In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia examines John 1:29-34, where John the apostle presents John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus. The author presents John the Baptist’s four-part testimony about Jesus so that you will believe and follow Jesus alone.
1. Jesus Is God’s Saving Lamb (v. 29)
2. Jesus Is the Revealed God-man (vv. 30-31)
3. Jesus Is the Spirit Baptizer (vv. 32-33)
4. Jesus Is God’s Chosen One (v. 34)
Thank you again, musicians. It’s so wonderful to exalt Christ and then to hear about Christ from His Word. It’s my privilege to do that with you this morning.
Let’s pray as we open up God’s Word. Father in heaven, thank You for planning salvation. Jesus, thank You for accomplishing it. Spirit, thank You for applying it. I pray, God, that You would help us to behold the Lord Jesus Christ today. That we may progress both in understanding who He is, but also Lord, becoming more like Him and following after Him with a whole heart. Help me to be able to speak this Word, Lord. Accomplish Your great work today. In Jesus’ name, amen.
As we begin, I’d like you to picture with me an ancient courtroom setting where a great issue is being decided. What is the issue? Whether Jesus really is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus, Himself is not present in this court, but many of the people who lived during His day are. It is mostly made up of Jews.
On the left of the judge stands the anti-Jesus party, who represents the no answer to the question. Who makes up this group? Primarily the official leaders and representatives of the Jews, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Elders, the Sadducees, and the Chief Priests. At this point in the court proceeding, they have already presented their side before the people, maintaining that Jesus is not the Messiah—He is an imposter and a deceiver who deserved His death.
Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah, they argued, for several main reasons. Jesus did not keep the law according to the pious tradition to the elders. Jesus did not come in power and glory to overthrow Rome and establish a new kingdom for Israel. Jesus died shamefully on a cross, a mark of God’s curse on Him according to Deuteronomy 21:23. Jesus proclaimed that unclean Gentiles would inherit the kingdom along with the Jews. And worst of all, Jesus, a mere man, repeatedly claimed to be God, even the Son of God.
Such the opposition has argued before the court are not the words and actions of God’s true Messiah. Far from following Him, you want to condemn Him, and they add quietly, if you do choose to follow Him, then you will be shunned and persecuted.
Having made their case, it’s now time for the team on the right, the pro-Jesus party, to give their side. To the surprise of all on this day in the courtroom, this team is made up of just one man. John, the son of Zebedee. Seeing that it is his turn, the Apostle John stands up and says, in a surprisingly strong voice for his age: men of Israel, and all of you are religious and claim to fear God, hear me now as I prove to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you have eternal life in His name.
He pauses to survey the crowd for a moment and then adds, I call my first witness, John the Baptist. The crowd hushes as a rugged man wearing clothes of camelhair and a leather belt walks in. John the Apostle knows that this well-known witness will need no introduction. This is the son of a priest who was born under miraculous circumstances to parents too old to have children. This is the Nazirite and desert hermit who gave up all worldly pleasures in order to be God’s ready servant.
This is the great preacher who exposed the hypocrisy and unbelief in Israel, especially in its leadership, and demanded on behalf of God that every person repent and seek cleansing forgiveness from God symbolized in the reception of water baptism. The witness of John the Baptist is indeed credible and weighty. For all the Jews know John the Baptist to be a holy man, a true prophet, even a faithful martyr. Many have even become the baptizer’s devoted disciples.
John the Apostle asks John the Baptist for all of the people in the courtroom, tell us John, son of Zacharias, who are you really and who do you say Jesus is?
This imaginary scene that I’ve sought to paint for you today is essentially the beginning of the gospel of John. This book, as John the Apostle tells us near the end in John 20:30-31, is a careful collection of testimonies and sign evidences that prove Jesus really is Christ and God. It’s given so that you will believe and follow Jesus with your whole self as His true disciple.
After the book begins with a preliminary word about its subject matter to draw the reader in, that’s John 1:1-18, John the Apostle then presents the reader with his first witness, John the Baptist. The first witness of Christ is John the Baptist.
We’ve actually looked to the first part of John the Baptist’s recorded testimony last week in John 1:19-28. This is John’s testimony about himself. It was collected from the occasion after Jesus’ baptism and time of temptation in the wilderness, when a delegation from Jerusalem composed of Pharisees and Sadducees questioned John by the Jordan River. We saw together last time that John the Baptist makes clear to the delegation and to those hearing this gospel that John the Baptist is not the Christ.
