation from Jerusalem was commissioned (Read about it here – Who was checking on John the Baptist? and John, who do you think you are?!). […]

  2. […] being, was still a part of. Throughout the Gospel we see that hoi Iudaioi show themselves to be clueless and insensitive to the things of the Spirit. It is no wonder that Nicodemus, the best of them, does not know what […]

  3. […] being, was still a part of. Throughout the Gospel we see that hoi Iudaioi show themselves to be clueless and insensitive to the things of the Spirit. It is no wonder that Nicodemus, the best of them, does not know what […]

  4. […] of Kfar Nahum’s synagogue, asked Jesus to perform miracles as verification of his authority. Jesus characteristically challenged the Judean authority structure, saying that Judean authority ought not to reside with the current Jerusalem leadership but with […]

  5. Margaret Comstock

    One thing that has not been mentioned is the issue of where faith comes from. I believe that it is a gift from G-d, that no one can earn it nor find it on one’s own. I also believe that we don’t think the way G-d does. What would have been the result if all the Jews had recognized Jesus as the promised savior? No crucifixion, no redemption – mankind still in the darkness of sin. Something to ponder……

  6. Jean Maurice Prosper

    If I can add to this, I have the impression that they thought the Messiah would somehow acknowledge what they were doing was good. But Jesus did the opposite, creating the KAS amongst them. On the other hand, though there were many prophecies, it seems that they had a specific idea of how and what the messiah would be or do. Could it be that, being very practical (same as obeying the laws , because it must be obeyed and not with reverence to God) they miss the moral / spiritual meaning and work that the messiah would do ? doing the deeds without fait somehow ?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Jean, I understand what you are saying, but I respectfully disagree. Get used to this I get paid 🙂 for having my own opinion and sharing it in public 🙂 🙂 :-).

      On a serious note. I think the issue was that Jesus was challenging the all powerful authority structure. Read early comments on all posts in the Gospel of John, we dealt with this before. I don’t recall exactly where but We just started on John it would be good for you to read all the posts anyway, they are very informative.

  7. Margaret Comstock

    Even the apostles did not really understand the actual significance of Jesus! The mother of James and John did not really understand as we can tell by her request. The transfiguration was a real mystery to Peter, James and John. The miracles of Jesus were misunderstood – he was considered a prophet by many of the people, not the Redeemer. No wonder that those whose position of power was being threatened did not believe. They couldn’t face up to such a radical change. I sometimes wonder what I would have thought if I had lived then…..

  8. Carol Karp

    I think they were looking for a conquerer type of savior who would banish the Romans from their mist and restore a king, like in Solomon or David/

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I agree. AND HERE IS THE SURPRISE: They were right! The timing was wrong. That and even greater rule of Israel’s king over all the earth (Jesus – Great Son of David) was reserved for the second coming!

  9. Michelle

    What I find so interesting, so amazing, is that with all their study of Torah, they didn’t recognize Him. How could they not know?

    Or… did they know, and they just refused to admit it, because they thought it would mean the end of their authority?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Well this is a loaded question :-). What I mean is that the question implies Jewish general stubbornness towards Jesus. 🙂 I will answer in two parts.

      First, I am going to say something that you may find disturbing, but I think its true. Biblical prophecies about coming the Messiah are very far from being clear! When we read books that claim that there was more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, we get the feeling that those who met Jesus and did not follow him must have been particularly evil people. After “all was so clear” and they were the masters of know the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. So 1+1=2. Which means that they simply did not want to accept the truth about him. This kind of logic about “Jewish stubbornness” in Christian myths is prevalent. It eventually evolves into a full blown case (well… one of them) of Christian Anti-Judaism. So, actually this innocent question, is more important than it would seem.

      Let me state the same case with as much force as I can, running the risk of overstating it a bit… naturally :-). The prophecies of the Old Testament are so unclear that it is a real wonder that anyone during Jesus time or after believed and followed Him because of them at all!! Do, go through the 300+ claims of prophecies about Jesus, and you yourself will see that none (or almost non of them) of them prove in MODERN WAY OF THINKING (test/prove) that he was in fact the Messiah.

      Now… if you ask me do I personally think that he was and you will get a clear – Yes from me. Do I believe that the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus. Yes, I do. But often they were fulfilled in a very unexpected way and certainly almost always not following our scientific method of test and prove.

