Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

John 1:19-25
Pastor Steve Schell
Sunday: John 1:19
v19: There’s a term used in this verse which we need to clarify because we will come across it numerous times as we progress through this gospel. The term is “the Jews.” John says, “the Jews sent to him (John the Baptist) priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” Since everyone involved in this event was Jewish, it might seem odd to label a certain group of them as “the Jews.” To understand why, we need to realize that the title was a common one and is used this way many times in the New Testament. Often, it is simply a generic term for the descendants of Abraham. But in certain contexts, such as this one, it clearly becomes a shortened form of the phrase “the leading men of the Jews” (Ac 25:2; 28:17) or the “elders of the Jews” (Ac 25:15). In other words, the author may be using the term to refer to the chief priests, elders and tribal leaders in Jerusalem, or in other locations, the leaders of a local synagogue.

Monday: John 1:19
v19 (continued): It’s important to make this distinction because usually when the Bible points to “the Jews” as being the source of a particular persecution, including the crucifixion of Jesus (Jn 19:6-7, 12), the authors don’t mean the Jewish people as a whole. They mean their religious leaders. To miss this distinction can leave the impression that all Jews were hostile or shared certain negative attitudes toward Jesus, which was not true. In many situations, large numbers of Jews were supportive of, or at least interested in, the gospel, but their leaders stepped in and pretended to speak for all of them (Jn 19:5-13). One proof that this took place was the large numbers of Jews who became believers following Pentecost, even though the impression was given at Jesus’ trial that everyone wanted Him crucified. So when we read such statements as this, “the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem,” we need to recognize that it was only the religious leaders in Jerusalem who sent representatives to interview John the Baptist. Meanwhile, many thousands of “Jews” (normal Jewish people) were repenting of their sins and being baptized (Mt 3:5; Mk 1:5).

Tuesday: John 1:19
v19 (continued): Many of the religious leaders in Jerusalem were priests or Levites, but I believe there is a reason that the apostle John specifically mentions that they sent “priests and Levites” to ask the prophet who he was and why he was baptizing. He even mentions that it was the Pharisees among other leaders who sent them (v24). Priests and Levites were generally Sadducees not Pharisees, so why would Pharisees send Sadducees to represent them? The men they sent may have been experts in religious rituals whose purpose was to question John about the appropriateness of using ritual washing as an expression of repentance, because such washing was normally used for ceremonial cleansing. There may also have been some relational ties between these men and John because John the Baptist was himself from a priestly family. His father Zacharias was a priest, and his mother Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron (Lk 1:5). When they greeted him they may have said, “We knew your parents.”

Wednesday: John 1:19
v19 (continued): Their assignment may not have been to ask innocent questions about John’s identity but rather to challenge his right to do what he was doing. Ritual washing was a common activity in Israel at that time. A person would step down into a tank of fresh water and immerse themselves in order to remove any contamination they may have picked up by touching something listed in the Bible as “unclean.” It was a way of consecrating themselves for worship. They were washing away physical impurities, so they would not bring them with them into the presence of the Lord. But John was using this model of washing in a radically different way. He told the people that they were spiritually impure because their attitudes and lifestyles were unacceptable to God.

Thursday: John 1:19
v19 (continued): He said the Messiah was coming soon and they needed to repent to be ready to meet Him. He taught them to express this rejection of their old, sinful ways by immersing themselves in water. He undoubtedly prayed with them before they did this and may have helped lower them into the water, but the “baptism” that took place was a form of prayer, calling on God to be merciful to them and to wash away their sins (Mk 1:4-5; Lk 3:3-14). In order for us to understand why this was seen as a threat by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, we need to view this baptism from their perspective.

Friday: John 1:19
v19 (continued): People were leaving the temple ceremonies, which were supposed to make them acceptable to God, and going 20 miles out into the Judean desert to listen to a prophet who was declaring that those temple rituals had failed to make them righteous. He warned them that if the Messiah arrived and found them in that spiritual condition He would reject them. To become acceptable to God they needed a far deeper form of spiritual cleansing than the ministries the high priest and the temple were providing. Those ceremonies had not made them righteous before God. They needed a changed heart (Ps 51:16-17).

Saturday: John 1:19-25
vs19-25: So, “priests and Levites” were sent to ask John, “Who are you?” because if he were the Messiah (2Sa 7:12-16) or Elijah (Mal 4:5-6) or the second-Moses (Dt 18:15-19), then he might have some justification for his message, but if not, it was presumptuous of him to challenge the religious establishment. His answer to them, in effect, was, “I am merely a man calling people to do what the prophet Isaiah told them to do” (Isa 40:3-5). In other words, he was saying it doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is the truth I am proclaiming and the repentance that takes place in people’s hearts. I’m not God’s answer to our needs, but He sent me to prepare people to meet the One who is.” He refused to be drawn into a debate about his own qualifications as a prophet or the method he was using to minister repentance. 

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