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The Blue Letter Bible
Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus

Don Stewart :: If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His John the Baptist Have Doubts?

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If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His John the Baptist Have Doubts?

What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus – Question 37

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to the earth His own people rejected Him. However, even His own forerunner, John the Baptist, had his doubts. Why would this happen if he actually believed that Jesus was the Messiah? Why would John question the fact that Jesus was truly the Messiah? We can make the following observations about this question.

John the Baptist Acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah

John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, had pointed Jesus out as the Messiah. In the Gospel of John, we read the following:

The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 CEV)

John clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah. He was the Lamb of God which would take away the sin of the entire world. John knew that He was the Promised One.

John the Baptist Questions Jesus

Yet we have the later account of John being put in prison by King Herod. The Baptist then sent two messengers to Jesus asking Him if He were the Christ or if they should look for another. Luke writes about this episode:

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he left and began teaching and preaching in the towns. John was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing. So John sent of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we should be looking for? Or must we wait for someone else?” (Matthew 11:1-3 CEV)

John’s question was simple. Is Jesus of Nazareth truly the Christ or is there someone else who is coming afterward.

In response to their inquiry, Jesus answered in such a way that left no doubt He was the Messiah. Luke writes,

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 NKJV)

John certainly would have understood this message, for the signs Jesus was performing were the credentials of the Messiah. Indeed, when He would come on the scene the people would see miracles such as these.

Why Did John Ask the Question?

But why did John originally ask the question? Had he been mistaken about Jesus? Had Jesus let Him down? Had John wavered in faith? There is a better answer than assuming John had doubts about Jesus’ identity or that he was in some sort of depression while in prison.

The Circumstances of the Nation

The answer, as to why John would ask such a question, seems to lie in the circumstances of the nation Israel at that time. Jesus came into the world when Rome ruled the Jewish people with an iron hand.

There were many in the Holy Land who were proclaiming that the coming kingdom, predicted in the Old Testament, would come by means of a military overthrow. Jesus came upon the scene and proclaimed God’s kingdom was at hand. However, He also said it would belong to the meek, not the strong. The Lord also emphasized that His ministry was one of mercy, not judgment. The Bible says,

“For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17 HCSB)

This message of Jesus’ was revolutionary. He told the people to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to submit rather than resist. Furthermore, He had come as a Savior, not a Warrior-King.

John Predicted the Messiah Would Judge the Sinful People

John the Baptist, on the other hand, proclaimed the vengeance the Messiah would bring on the unbelievers. Indeed, we find Him saying the following things to the religious leaders who came to his baptism,

Many Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptized. But John said to them: You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment? Do something to show that you have really given up your sins. And don’t start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham’s family. I tell you that God can turn these stones into children for Abraham. An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire. (Matthew 3:7-10 CEV)

John was probably wondering how the kingdom could be established in the manner Jesus prescribed. His question contains the idea that Jesus was not going about it fast enough. Jesus’ answer indicates that the program was underway, but according to His schedule, not John’s. The day of vengeance is something still awaiting the unbelievers in the future. It would not occur at His First Coming.

It seems best, therefore, to take John’s question as one concerned more with the tactics of Jesus in establishing His kingdom, rather than John questioning Jesus’ identity as Messiah.

He Had the Wrong Expectation of What Would Happen

There is also the matter of the type of Messiah which the people were expecting. Matthew made it clear the purpose of Jesus’ coming:

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 HCSB)

At His First Coming, Jesus’ purpose was to save, not to condemn. Judgment will occur when He returns, not before.

In sum, we can say that John’s questioning of Jesus as the Messiah seems more to do with tactics than His identity.

Summary – Question 37
If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did John the Baptist Have Doubts?

Although John the Baptist had identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Promised Messiah, he sent two of his messengers to Jesus to ask if He were indeed the Christ. It seems that Jesus was not moving forward with establishing the kingdom like John wanted.

Jesus told the messengers that He was indeed the Messiah but not the type most people were expecting. Rather than coming into the world to overthrow the rule of Rome, Jesus came to give His life as a sacrifice for sins. In other words He came to save, not to judge.

John was expecting immediate judgment of the sinful nation. This was not Jesus’ purpose. Thus, the problem was one of expectation. Jesus emphasized that judgment would be delayed until the time He returned to the earth. Judgment is indeed coming but only in God’s good timing.

If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His People Reject Him? ← Prior Section
Was Jesus the Prophet That Moses Predicted Would Come into the World? Next Section →
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