man in black suit playing violin

John 1:15

[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — see top menu for John 1:1-2].

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 

(Ἰωάννης μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ κέκραγεν λέγων· Οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον· Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν·)

Second Chair

There is this interesting feature in the Prologue to the Gospel of John: in a way, the narrative toggles between the Word (Jesus) and John the Baptist. Some think the parts about John the Baptist are something of an injection into an otherwise very nice opening song or poem. Notice verses 6 – 9: how John suddenly decides to include John the Baptist in this opening movement. And then, after one of the most dramatic verses in the Bible — verse 14 — John the Baptist gets interjected again. This time, it seemed too obvious and so some of your Bibles (such as the above NRSV) render it a parenthetical remark. Remember, there is no punctuation in ancient Greek and so these parentheses were added by the editors as a way to indicate that the poetry is interrupted by the reference to John the Baptist. John would later, at verse 19, describe more of the function of John the Baptist in the Jesus story, but these interjections in the Prologue seem significant.

First, we note the language used even in this short verse 15. John the Baptist gives witness (μαρτυρεῖ ) — the activity of the predicted forerunner of the Messiah. He cries out (κέκραγεν) as the prophets of old did about the one who comes (ἐρχόμενος), a loaded term about the Coming One of God (cf. Matt 11:2–3; Mark 11:9; John 12:15; also cf. Ps 118:26; Zech 9:9). Then the Baptist’s quote includes two words ranks ahead of me (ἔμπροσθέν) and before me (πρῶτός) clearly designating Jesus as the one established before John the Baptist (the eternal Logos) and is greater than John.

As we noted earlier in our exegesis of John 1:6-9, the Gospel writer John clearly wants people to know that John the Baptist was second fiddler to Jesus. At the time the Gospel was circulating, the Baptizer was likely dead, but many of his followers remained who believed he was the Messiah. John says, “Nope! He’s Number 2!”

Playing in the Second Chair isn’t so bad when the first is occupied by Jesus, but when it is another imperfect soul such as yourself, it can be a bit biting if you have a competitive spirit. How to handle it? Graciously! It isn’t always true but generally speaking: focus on the success of the mission and the need for all hands to play a part in that, and share the success. In the end, it is my belief, it works much better for your enterprise, your team, and yourself.

BUT: always play as if you’re fiddling in the First Chair!