GOSPEL ANALYSIS: JOHN THE BAPTIST (GOSPEL OF JOHN)
John 1:6-8, 19-28.
Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 192.
EXAMINATION OF THE PROLOGUE
The Gospel According to John
We discover that the book of John is very different than the first three Gospels. One of the purposes of this class is to explore the differences between John and the first three gospels.
We need to learn to accept the differences and contrasts between John and the first three gospels (which are called “the Synoptics.”). We need to stop trying to reconcile these differences e.g. the placement of the call of the first disciples, the placement of the cleansing of the temple, or what happened at the Last Supper.
We will discover that the Gospel of John is highly philosophical. John will use philosophical categories like “the Logos, life and light.” He will not use down to earth parables and down to earth, short, pithy moral teachings but will give us long, philosophical discourses.
We will discover that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness who actually “hung out” with Jesus and closely watched his every move. We will be surprised at the numerous pithy little details about historical situations that John tells us. We will discover that the Apostle John is our “reporter on the scene,” who reports to us eyewitness coverage that could only be seen by someone who “had been there.”
-In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John’s gospel is more philosophical than the Synoptics. In the first five verses, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth, but to the Word. In Greek, the Word is “logos” from which we receive our word, “logic.” The translation could have read, “In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God.” “All things were made in the beginning through this Logic.” The Logic was a personal pronoun; that is, the Logic was “he” or “him.” As we shall momentarily see, The Logic was life and light.
-He was in the beginning with God. Jesus existed in the beginning, before the universe and time came into being. In the Gospel of John, we will hear much more about the “pre-existence” of Jesus; that Jesus existed before Father Abraham. From the opening verse of John’s gospel, the reader is to understand that Jesus was and is fully God.
-All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. The Word (the Logic of God, the Mind of God, the Intelligence of God) was the designer and creator of the entire universe. We hear similar themes in the Book of Colossians 1:14-16: “He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
-What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. Circle the words, “life” and “light.” The Word, The Intelligence, The Logic behind the universe created life. The Word also created light. Light and life are miraculous mysteries within the universe.
The Logic behind the universe created life. We are soon going to discover that Jesus Christ was life and also the light of God who shines over all human beings.
The Gospel of John is highly philosophical and used philosophical categories of his day such as “life” and “light.” In the Gospel of John, the word, “life,” is used 36 times and the word, “light,” is used 22 times. Similarly, light is contrasted with darkness.
These philosophical and theological categories were familiar to the thought patterns of the Stoics and Hellenists of the day. Yet John also knew the Old Testament and Jewish thought. Jesus came into the world that the world may have life and eternal life and the fullness of life.
In the first three gospels, the word, “kingdom,” is used 113 times but in the Gospel of John, the word, “kingdom,” is used only twice. In John, the concept of “life” replaces the concept of “the kingdom” which is repeatedly used in the first three gospels.
-The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Near the word, “light,” write the word, “Jesus.” Jesus shines in the dark world. Darkness could not overcome Jesus. This is a word of hope. Underline it. Circle it. Write this verse into the memory page on page 362. Near the word “did,” write the word, “can.” The darkness can not overcome the light. In our depression and wanting to give up, we are reminded that God’s light will never be snuffed out from the world. Jesus Christ and his light will never be snuffed out. Darkness never can defeat the light of Jesus Christ.
The following is the text for this coming Sunday, Advent 3B: John 1:6-8
-There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. Circle the word, “John” and write “John the Baptist.” Underline the phrase, “sent from God.” John repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus was “sent from God.” We will hear that the word, “apostles,” means to be “sent” and Christians are to be “sent from God into the world.” Here in this moment, we hear that John the Baptist was sent from God. To be “sent from God” is a sign of authenticity and spiritual authority.
-He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John the Baptist was a witness to testify to the light of God which lives in Christ. Christ is the light of the world who brings life.
Circle the word, “believe.” As we move into the Gospel of John, we will hear that what John wants is to believe in Jesus Christ more than anything else.
-He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John the Baptist was not the light but pointed to the light. We are the same: we point to the greatest light in the whole world, Jesus Christ. Jesus is that great and glorious beacon that guides us on our way. Jesus is the North Star who guides us in the night. Jesus is our lamp who guides our feet so we don’t stumble and fall as we walk on the paths of life. John the Baptist and everyone else who has any sense does not point to one’s self as an example but to Jesus Christ. “Keep your eyes on Christ” and you will do well.