Like an ideal Christian witness and disciple, John the Baptist testifies that he is no one special. He’s just a voice in the wilderness for God, preparing the people for their Messiah, and pointing them to Him. As prestigious as this role might seem, John viewed himself as an unworthy slave. He rather points his questioners and interrogators to the greater worthiness of the Messiah, of Christ, who John says is currently among them, even walking in Israel already.
The day of the delegation’s visit leaves on with a crucial question. Alright, the Messiah is here, but who exactly is He? Who is this arrived Special One? It just so happens that the very next day, that special One visits John the Baptist again.
Thus, in John 1:29-34, we receive the second half of John the Baptist’s recorded testimony about Jesus. As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s table today, let’s examine this second part of John the Baptist’s testimony. What does John testify about Jesus? I sought to sum it up in the sermon title; Behold the Lamb of God.
If you haven’t yet, please take your Bibles and turn to John 1:29-34, where we will find our text. This is pew Bible page 1,058, if you’re using that.
John 1:29-34. Again, this is the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus recorded for us by John the Apostle. John 1:29-34. Let’s read it now.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
You can see how this passage complements the one that we looked at previously, and their overall purpose is the same. But whereas the previous section is a three-part testimony focused on John the Baptist himself, this new section is a four-part testimony focused on Jesus.
Here’s the main idea of our text. In John 1:29-34, the author presents John the Baptist’s four-part testimony about Jesus so that you will believe and follow Jesus alone. This is a four-part testimony from John the Baptist about Jesus so that you will believe and follow Jesus alone.
We’re going to look at each of these four parts of the testimony. Starting with this first one in verse 29. According to our star witness John the Baptist, just who is Jesus? Number one, Jesus is God’s saving lamb. Jesus is God’s saving lamb. Look at verse 29.
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
You can see that verse 29 begins with the phrase the next day. John 1:19-2:11 actually details the sequence of seven days culminating with the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus’ first recorded sign miracle in this gospel. This is a pretty momentous week in Israel, but we’re only on day two, the day after the deputation from Jerusalem, visited John. And notice what happens on this day.
Verse 29 says that he, that’s John the Baptist, sees Jesus walking toward him. This is the first time Jesus Himself appears in the narrative, and John’s sight of Jesus causes John to exclaim something to the whole surrounding crowd. Behold, John says, look, pay attention, and see for yourself. What do you want us to see, John? The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
The Lamb of God is a precious phrase for us Christians. One with which we’re probably quite familiar. We often refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. We sing about Jesus as the Lamb of God. And because of this, we might not notice that Lamb of God is an extremely rare title in the Bible. John the Apostle is the only one who uses it, and he only uses it right here and in verse 36 of this same chapter. Both times reporting the words of John the Baptist.
Furthermore, the phrase Lamb of God does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament. It’s not as if when John the Baptist makes this exclamation, behold, the Lamb of God, that everyone in the crowd then says to themselves, we know about the Lamb of God—He’s the lamb of God? No, instead, they were probably mightily surprised and intrigued by this description. Jesus of Nazareth? The 30-year-old builder carpenter is the Lamb of God? What does it mean to be the Lamb of God or the Lamb belonging to coming from being sent by God?
John the Baptist would have only increased their wonder with the accompanying clause. The Lamb of God who takes away, or more literally, is taking away or removing the sin of the world. How to understand these words?
Even though the Jews had never heard of a specific Lamb of God before, they certainly were familiar with various Lambs that, according to the Old Testament, played an important role in the salvation of God’s people, even from sin. Could one of these Old Testament lambs be the one to which John is referring and applying to Jesus?
There is, for instance, the lamb of the Passover. A lamb killed and eaten every Passover holiday in remembrance of God sparing Israel from the judgment on the firstborn in Egypt when the blood of lambs was put on doorposts of Israelite houses. That’s a notable lamb. However, the Passover animal was not actually referred to as a lamb. It was just called the Passover. So, it’s a little bit different than what John says here.
There’s also the lamb of the daily burnt offerings. Every day in Jerusalem at this time, there would be a lamb killed and offered every morning and every evening at the temple. Yet this offering, though associated with atonement, is not specifically for sin. Is that the one that John means?