      It was a different world back then and Jews did their interpretation very differently from what most Jews would do know. I am sure that a Jew reading the Gospel of Matthew in the first century would see many more reasons to think that Jesus was the Messiah, because of the common interpretive methods used at the time. When the Gospel of Matthew with its countless prophecy fulfillment references is read today, one, if he is honest, ought to ask a question, how can this convince any reasonable modern Jews? Or anyone for that matter who applies test/prove method here. The answer is that it can’t.

      1. Michelle

        Greetings, Dr. Eli,

        Very good points. Thanks for sharing all of this. And I apologize for implying “Jewish stubbornness.” But as I was typing my question, I was thinking of Jesus’ comment as He walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25). Though I’m probably misreading His tone with the two men, His question to them gives the impression that they should know how the prophecies reveal Him as Savior. My line of thought was, “okay, He’s telling these two that they should have known. Certainly the Pharisees would have also known?” Bad assumption on my part.

        You’re right, it was a different world back then. I would love to know the differences in how interpretation was done back then as compared to today. Reading your response reminds me of how much I still have to learn. 🙂

        Thanks again for sharing all of this. I’m really enjoying your commentary on John!

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          That’s the spirit!

      2. Eric Rodríguez

        BS”D

        There is a historical proof of the existence of Yehoshúa’ and The fulfilment of almost one prophecy, which is the basis for the rest:
        מִמְּךָ֙ לִ֣י יֵצֵ֔א לִֽהְיֹ֥ות מֹושֵׁ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּמֹוצָאֹתָ֥יו מִקֶּ֖דֶם מִימֵ֥י עֹולָֽם
        Moshel, מֹושֵׁ֖ל, here is “Compositor/author of Parables”; The Parables of Yehoshua’ the Messiah, have no paralels in History, even some Biblical vorlages… less a few of the rabinic compositions. Yehoshua’ composed more than 40 parables without equal or paralel sense and form. This is one of his major material marks.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Hi, Michelle. This is part 2 of my answer and this has to do with “did they know it and not wanted to accepted it” or did they not know.

      OK… I will start with a relevant example from linguistics. As you know Hebrew is a root language, so the words that have the same roots are connected by meaning as well (usually).

      For example, the word KISEH (chair/throne/sit), KIS (money purse/packet), KAS (anger). In Hebrew you can really hear the connection.

      When someone is saying something that can displace them from the position of authority and influence (Kiseh – the chair/sit/throne) or if someone threatening the income flow of people (Kis – money purse/packet book) what we get is the KAS – the anger. 🙂

      Its not only Jewish, its also universal. All of us get defensive when we are threatened like that.

      Now Jesus was certainly threatening their positions and their income! (Speaking critically to the religious establishment).

      I know from my own experience. The way my brain works is that when I am threatened I tend to shot down and not hear the position that I perceive to be threatening to me and then my brain begins to look for all kinds (you may say excuses) about why this may not be the case or why something else could account for it, therefore, rejecting the critique of the person speaking to me.

      So what I am saying is that there is a clear connection between the fear among the leadership (and those to they delegate their authority in various locals) and they not understanding the prophecies the way that others did (Usually, its the people that were not threatened by Jesus, his message and its implications).

      I hope I answered your question. It was probably more than you bargained for 🙂 🙂 :-).

      1. Michelle

        Dr. Eli,

        Hi! No, your answer was not more than I bargained for. 🙂 And thank you for the sharing about the radicals in Hebrew! My Hebrew vocabulary is still limited; I did not know that “anger” and “chair/throne” came from the same root.

        I can totally understand your point about tending to shoot down anything that threatens. It is universal. I do that myself. 🙂

    3. Eric Rodríguez

      BS”D

      Dear Sister, The revelation of the Torah and the Prophecy never was via Flesh and blood… And so that, was writen: 1Cor 1:25-29 … Always have been by God’s choice/pick, never by Human choice/pick… Their veil only is taken off by Messiah himself, The mankind heart is alike Pharaon’s Heart: very hard and heavy; God only showed that hardness heaviness of Pharaon’s heart through the ten Wonders… Without Yehoshua’ the Messiah, our heart is hard!!