Updated: Feb 3
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
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.
This is the Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Advent, Year B 2017. Again, the focus turns to John the Baptizer coming, who was questioned as to his qualifications for baptizing Jews. He told them, as Isaiah had prophesied, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.”’
As the reader will notice, there are omissions from the text of John’s Gospel, such that we begin reading at verse 6, then skip over verses 9 through 18, before picking back up at verse 19. The simple reason is John was not completely zeroed in on John the baptizer, as focus shifted from Jesus (as the Word and the Light), to John, to Jesus, and to John again. In my mind, this raises a question about verses 6 through 8.
First of all, the theological scholars (some at least) seem to think the Gospel of John was written by the disciple-Apostle John of Zebedee. I strongly disagree with that conclusion, simply because the perspective of John of Zebedee would have mirrored that of Matthew and Mark, which is does not. The Gospel of John has “insider information” that was not written of by the two disciples of Jesus, plus it places a different perspective on events the disciples recorded, and it leaves out events remembered by the two. John, obviously (if looking closely), was not a disciple but a family member of Jesus. Therefore, he calls himself “the one whom Jesus loved.”
Second, the Greek name Ioannes is used to name no less than six Johns: John the Baptist, John of Zebedee, John of Patmos, the father of Simon-Peter (Simon Barjona – Matthew 16:17), a Levite of high-priestly descent (Acts 4:6), and a man also known as Mark (Acts 12:12) [ref.]. The name meaning “Yahweh is Gracious” says parents commonly gave that name to their children, simply from seeing a son as a gift from God.
Sometimes a good name needs to go to more than one person.
Still, if John of Zebedee is not the author of the Gospel of John, then the writer here becomes either a new John or one of the other Johns. Because John the baptizer did not live to write a book, and because the father of Simon-Peter and the two men named in Acts are highly unlikely to have written of close-encounter as memories of Jesus, the only likely John would be that of John of Patmos. I believe this is the case. Those two are the same person, at different ages.
Third, this issue over who wrote the Gospel of John is due to it being an “anonymous” author, meaning the title is not explained in a ‘foreword’ or preface. In fact, none of the four Gospels have explicitly named authors, with all possibly written by an unnamed person of letters, through divine recital, with the person reciting the accounts of Jesus being first-hand eyewitnesses. Unlike the epistles, where the author is usually identified at the beginning of the letter, the four Gospels do not follow that practice of self-naming. However, seeing how the Gospel of John is so differently approached than the other three Gospels, verses 6 through 8 of John’s Gospel may actually serve the purpose of naming the author, rather than naming John the baptizer twice.
It should be understood that the power of Scripture is it all comes from the Mind of God. Thus, it is beyond the comprehension of mankind’s simple brains (in comparison to the Godhead). As such, nothing written can be said to be fixed by one concrete meaning, as derived through the application of syntax – the rule of language devised by mankind, different from language to language. This means the use of “John” in John 1:6 can mean both: naming the author as John; while rightfully implying John who would be a voice crying out in the wilderness. After all, both were witnesses that would testify to the light of Christ.
In verse 6, the Greek (with punctuation) makes the statement, “Came a man having been sent [as a messenger] from God,” followed by “name the same John” (where the Greek word “autō” can emphasize “self,” be the personal pronoun “he, she, it,” or imply “the same.” Since John’s Gospel referred to himself in the third person and never directly named himself, by reading the Greek as saying the “messenger sent by God” was “the same” as another named “John,” the author has just indirectly named himself.
Because the omitted verses (9 through 18) follow John’s statement that “John” was “a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him,” going into some details of the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, one must realize that Jesus and John the baptizer were both lights that disciples were attracted to. As relatives of blood, they knew of one another through family affairs, such that both held the love of a brother for each other. Still, one does not glimpse a picture of Jesus ever being a follower of John the baptizer, such that John knew Jesus as the light. The reader of the New Testament books do not get a feel for a close, adult relationship between the two, with both born with purpose that drove them on separate paths for God.
The Gospel of John is itself a testimony of that light of Christ. John the Beloved, as a writer of a Gospel, was most devoted to being a witness “that all might believe through Jesus.” On the other hand, when John the baptizer was imprisoned, he sent word to Jesus saying, “Are you the one who is to come?” (Luke 7:20; Matthew 11:3)” implying his belief was wavering. With the Baptist’s death, there was nothing more John could do to bring believers to Jesus.
Once this selection focuses on the clear verbiage that is of John the baptizer, we see how the “priests and Levites of Jerusalem” came to question John’s authority. John confessed and did not contradict anything said prior, which means he owned up to being one baptizing people, but denied being the Christ. They then asked if he was Elijah, to which he said, “No.” They asked if he was a prophet, inferring one who presumably had prophesied the coming of the Messiah, to which John said, “No.” This confused the priests and Levites, so they asked who John was, to which he paraphrased Isaiah 40:3-4.
That response led the Temple employees to run back to Jerusalem and tell the Pharisees (the Lawyers) what evidence they had collected on John. So the Pharisees returned to Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan, and asked John in whose name did he wash Jews of their sins. If he was neither the Messiah, Elijah, nor a prophet, then who sent him?
John then told them that there was to be one after him who was greater than he. The implication was the true Messiah. Of course, he meant Jesus (as far as our Big Brains of hindsight tell us), but because Jesus had yet to enter his ministry, John might not have known exactly who that greater one would be. This would mean John simply spoken from the power of the Holy Spirit, much as did Simon-Peter, when he blurted out that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah.
The element of interest in this dual exchange of authority is that it parallels 2 Kings 1:9-12, where twice an evil king sent “a captain of fifty with his fifty” to ask Elijah to come down from a hill. Each time the captain said, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” Each time Elijah replied, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Since Elijah was a man of God, each time “fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.”
Fire can wash away sins as well. However, baptism by fire requires a special permit.
This becomes an unspoken parallel of Elijah and John the baptizer, which means that John the “man” of God did not know Elijah, Isaiah, or even the Messiah. He just knew he was John, just as Elijah knew nothing of his reincarnations. Confessing and not denying is one thing, but please do not try to put words in the mouths of God’s servants.
Questioning the authority of righteousness is not something any human mortal can claim, as that “of God” part cannot be proved. Let God speak for Himself. Thus, when one starts thinking “I am somebody!” then one rapidly finds out “You are nobody special.” That reality makes one realize just how unworthy that one is. So unworthy that one cannot even stoop to untie the thong of the sandal of the Most Holy.
As an Advent lesson, where Advent prepares those who think they are special in this world, suggesting through Scripture the need to reassess who is most important in the grand scheme of things, we all should be confessing and not denying that it is God. God is the reason for the season … always.
In this Western culture of commercialized America, where out-buying and out-spending for December 25th seems to be an expression of self love (more than love of God or Jesus Christ), modern children are taught the value of things more than the value of God in one’s heart. We praise that a little baby that was born in Bethlehem long ago … not in the place you now sit reading this.
There is no reason to say Jesus is the light, if one has no light of awareness about spiritual matters within oneself. The element of gifting in December is only about God wanting to give Christ to His servants. That can happen anytime, but the Church wants to drive that point home as a Christmas message (hopefully).
The cost of that gift is complete self-sacrifice to God. No credit cards allowed. No lay-away plans or easy pay installments. Just do whatever God says do, when God says do it. In return for that devotion and submission, little baby Jesus will be born in you, so you become the Son of God (regardless of your human gender).
That is truly the gift that keeps on giving.