There are also other lambs prescribed in Israel’s main sacrifices. Lambs could be part of the burnt offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, or the guilt offering. And though lambs could be part of these, they weren’t the only animals that could be offered in these, and sometimes they weren’t the main animals, so is that the one John the Baptist means?
There was also the lamb sacrifice that God famously provided to Abraham in place of his son Isaac in Genesis 22. Though that was really a ram and not a lamb, and that sacrifice didn’t really have anything to do with sin directly, so is that the one?
Then there is the descriptor in Isaiah 53:7. Isaiah 53:7 that refers to a special suffering servant of God who will come and be led like a lamb to slaughter, dying for the transgressions of his people. Hey, that one seems to fit John’s words pretty well, except for the fact that the lamb of Isaiah 53 is a simile. The servant is led to slaughter like a lamb but is not identified as the lamb or as a lamb.
So which Old Testament lamb does John the Baptist have in mind when he calls Jesus the lamb of God? But as you can see, none of the lamb references I just mentioned to you fit John’s description exactly, and for that reason, it’s best for us to understand Lamb of God as more generally bringing to mind a central Old Testament truth. Namely, that God’s people need a holy provision, even a sacrifice, to save them from their sins. This is symbolized and summarized in the metaphor of a lamb. A picture of a lamb.
This is a remarkable identification of Jesus because by saying this, by identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, John the Baptist essentially declares, look everyone, this one, Jesus, is God’s ultimate provision of salvation from sin. He’s not merely a lamb. He’s not merely like a lamb. He is the Lamb. Even the special Lamb sent from God. And He is dealing with sin in a greater way than any Old Testament lamb you can think of.
He is removing sin. Note that sin is singular here, not plural, so this is sin as a whole. He is removing sin, not just from His people but it says, from the world. The whole world. His work will be sufficient for dealing with sin in the world once and for all.
We’ve encountered the word world before in John’s gospel. Remember, John the Apostle usually uses this word to refer to the dwelling place of humanity, including Jews and Gentiles, which is in fundamental rebellion against God. That’s the sense of the word world again here.
John the Baptist is saying that this special Lamb from God who is standing before you is greater than any other lamb and sufficient to provide deliverance, even the taking away of sin for the entire wicked world. That is quite a testimony on behalf of Jesus, and John speaks of both with confidence and enthusiasm. All eyes on Jesus, John says, the Saving Lamb of God. Don’t look at me, look at Him. Of course, John’s testimony was not just for those back then. It’s still a testimony for us, even you who are listening today.
A question, though, before we can move on, how does John’s confident identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God square with the doubt we see him display later about Jesus? This isn’t mentioned in John’s gospel, but it is mentioned in Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23. We actually read the Matthew passage earlier in the service. If you remember, that’s when John sends disciples to Jesus to double-check whether Jesus really is the Messiah or whether John the Baptist and his disciples should look for someone else.
It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? If John is so certain here about Jesus and Jesus’ saving mission, then why does John later fall into doubt? Well, the circumstances around John the Baptist later questioning are illuminating. John the Baptist had proclaimed that the kingdom of God, this is what he said in his ministry was at hand and the Messiah was bringing it. John also proclaimed that this great Messiah would deal with and take away sin, just like he says here, but in other gospels he is a little bit more specific, even by judging those who persist in continuing in it.
You remember some of the things we hear in some of the other gospels from John the Baptist. The Messiah’s winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor. The wheat will gather into His barn, but the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire. He baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, John says, and that fire is not like fire that’s going to be making you zealous for the Lord. That’s the fire of judgment. John preached thus with boldness and zeal.
But then John was imprisoned, and far from bringing fiery judgment with the removal of sin by the removal of sinners, Jesus was going about preaching and healing. What’s going on? Where is the kingdom? Where is the cleansing of Israel? Where is the judgment? Had John the Baptist gotten it wrong?
Jesus, of course, as we read in Matthew 11, soon reassured John that the cleansing of sin that John the Baptist had correctly prophesied was at first taking a form that John didn’t fully escape but what was actually in exact accordance with the scriptures. Jesus does and will fulfill everything John proclaimed about Him.
Even here in John 1:29 is not entirely clear whether John the Baptist fully understands what it means for Jesus to be the Lamb of God and taking away the sin of the world. He understands it, but maybe not in full. No doubt, John the Baptist received this word, even this exact title for Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. It was a revelation to John that would enable to identify Jesus as the Lamb and Messiah before the people.
