We have in these verses an account of John’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ, which he witnessed to his own disciples that followed him. As soon as ever Christ was baptized he was immediately hurried into the wilderness, to be tempted; and there he was forty days. During his absence John had continued to bear testimony to him, and to tell the people of him; but now at last he sees Jesus coming to him, returning from the wilderness of temptation. As soon as that conflict was over Christ immediately returned to John, who was preaching and baptizing. Now Christ was tempted for example and encouragement to us; and this teaches us, 1. That the hardships of a tempted state should engage us to keep close to ordinances; to go into the sanctuary of God, Ps. 73:17. Our combats with Satan should oblige us to keep close to the communion of saints: two are better than one. 2. That the honours of a victorious state must not set us above ordinances. Christ had triumphed over Satan, and been attended by angels, and yet, after all, he returns to the place where John was preaching and baptizing. As long as we are on this side heaven, whatever extraordinary visits of divine grace we may have here at any time, we must still keep close to the ordinary means of grace and comfort, and walk with God in them. Now here are two testimonies borne by John to Christ, but those two agree in one.
I. Here is his testimony to Christ on the first day that he saw him coming from the wilderness; and here four things are witnessed by him concerning Christ, when he had him before his eyes:—
1. That he is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, John 1:29. Let us learn here,
(1.) That Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, which bespeaks him the great sacrifice, by which atonement is made for sin, and man reconciled to God. Of all the legal sacrifices he chooses to allude to the lambs that were offered, not only because a lamb is an emblem of meekness, and Christ must be led as a lamb to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), but with a special reference, [1.] To the daily sacrifice, which was offered every morning and evening continually, and that was always a lamb (Exod. 29:38), which was a type of Christ, as the everlasting propitiation, whose blood continually speaks. [2.] To the paschal lamb, the blood of which, being sprinkled upon the door-posts, secured the Israelites from the stroke of the destroying angel. Christ is our passover, 1 Cor. 5:7. He is the Lamb of God; he is appointed by him (Rom. 3:25), he was devoted to him (John 17:19), and he was accepted with him; in him he was well pleased. The lot which fell on the goat that was to be offered for a sin-offering was called the Lord’s lot (Lev. 16:8, 9); so Christ, who was to make atonement for sin, is called the Lamb of God.
(2.) That Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. This was his undertaking; he appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, Heb. 9:26. John Baptist had called people to repent of their sins, in order to the remission of them. Now here he shows how and by whom that remission was to be expected, what ground of hope we have that our sins shall be pardoned upon our repentance, though our repentance makes no satisfaction for them. This ground of hope we have—Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. [1.] He takes away sin. He, being Mediator between God and man, takes away that which is, above any thing, offensive to the holiness of God, and destructive to the happiness of man. He came, First, To take away the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, to vacate the judgment, and reverse the attainder, which mankind lay under, by an act of indemnity, of which all penitent obedient believers may claim the benefit. Secondly, To take away the power of sin by the Spirit of his grace, so that it shall not have dominion, Rom. 6:14. Christ, as the Lamb of God, washes us from our sins in his own blood; that is, he both justifies and sanctifies us: he takes away sin. He is ho airon—he is taking away the sin of the world, which denotes it not a single but a continued act; it is his constant work and office to take away sin, which is such a work of time that it will never be completed till time shall be no more. He is always taking away sin, by the continual intercession of his blood in heaven, and the continual influence of his grace on earth. [2.] He takes away the sin of the world; purchases pardon for all those that repent, and believe the gospel, of what country, nation, or language, soever they be. The legal sacrifices had reference only to the sins of Israel, to make atonement for them; but the Lamb of God was offered to be a propitiation for the sin of the whole world; see 1 John 2:2. This is encouraging to our faith; if Christ takes away the sin of the world, then why not my sin? Christ levelled his force at the main body of sin’s army, struck at the root, and aimed at the overthrow, of that wickedness which the whole world lay in. God was in him reconciling the world to himself. [3.] He does this by taking it upon himself. He is the Lamb of God, that bears the sin of the world; so the margin reads it. He bore sin for us, and so bears it from us; he bore the sin of many, as the scape-goat had the sins of Israel put upon his head, Lev. 16:21. God could have taken away the sin by taking away the sinner, as he took away the sin of the old world; but he has found out a way of abolishing the sin, and yet sparing the sinner, by making his Son sin for us.
