This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “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?” 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.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 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.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
“Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
In Jewish culture people sacrificed animals to God to atone for their sins. They would literally speak their transgressions on to the animal (for example, a lamb), passing their sins on to it. Then the sacrificial animal would die the death the sinner deserved. And right off the bat, John the Baptist declares that this will be Jesus’s role.
Two important things I notice. First, John’s Gospel is already more focused on grace than the others have been. Jesus died so that we don’t have to. Second, the Pharisees have a second source declaring Jesus the Messiah. Not only do they doubt Jesus Himself, but they also doubt John, who they respected as a prophet. They respected him so much, in fact, that they thought he might be the Messiah, or at least Elijah reborn. But they didn’t believe him about Jesus.
But then, can you blame them? Even John admits that he didn’t recognize Jesus right away. He had to see a sign from God before he knew who Jesus was. So how can you blame the pharisees? They received no such sign.
How, then, can lowly little me recognize Jesus? John answers that question too. I have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. God is always with me, always there to open my eyes. Perhaps Jesus was never revealed to all of Israel the way John hoped, but He has been revealed to us. All we have to do is look within and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us.