Furthermore, John surely understood, believed, and zealously proclaimed that Jesus is God’s sent Savior and the One who would finally comprehensively deal with the world’s sin, even by removing it. John probably didn’t fully understand at this point that this great salvation work would entail the rejection of the Messiah by His people. It would also include as a central point a Messiah’s substitutionary death on behalf of His people.
John wasn’t wrong in what he proclaimed about Jesus, but he spoke truer and more significantly than he probably realized at this moment. Just how right John was about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world would become more apparent as Jesus’ ministry progressed. It becomes more apparent to us as readers and listeners of John’s gospel as well as we read on.
This really is a theme in John’s gospel. People will confess truths about Jesus that are correct, that they have understood and come to believe, but are more profound than they at first realized, and they grow in their understanding. People, even Jesus’ disciples, would come to fundamental belief in Him, but they need to grow in understanding of who Jesus really is. That’s in many ways like us. We’re going to see this again in John’s gospel.
This is the first part of John’s testimony about Jesus. Jesus is God’s saving Lamb. You need to believe and follow Him. We’re just getting started.
The second part of John’s testimony about Jesus appears in verses 30-31. Let’s look at number two, Jesus is the revealed God-man. Jesus is the revealed God-man. Look at verse 30.
This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’
The declaration from John the Baptist here is pretty straightforward, and it connects back to what we read in the prologue, John 1:15. John had declared throughout his ministry that though John is appearing first, he is a forerunner, the true first One is the One coming after John. This One, John has testified, has a higher rank than John, for that one actually existed before John.
The other gospels tell us that John the Baptist was conceived and born before Jesus, so this couldn’t mean that Jesus was older in terms of physical life. No, it’s something much more profound, even as is declared in the beginning of John 1. Jesus existed before because He is the eternally existing One. He is the Word, the logos, God with God from eternity.
Here it’s like John is saying, I told you that an eternal One, one who existed before me, was coming after me, and look, here He is! He is now revealed. He is Jesus. John the Baptist implicitly identifies Jesus as God. He is the eternal Word and He is God.
Notice something else from verse 30. What exactly had John proclaimed before? He said after me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I. That’s interesting. John says, this One, Jesus, is not just true God, but also true man. He is the eternal Word, not merely appearing in flesh or dwelling in flesh, but as we’ve already read early in the chapter, He was made flesh. He became flesh. He became a real human being. Fully.
There’s no room in the witness of John the Baptist or the witness of John the Apostle for a docetic Christ, one who was God and only appeared to have a human body. And there was no room for an adoptionist Christ, one who was just a man but was later exalted to something like divinity. No, John the Baptist has testified and he testifies again here that Jesus is the unique God-man now revealed to Israel and revealed to you.
How exactly did this revelation first come about? Well, John the Baptist says something about it in verse 31. Look at what he says there.
I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.
John says first, he did not previously know or recognize Jesus. And we should not understand that to mean that John had never heard of Jesus or had never even met Jesus. They were relatives through Elizabeth and Mary after all. They were probably cousins. But they had lived apart for many years. John went to go live in the wilderness and Jesus was doing His building carpentry work. Even if John knew Jesus as a human being, John had not previously recognized Jesus. He had not fully confirmed that Jesus is the God-man.
John says something was intended to identify the Messiah, not just for John, but for all of Israel. What was that mechanism? It was John’s baptisms. It was his baptizing in water. Notice John says, so that He, that is Jesus Christ, might be manifest to Israel, I came baptizing in water.
This is not contradicting what we learned before when John quoted Isaiah 40 to identify who he was and what his role was. His preaching and baptism ministry was intent on preparing the people for their Christ, but John’s baptizing had another important purpose. That was to identify the Christ, identify the God-man, identify the Word made flesh, even the Lamb of God, for all Israel. And this purpose was fulfilled when John first baptized Jesus. He’s going to tell us more about that in just a little bit.
That purpose is fulfilled again when Jesus comes back to visit John as we see in our passage. After all, John’s ministry has collected many, many followers. Many, many people have come out into the wilderness to see, hear, and be baptized by John. These in God’s mind were not gathered ultimately to listen to and follow John, but it’s so that John might show them the revealed Christ. So, when Christ appears, he could point them to Christ and say, there He is, follow Him.