The text for Advent 3B skips the next several sentences to John 1:19-28
-The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Circle the word, “true.” We are going to find out that Jesus was/is the true light that beckons for people in the world to follow him. There are thousands of other lights beckoning for the human race to follow, but only Christ is the true light, the true beacon, the true radiance who guides our life.
-He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. In this gospel, we will repeatedly hear that the world did not know Christ and did not follow him. The word, “world,” is a symbolic word, that symbolizes all who do not follow the light of God in Christ.
-He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. The Gospel of John will lay out the basic tragedy in Jesus’ life: his own people did not follow him.
-But to all who received him, who believed in his name, Circle the word, “receive.” What is it to receive Christ? It is to believe in his name. To believe in his name means to believe in his powerful Presence. As we move into this course, we will gradually discover what the word, “believe,” means to the John.
-He gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Jesus gives us the power to become children of God. Who are the children of God? The children of God are those people who believe in his name.
People are children of God not because of blood or inheritance or nationality or belonging to a religious group.
People are children of God not because of the will power within their psyche. We humans do not will to become children of God. Becoming children of God is not a result of will power.
People become children of God because they are born of God. Just like a person’s biological birth is not the result of will power but is purely a gift from God, so also our rebirth is not the result of will power within but is purely a gift from God. We will hear about this during the story of Nicodemus in John 3 and his being “born again” and” born from above.”
-And the Word became flesh and lived among us, The Logic of God became flesh, became a human being. Jesus was God in the flesh. The word, “incarnation,” means “in the flesh.”
He lived among us, or tented among us or tabernacled among us. Jesus was the flesh of God and he lived among us here on earth. That is what this story about Jesus in the Gospel of John is all about: God living in the human body, mind and spirit of Jesus.
-And we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. Circle the word, “we.” The word, “we,” refers to the Apostle John and all who witnessed the life of Jesus on earth. “Glory” refers to the glorious radiant presence of God in Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Jews saw God’s glorious radiant presence in the pillar of fire by night and now they could see God’s glorious presence in the life of Jesus.
Jesus was the Father’s only son. The Greek word for “only” is “monogenesis,” which means mono-genetic Son of God. All the rest of us are the adopted children of God. God has only one, “mono-genesis,” Son and that was/is Jesus.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Circle the three words, “full,” “grace” and “truth.” “Full” means like a cargo ship was full to the brim with cargo. “Grace” means free gift of love. “Truth” means that Jesus was full of the reality and authenticity of God.
The gospel lesson for Advent 3B continues with the following text:
- This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" In John’s version of the story, we hear about “The Jews.” Circle the word, “Jews.” Once again, John’s version is different than the first three Gospels. We have said this repeatedly, but it simply needs to be said again. The word, “Jews,” is very important to John and he uses the word, “Jews,” 58 times in his Gospel. “The Jews” are always in opposition to Jesus, and they are “the enemy” of Jesus Christ in this Gospel. In the Gospel of John, the Jews” are the ones who plotted for his death and killed him.
In the history of western civilization, prejudice against the Jews can be traced to the Gospel of John. Martin Luther appreciated the Gospel of John more than the other Gospels, and it seems that Luther’s anti-Jewish prejudice and his rhetoric finds its roots in the Gospel of John. Without even knowing it, we can use the Bible to reinforce our cultural prejudices against a group, as Luther and Lutherans did for years against the Jews.
Notice that John uses the words, “priests, Levites, Elijah, the prophet” without even explaining these references. In other words, John assumes a Jewish reading audience. We will find philosophical categories and long speeches and complex thoughts in John’s Gospel, but he was also writing to an audience that included Jewish people who understood Jewish traditions and customs
Highlight the question: “Who are you?” This is the fundamental and basic question in John’s gospel. “Who are you, John?” In this question, the priests and Levites were also asking about the identity of Jesus. “Who is Jesus? What is Jesus’ true identity?”
-He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." John the Baptist was clear: he was not the coming Messiah, the Anointed One, the Chosen One of God.
-And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." " John 1:21 says, “Are you Elijah?” Jesus answered, “I am not.” Whereas in Matthew 11:14 it says, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” The Gospel of John says that John the Baptist was not Elijah; Matthew says that he was. It seems that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience who were definitely expecting Elijah to return before the arrival of the Messiah. Matthew interprets John the Baptist to be none other than the returning Elijah. The Gospel of John says “No, John the Baptist wasn’t Elijah.” For the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is the Voice crying in the wilderness to prepare for the coming Messiah.
Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No."
-Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" “Who are you?” This is the dominant question for all people from all generations. What is the true identity of John the Baptist? We continue to ask, “John, the Baptist, who are you? Are you the Messiah? Are you the persona of Elijah returned, or another prophet who is to come?”
We ask similar questions about Jesus. “Jesus, are you really a weighty religious prophet like Moses or Mohammed or Buddha and thereby a founder of a world-wide religion? Jesus, are you truly a prophet and no more? Did your followers exaggerate your identity and convert you into the Son of God when you only wanted to be a religious prophet?”
These are all fundamental questions that were being asked centuries ago and that people still ask today.
The Jews at that time were expecting the Messiah to come, Elijah to return, and another prophet (unnamed) to return. The belief that Elijah would come immediately before the Messiah is derived from Malachi 4:5. “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
Also in Deuteronomy 18:15, the Bible states that God “will raise up a prophet like Moses… I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak all that I have commanded him.”
- 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.
John said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, get ready for the coming of the Lord.”
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” John the Baptist invited the people to prepare for the coming of Christ into the world and into their hearts. Similarly, John the Baptist asks us to prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives and into our hearts as well.
We all need the Voice of God speaking to our lives. We need a person or people who would call out to us to get ready for Christ to enter into us. We all need a voice to confront us with our sinfulness and crooked lives.
We always prepare for great events in our lives whether that event is Christmas, the birth of a baby, the homecoming of a child now an adult, taking a trip, getting ready for a big game or a important concert, making preparations for the visit of a presidential candidate. We always prepare intently for great events that will soon be upon us. We all have experienced and know the reality of preparation for an important, upcoming event.
Christ comes to us in so many different ways, and one’s heart is always to be prepared for the surprise coming of Christ into our lives, often when we least expect it. Voices of pastors, spouses, children, friends, work associates, professors, neighbors are often the voice of God, calling to us and getting our attention to get ready for the coming of God’s glorious presence into our lives.
“As the prophet Isaiah said.” All four gospel writers quote Isaiah 40:3. “As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,” (Matthew, Mark, Luke)
“Make his paths straight.” All four authors quote Isaiah 40:3 about the messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight. The image of straightening a path was clear to the people of the first century. When a king was about to come into a land, the road-like-paths would be cleaned up and straightened in preparation for his royal majesty’s entrance. So it was at the coming of the King of the universe. The prophet would prepare for the coming of the Christ onto the earth and into our lives. The road crews of the ancient paths/roads would straighten them out and tidy them up in preparation for the coming royal king, and we are to straighten the moral/spiritual/habitual paths of our lives in preparation for our coming King.
-Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. Circle the word, “Pharisees.” We bump into the Pharisees for the first time, right in the first chapter of John. The Pharisees were already working their conniving mischief, already laying the groundwork for the execution of Jesus on Good Friday. The priests and the Levites were asking the questions, but they were a “front for the Pharisees.” They had been sent by the masterminds who were masterminding the plot behind the scenes in order to trap and execute Jesus.
-They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’
-John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ John only baptized with water; the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Compared to the coming Messiah, John the Baptist was not even worthy to untie the laces of his shoes.
-This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. The stories about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the temptation all occur in the barren wilderness area of Judea. The four Gospels agree on this geographic location of the wilderness area near the Jordan. John 1:28 (p. 15): “This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
During Jesus’ life, there were two villages by the name of Bethany: the first Bethany by the Jordan where Jesus was baptizing and the second Bethany by Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. The second Bethany was the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.
Below is a picture of the wilderness near Bethany. http://holysites.com/riverjordan.htm
“Running south from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea, the River Jordan is one of the most significant features of the Palestinian landscape. The only major river in the area, it was extremely important as a source of water during biblical times. Although there are endless biblical references to the River Jordan, its primary importance in the New Testament is in conjunction with Bethany (Al-Maghtas) and the baptism of Jesus. It also serves as a natural regional boundary: Moab is "beyond the Jordan," and the Israelites crossed the Jordan in order to reach the Promised Land. Besides being a real boundary, the River Jordan also plays an important role as a symbolic crossing point: Jesus had to cross the Jordan to be baptized by John, and Elijah crossed the Jordan before ascending to heaven on a chariot of fire.”
Locate the Baptism Site on the map below. This was the location where John performed his baptismal rites. Notice that this website comes from the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism.