“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.  25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:19-28).

Beginning in John 1:19, the gospel writer records one week in the life of our Lord.

Verse by verse John develops the first momentous week in the public life of Jesus. 

The narrative begins when certain priests and Levites come from Jerusalem to question John the Baptist. The Jews were in a high state of expectation of some Great Personage to appear. Despite centuries of hardship and suffering the Jews had never lost faith.

They knew that Daniel’s seventy weeks of years were now expiring. Messiah the Prince was to come. The Jews knew that supernatural wonders had lightened up the heavens one cool evening thirty years before when shepherds were in the field watching over their flocks by night. The nation of Israel was restless under the Roman yoke of bondage and they sighed for a Deliverer. Therefore, they asked John,

“Who are you?” “We want to know?”

The Priests and the Levites had a right to know for unto them was entrusted the spiritual welfare of the people. In the providence of God, in the Divine economy, God has always provided a means whereby spiritual truth would be revealed and protected.

For Israel, the protectors of spiritual things were the priests and Levites. The priests were selected by God to be the direct descendents of Aaron (Ex. 6:18, 20; 28:1). But not all could serve. Only those who did not have any physical defect or infirmity were allowed to handle holy things.

The Levites were also a priestly class from the tribe of Levi. Together, the priests and their assistants the Levites were to preserve the law of Jehovah in all its integrity and purity. These holy men were to see that the requirements of the Law were met, and to disperse justice.

Taking their duties seriously the religious leaders rightly asked John, “Who art thou?” Specifically, they wanted to know “John, are you the Christ.” “Are you the Anointed one?” And John confessed, and denied not but confessed, “I am not the Christ”

More than one Bible commentator has observed the temptation that John resisted. How easy it might have been for John to have fallen prey to the popularity of the masses which he received. From his mother’s womb John was full of power of the Holy Spirit. He was anointed. He was a man with a message and the multitudes gathered almost out of nowhere to hear him preach. But John never lost sight of who he was and who he was not. “I am not the Christ,” said John.

“Then perhaps you are Elijah?” asked the Priests and Levites.

You remember Elijah, the prophet of God in the Old Testament. A man of undaunted courage and fiery zeal. Elijah strode on to the stage of Israel’s history from a locality unknown except by the name Tishbite. His hair was long and thick. His raiment, a skin mantle, in which he hid his face (1 Kings 19:13). Elijah had a message for the people as a prophet of God. “There is wickedness in this land.” declared Elijah. “Religion is false. Worship is an abomination to the Lord for the heart is not holy.”

The prophets of Baal and the prophets of Ashtoreth were challenged to a dual. Eight hundred plus gathered at Mt. Carmel for the great battle of the gods. But it was no battle, for the Lord God Jehovah alone lives. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the God of Elijah, and before the day was done Jehovah answered Elijah’s prayer with fire. The false prophets were put to death.

At the end of his life, Elijah did not depart earth as other mortals. Heavenly horses and chariots of fire suddenly burst into sight and took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. It was a suitable and glorious departure.

With the passing of time it became a Jewish belief that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return to herald His coming and prepare the world to receive Him. The prophet Malachi (3:1) wrote, “Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, when ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple?”

Deeply did the Jews long for Elijah. They believed he would settle what items and what people were clean and unclean. Elijah would also bring together families that were divided. It was even believed that Elijah would anoint the Messiah to His kingly office.

The Priests and Levites knew Malachi 4:5 and the precious promise: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before that coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

“John, are you Elijah?”

And John said, “I am not.”

Bible students have been puzzled over this response considering the Lord’s statements in other passages. For example, in Matthew 11: 11-15, Jesus plainly states that John was Elijah, and this prophecy was fulfilled. This leads to a word of exhortation.

In the area of prophecy, always let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament. That is a simple principle of biblical interpretation but, for many, it can revolutionize the way the future is perceived, especially with so many prophetic buffs running around today.

In 1989 I met a prophetic enthusiast while visiting a hospital in Pennsylvania. He was so excited the Berlin wall was falling. “This is a sign of the end times, “he said. However, in August 1961, when the Berlin wall went up, people were saying, “It is a sign of the end times.”

When Russia tries to conquer other another nation, such as the Ukraine, it is said, “The Bear of the North is on the move! The anti-Christ is arming himself.”

In 1927, it was Joseph Stalin who was the anti-Christ. Today it is Vladimir Putin who is the anti-Christ.

When the Russian Empire disintegrates and the Russian military force is diminished under the pressures of economic realities, and military resistance, the students of prophecy hardly know what to say.

The point is this. Forget all human expectations and searching for the “signs of the times” and let the Word of God speak. Let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament, and let the Lord take care of the future.

When John says he is not Elijah reincarnated, believe it. When Jesus says that John is Elijah in power and spirit believe it. Let God tell us how prophecy is fulfilled, and let us stop telling God, and each other, all the speculative details of the future as if we know of what is come. The secret things belong to the Lord (Deut. 29:29).

The truth of the matter is that much of what is taught today in prophetic conferences and by prophetic teachers can be traced to the utterances of a fifteen-year-old Scottish girl named Margaret McDonald (c. 1830). From a vision the sickly child had, a sensational and convoluted system of belief known as Dispensationalism has arisen to replace the simplicity of the Scriptures.

We say again, let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament and when the Bible says an Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled, believe it. The discussion can end.

If John was not the Messiah, and if he was not Elijah in the flesh reincarnated, then perhaps he was the expected and promised prophet. The reference is to Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your brethren – him you shall heed.”

Theologian and Bible teacher William Barclay observes, “That was a promise that no Jew ever forgets. They waited and longed for the emergence of the prophet who would be the greatest of all prophets, the Prophet par excellence.”

Once again, they were disappointed as John answered, and said, “No. I am not the Prophet.” “Then, John, who are you?” And John answered and said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.

In the ancient world, when a King was to visit a certain province, there was a road crew that went out and made sure the path was smoothed. All tree roots were leveled. All jagged rocks removed.

What men did for earthly monarchs; John wanted to do for the King of all kings. He wanted people to prepare to receive their King. The way to receive King Jesus is to have a heartbeat for righteousness. And one evidence of a righteous heart was to submit to the ritual of water baptism.

Under the Mosaic Law baptism was usually reserved for Gentiles who became proselytes to the Jewish religion. The Gentiles had to be washed in baptism.

Now, John was asking the Jews to do what only Gentiles had to do. John was suggesting the Chosen People had to be cleansed.

For many, it was an outrageous suggestion because of the implication. Their pride was wounded. Could it be that the physical children of Abraham were not spiritual children of God?

But John did not back down. He demanded that there be an outward act of humility to symbolize an inward cleansing of the heart. Of course, many did not receive the baptism of John, but multitudes humbly bowed and prayed, “Lord, cleanse me and I shall be whiter than snow.”

By receiving the ritual of the sign of regeneration, John was able to teach a deeper truth. The Messiah was standing amid His people. And so it is that God is often nearer to us than we are aware of.

Perhaps that is the situation with someone today. You have come to a religious gathering for whatever reason. You need Jesus but you know Him not.

It is possible to be religious but not righteous. It is possible to be near the Lord, and yet far away. John tells us to do two things.

First, prepare the heart to meet Jesus. Where there is sin, banish it. Break up the stony heart and ask God for a heart of flesh.

Second, look for Jesus. If your eyes are still spiritually blinded, it does not mean God does not care. He will manifest Himself to those who call upon Him. May God, grant you grace to understand and to respond. Amen.

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