John doesn’t want anybody to miss the point about his baptisms by missing Jesus. It’s like John says, friends, I know my baptism has been making a lot of waves, but now look, the One that the baptisms were ultimately for, the One the baptisms were ultimately about, is revealed. He is here. That is Jesus. Behold, the Lamb of God, the God-man, believe and follow Him.
The third part of John’s testimony about Jesus appears in verses 32-33. The third part of John’s testimony is, number three, Jesus is the Spirit baptizer. Jesus is the Spirit baptizer. Look at verse 32.
John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.
You can see the word testified in the beginning of the verse. It’s the same word used in verse 34, and it has the same root as the word testimony used back in verse 19. This section of the Bible, verses 19 to 34, is all about the witness or the testimony of John the Baptist as if he were in court. What is John giving testimony about here? John reports what happened when he first met Jesus and baptized Him.
We can tell this experience had a profound effect on John, even transformed him based by the verb that he uses in this verse. You may notice our English translation says, I have seen. That is an English perfect tense, which translates to Greek perfect tense. You say, what’s perfect tense? Usually, you see it with the have and then a verse in English, but it’s used to describe an action that took place in the past but continues into the present or has an ongoing effect into the present.
Therefore, when John says, I have seen, not just saw, I have seen, he’s expressing that what he saw stayed with him. It convinced him of an ongoing reality that extends into the present. What’s that reality? That Jesus is the Christ. That Jesus is God.
Notice specifically what John says he saw regarding Jesus. The Spirit descended as, or like, a dove from heaven and remained on Jesus. It was descending and remaining on Jesus. This is exactly what we see the other gospel writers record and depict. You can see this in Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22. This really did take place at Jesus’ baptism, and John the Baptist witnessed it.
The phrase, the Spirit descending as a dove, is a bit ambiguous. It could mean that the way the Spirit floated downward or landed on Jesus was dove-like. Or it could mean that the Spirit’s physical form resembled a dove-like bird. It’s hard to decide between those meanings. The exact image here isn’t important, it’s the fact that the Spirit descended on Christ and remained on Him. It descended on Jesus specifically.
Why is that important? Because such would be expected of the Messiah as God’s specially chosen and anointed One. I told you last week a little bit about the term Messiah. The word Christ means the same thing. I told you about how in the Old Testament, different Messiahs, or symbolically anointed ones, that’s what the word means, were set apart for special service or rule by God. Part of this symbolic anointing of these chosen ones coincided with real spiritual empowerments. This involved the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in many ways functioned similarly in the Old Testament as it does in the New Testament, but it also functioned differently. One of the differences in the way the Holy Spirit ministered in the Old Testament era is that we often read about in the Old Testament the Spirit coming upon a person or filling a person for the purpose of accomplishing a great task or to speak something on God’s behalf. Even unrighteous persons could be filled with the Spirit in this way. We see that happen with Balaam, Saul, and others.
However, it happens to righteous persons as well. You can think of some famous Old Testament examples. The Spirit comes upon Gideon, and he brings about deliverance. The Spirit comes upon Samson, and he rips things in two and does various physical feats. The Spirit comes upon David and guides him as he rules and leads Israel.
This type of special empowerment ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was often temporary. The task or the word would finish and then the Spirit’s empowerment would leave. When it came to rule, God’s Spirit could also leave that ruler and no longer empower him to do that for the Lord.
We see that actually happen with King Saul, right? The Spirit leaves Saul, and when David is saying he’s afraid the Spirit will leave him. That’s why we have that Psalm where he says, please don’t take your Spirit from me. The Spirit also left Samson at a certain point. This is the Old Testament background.
If Jesus is coming now in the beginning of the New Testament era, if He really is God’s anointed, even the ultimate anointed, the ultimate Messiah, we would expect that the Spirit would also come upon Him and empower Him for the ministry God has set before Him.
John the Baptist testifies that is exactly what happened. I saw it myself, John says, I have seen and I remain convinced that the Spirit came down on Jesus visibly like a dove. This is confirmation that Jesus really is the Messiah. But notice that the Spirit does not just come down upon Him. It’s not just descending upon Him. John the Baptist also says that it remained on Him. It was remaining on Him.
