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John 1:19 — 23 Continued

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

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

19 Καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου ὅτε [d]ἀπέστειλαν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν· Σὺ τίς εἶ; 20 καὶ ὡμολόγησεν καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσατο, καὶ ὡμολόγησεν ὅτι [e]Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός. 21 καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτόν· Τί οὖν; [f]σὺ Ἠλίας εἶ; καὶ λέγει· Οὐκ εἰμί. Ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; καὶ ἀπεκρίθη· Οὔ. 22 εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ· Τίς εἶ; ἵνα ἀπόκρισιν δῶμεν τοῖς πέμψασιν ἡμᾶς· τί λέγεις περὶ σεαυτοῦ; 23 ἔφη· Ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· Εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης.

“Ebed Yahweh”

I promised last week we would look this week at the significance of John the Baptist’s quote from Isaiah 40. Isaiah is commonly thought to contain three books. The “Book of the Prophet Isaiah” that we have today in our Bibles, then, is likely a little library of three books, sorta like a trilogy that is bound together. Textual critical tools (and Isaiah himself) date Isaiah 1 – 39 prior to the Assyrian rout of Israel — the “year King Uzziah died” in 739 B.C.E (Is. 1, 6). Isaiah 40 – 55 is dated later: at the time of the return of those exiled to Babylon (538 B.C.E.).

I am writing this piece on Dec. 27, 2021. Handel’s Messiah has been in the air now for days. It begins with the first verses of this Second Book of Isaiah starting at chapter 40:

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her Iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for Our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)

And so begins this remarkable section of Isaiah that introduces us to a new and different kind of Messianic figure. The Messiah was generally thought of as Warrior King like David who would establish Israel as the premier nation above all other nations. But Isaiah 40 – 55 paint a different picture: a coming Messiah who is an ebed Yahweh — “Servant of God.” Even more, a Servant of God who suffers to redeem Israel (see Is. 53, for example).

Now we see the significance of John the Baptist’s words: he is the forerunner, the one preparing the Way of the Lord. And what will this Lord be like? As what follows in the book he quotes from: One who, contrary to the popular depictions of a warring Messiah, suffers to restore his people.

And this may be why he denied he was Elijah, the person everyone expected to appear to announce the coming Messiah. John is not like the expected Elijah heralding a Warrior King Redeemer; rather, he is like the voice in Isaiah 40 who ushers in the ministry of a totally different kind of Liberator!

Christianity is the only religion that calls its followers to worship a suffering servant who dies on a cross, the victim of human injustice and cruelty, in order to overcome the world, and defeat its evil powers.

Are you ready and willing to following that kind of Messiah?