What does that second description suggest? That this Messiah’s empowerment was not simply temporary but actually permanent because He is God’s ultimate Messiah. This, indeed was actually foretold in the Old Testament. Permanent empowerment by the Holy Spirit is connected with Messianic prophesy.
I’ll just give you a few examples. Isaiah 11:1 says,
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.
This is what said would come for the root of Jesse, the Messiah. Isaiah 61:1 also says,
The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted
We’re noting this abiding. Not just descending but abiding of God’s Spirit on Jesus beginning at Jesus’ baptism. John testified that Jesus is indeed the foretold Messiah appropriately empowered for His saving ministry as the Lamb of God to accomplish it on the earth.
It’s notable that the Old Testament not only foretold that the Messiah would be specially anointed by power by the Holy Spirit, but also that Messiah’s coming would be part of a new age for God’s people involving the Spirit, even in which God’s Spirit would dwell inside of His people and cause them to walk in holiness and devotion to God. For example, Ezekiel 36:26-27 says,
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.
That’s God speaking to Israel, foretelling what would come one day, even with the Messiah. There would seem to be a connection in the Old Testament between a uniquely inspired Messiah and a newly Spirit-filled people.
John the Baptist testifies in our next verse that such a connection is also found and confirmed in Jesus. Look at verse 33.
I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.
You can see some repetition at the beginning of verse 33. John again testifies that he did not fully recognize who Jesus was at first. It’s almost as if John the Baptist is showing sympathy with puzzled Jews by saying, look, I didn’t get it at first either. The Messiah in many ways is unexpected. But John also testifies how he came to recognize Jesus as the Messiah with utmost certainty.
John explains the One who sent John to baptize with mere water, and that would be God, also told John that the One whom John saw with the Spirit descending on Him and remaining on Him was not just the Messiah, that’s how you know it’s the Messiah John, but you will also know that this is the One who accomplishes a baptism way more powerful and way more significant than John the Baptist himself could accomplish. John the Baptist baptized in water, but this One, the Messiah Jesus, He baptizes, immerses in, and totally fills up with the Holy Spirit.
Spirit baptism really is the reality for which water baptism is just a symbol. Water baptism symbolizes new life that comes by cleansing and forgiveness in God, but Spirit baptism actually is the new life. It is the seal of cleansing and forgiveness in God. How could it be anything less when the holy Lord of life sends His own Spirit to dwell in a person? He is the Lord of life, He is holy. This transforms a person.
Even for you today who are listening, if you want joy, life, blessing, deliverance, forgiveness, and fellowship with God, then you need Jesus because He is the one who has the Spirit that brings those things. He baptizes His followers in that Spirit. The Spirit’s anointed One, the uniquely Spirit anointed one, is Himself the one who baptizes in the Spirit.
If that’s the truth, and John testifies that it is, then what must you do? You must believe in Him. You must follow Him. You must give over your whole self to Him. Let go of the sin, of your own plans and desires for your life, and you say that’s all secondary, so whatever God wants, whatever Jesus wants, that’s what I want because He baptizes in the Spirit. A much greater baptism than John.
We’ve seen three parts of John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus. Now we come to the fourth and final one, which in many ways, functions like a conclusion to John’s old witness. Who else is Jesus according to John the Baptist? Number four, Jesus is God’s chosen one. Look at verse 34,
I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.
We can see the full assurance, the confidence, that John the Baptist has as he presents this testimony. We again see the perfect tense being used twice, actually. I have seen, and I have testified. Then the personal pronoun at the beginning of the dialogue is also emphatic, I myself, it says. John is showing us something has happened to him in the past which has permanently changed him.
To connect us with what we saw last week, he says, I myself am not the Christ, but I myself am testifying to you that I have seen and come to know and believe and declare that Jesus is the Christ. The way he says it here, as the New American Standard ’95 has it is this: Jesus is the Son of God.
Son of God is a title that we see multiple times in the book of John. It has Old Testament precedent; you sometimes see that phrase used in the Old Testament. It’s used in different ways throughout the Bible, but in the gospel of John it no doubt reflects the historical situation of Jesus’ ministry. Son of God is a Messianic title that emphasized that Jesus is God. He is equal to the Father. He is fully God.
If this translation of this verse is correct, John the Baptist is testifying quite plainly that Jesus is God and Jesus is the Messiah. He has no doubts. He tells you and me today that this is the one you are to believe in and follow because He is the Son of God.
There is a notable variant for this verse among the surviving manuscript copies of John’s gospel. Instead of this verse reading at the end that this is the Son of God, the variant reads that this is the chosen one of God. I would suggest to you, I’ll explain more about this in just one second, along with several top evangelical commentators on this Bible book, that though both of these titles are correct theologically and both fit within the gospel of John, the more likely to be original saying here for this verse is ‘chosen one of God.’ John testifies that Jesus is the chosen one of God.
You might say, Pastor Dave, what are you talking about? Can you explain? Yes. Let me give you the quick version. Though Son of God, that phrase, is in the majority of the surviving manuscripts that we have for the gospel of John, and though this title and phrase is commonly used in the gospel of John, it makes more sense for the difficult reading, chosen one of God, to be the original one. This is the minority reading, and it is the more difficult reading, but it is more likely the original.
This concept of the more difficult reading, more likely being original, is a key principle in the science of textual criticism. I’ve talked about textual criticism in Sunday School before. It is the science of rediscovering the original version of a text by comparing the surviving copies of that text.
We don’t have the original versions of the Bible anymore. They have deteriorated and have been lost in time. We have many, many surviving copies. We compare the copies to try and figure out what the original said, and we’ve been able to do that with great confidence.
As I say for this particular verse in the surviving copies, most of them say Son of God. Some say chosen one of God. The more difficult reading would be chosen one of God, and therefore, it is more likely original.
Let me show you the logic of that. If Son of God were original and then it got copied later, since that phrase appears many times in the rest of John’s gospel, there would be no reason for a later copyist to be examining it and be like, Son of God? I don’t think that’s correct, let me put this other one that I think is correct, chosen one of God. Why would he update it that way? That phrase is much more obscure, and it doesn’t appear anywhere else in the gospel of John.
It wouldn’t make sense to shift from Son of God to chosen one of God, but it would make sense the other way. If chosen one of God were the original of this verse then it makes sense that later copyists, who are not completely familiar with the text, would try to correct this difficult phrase since it doesn’t appear elsewhere in John’s gospel, and could sound a little adoptionistic as if Jesus only became God or became Messiah when God chose Him.
Like I said before, one textual choice over the other here between these two phrases, does not greatly affect the meaning of this passage. It does not substantially affect any Christian doctrine, but in light of the evidence, as much as I love the major Bible translations that go with ‘this is the Son of God’ here, which is theologically correct, I praise the Lord for that because that is true, I believe the NIV actually has the better translation with this verse. The NIV reads: this is God’s chosen one.
By the way, this phrase about Jesus being God’s chosen one fits very well in the context. How so? What did John just declare? What did he just declare in verses 32-33? That Jesus was permanently anointed with God’s Spirit for special service, even for baptizing all who believe in Him in the Spirit. Now consider how Isaiah 42:1 foretells the Messiah’s Spirit empowerment. Isaiah 42:1 says,
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Do you see? The anointing by the Spirit, even the unique permanent anointing by the Spirit, on Jesus was a sign of God’s choice. This is My chosen one, just as Isaiah 42:1 declares.
So really, John the Baptist’s final confession, his summary statement on Jesus, as Jesus being the chosen one of God is not a timid statement. That is not as if John was afraid to go all the way to confess Jesus to be God, so he said, oh, He’s God’s chosen one. No, we already saw in verse 30 that he is quite comfortable declaring that Jesus is the God-man.
God’s chosen one is a bold affirmation that Jesus is the foretold Messiah of the Old Testament. He is the Christ. He alone has been chosen by God to be the saving lamb; to be the revealed God-man; to be the one who baptizes with the Spirit. It’s Him and it’s no one else.
It’s interesting that in many stories, both ancient and modern, feature this chosen one motif. You can even see this in the movies and stuff that’s around us today. It might be an ancient prophecy or an important quest given by someone who is dying, or a developing crisis in which only one person who’s been given special powers can overcome. There are a lot of ways this might happen in a story.
Regardless of how the choosing of a chosen one occurs in a story, it’s interesting how these stories often show that pretending to be the chosen one when you’re not, or refusing to acknowledge the chosen one when he arrives, results in dire consequences. I’d say these two ways are examples of art imitating life because the same is true of Jesus.
Brethren, you and I are not the ultimate chosen one. God didn’t choose you to be the Messiah. He chose Jesus. As Colossians 1:19 says,
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him
To dwell in Christ. To dwell in Jesus. We dare not to interfere with the Father’s choice. We dare not exalt ourselves as if we were somebody, as if we should be the ones that get the ultimate glory, should be served, have all our desires met, or have our own way accomplished. Furthermore, as Hebrews 2:1-3 says, we dare not neglect so great a salvation that has finally been revealed in the person of Jesus Himself.
We dare not ignore God’s specially chosen one or only give Him lip service. Yes, I believe that Jesus is God. Yes, He is Lord. Yes, He is Christ. But I am going to live the way I want to live. Friends, if that is you this morning, then you got to know that Jesus sees that apathy. He sees that idolatry. He sees that hypocrisy.
John the Baptist was right when he testified that the Lamb of God is in the business of removing sin. For those who believe in Him, He removes it from them, cleanses them, and makes them alive forevermore with God. For those who refuse to believe, who never get around to is, they themselves will be removed from the presence of God and be removed from all good forever.
Jesus came the first time humbly. This is what nobody expected, not even John the Baptist fully understood it, but He is coming again. He is coming again in power and judgment. He is going to do what John the Baptist said He would do.
That day hasn’t come yet. It hasn’t come for you. God has been patient with you, so let the kindness of God, let the patience of God, lead you to repentance. Make peace with the Lamb. Make peace with the King while He’s extending the olive branch. Don’t face His wrath.
Oh, the joy of being found in God’s chosen One. The joy of being chosen in Him, for then when you’re in Christ, who are saved by the ultimate lamb of God, you are protected by the powerful and sympathetic God-man. You are baptized by Him who has been anointed permanently by the Holy Spirit. How good it is to be a Christian; to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
If any of you have drifted from your belief from following Jesus, then hear the testimony of John. Repent and return. Come back to Him who is supreme, who ought to have first place in your life.
If you’ve never come to know Jesus, but you’ve always remained half-hearted and not willing to commit, then listen to the testimony of John. You don’t need to be timid with Jesus. Go all in on Him. John was willing to give up everything to point people to Jesus. John the Apostle was willing to do the same. They suffered for it. John the Baptist died for it.
Do you know both of these men testify that it was worth it because we got the Lord Jesus. We got the Lamb of God, and we are going to be with Him forever. The same is true for you. You can be confident in that. You don’t need to say, well, what will my family think? What will my friends think? Or what will I lose? You will lose some things, but you’ll gain so much more because you gain the Son of God.
If you have come to know Jesus Christ this morning, then let’s celebrate His feat together. Even as we, in just a moment, lift up and partake of the communion bread and the communion cup. Do you know what we are really doing? We are echoing the testimony of our early brother. We ourselves are giving thanks and gladly proclaiming that we have seen and testify that this One, Jesus, is the chosen one of God. He is God’s Son. We believe, and we know that we have eternal life in Him. Amen?
Let’s close in prayer. Jesus, it’s all about You. You are the Lamb. You are the God-man. You are the One who baptizes in the Spirit. You are the chosen One. Oh, Jesus, You know it is easy for us to affirm that and then live as if that’s not true. We live as if we’re the chosen ones. We’re all about fulfilling ourselves, our own desires, rather than Yours. We get angry or we get depressed when our way is not done. We betray with our lives what we say with our lips. Forgive us Lord for this contradiction.
Lord, we repent, and we come back, Lord, to the place where John the Baptist shows us where we need to be. That’s where You are supreme. We are directing everyone to You. Our lives are all about You and not about us. Oh, Lord, you take care of us. Our lives are not going to be miserable; we are going to filled with the joy of You because we have Your Spirit. We’ll be victorious. We can be victorious against sin, Lord, because we have Your Spirit.
Help us, Lord Jesus, You are our sympathetic High Priest. By Your Spirit, by the love of the Father, help us to walk worthy of You, to be bold, diligent, and loving witnesses of You to the people around us, even to this community in East Millstone, this evening. Be pleased, Jesus, to put Yourself on display because you deserve it. Thank You that we have a place in You that You have opened our eyes, You have saved us, You have cleansed us by Your perfect life through Your sacrificial death and Your powerful resurrection. Thank You for this Word this morning. In Jesus’ name, amen.