(3.) That it is our duty, with an eye of faith, to behold the Lamb of God thus taking away the sin of the world. See him taking away sin, and let that increase our hatred of sin, and resolutions against it. Let not us hold that fast which the Lamb of God came to take away: for Christ will either take our sins away or take us away. Let it increase our love to Christ, who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, Rev. 1:5. Whatever God is pleased to take away from us, if withal he take away our sins, we have reason to be thankful, and no reason to complain.
2. That this was he of whom he had spoken before (John 1:30, 31): This is he, this person whom I now point at, you see where he stands, this is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man. Observe, (1.) This honour John had above all the prophets, that, whereas they spoke of him as one that should come, he saw him already come. This is he. He sees him now, he sees him nigh, Num. 24:17. Such a difference there is between present faith and future vision. Now we love one whom we have not seen; then we shall see him whom our souls love, shall see him, and say, This is he of whom I said, my Christ, and my all, my beloved, and my friend. (2.) John calls Christ a man; after me comes a man—aner, a strong man: like the man, the branch, or the man of God’s right hand. (3.) He refers to what he had himself said of him before: This is he of whom I said. Note, Those who have said the most honourable things of Christ will never see cause to unsay them; but the more they know him the more they are confirmed in their esteem of him. John still thinks as meanly of himself, and as highly of Christ, as ever. Though Christ appeared not in any external pomp or grandeur, yet John is not ashamed to own, This is he whom I meant, who is preferred before me. And it was necessary that John should thus show them the person, otherwise they could not have believed that one who made so mean a figure should be he of whom John had spoken such great things. (4.) He protests against any confederacy or combination with this Jesus: And I knew him not. Though there was some relation between them (Elisabeth was cousin to the virgin Mary), yet there was no acquaintance at all between them; John had no personal knowledge of Jesus till he saw him come to his baptism. Their manner of life had been different: John had spent his time in the wilderness, in solitude; Jesus at Nazareth, in conversation. There was no correspondence, no interview between them, that the matter might appear to be wholly carried on by the direction and disposal of Heaven, and not by any design or concert of the persons themselves. And as he hereby disowns all collusion, so also all partiality and sinister regard in it; he could not be supposed to favour him as a friend, for there was no friendship or familiarity between them. Nay, as he could not be biassed to speak honourably of him because he was a stranger to him, he was not able to say any thing of him but what he received from above, to which he appeals, John 3:27. Note, They who are taught believe and confess one whom they have not seen, and blessed are they who yet have believed. (5.) The great intention of John’s ministry and baptism was to introduce Jesus Christ. That he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. Observe, [1.] Though John did not know Jesus by face, yet he knew that he should be made manifest. Note, We may know the certainty of that which yet we do not fully know the nature and intention of. We know that the happiness of heaven shall be made manifest to Israel, but cannot describe it. [2.] The general assurance John had that Christ should be made manifest served to carry him with diligence and resolution through his work, though he was kept in the dark concerning particulars: Therefore am I come. Our assurance of the reality of things, though they are unseen, is enough to quicken us to our duty. [3.] God reveals himself to his people by degrees. At first, John knew no more concerning Christ but that he should be made manifest; in confidence of that, he came baptizing, and now he is favoured with a sight of him. They who, upon God’s word, believe what they do not see, shall shortly see what they now believe. [4.] The ministry of the word and sacraments is designed for no other end than to lead people to Christ, and to make him more and more manifest. [5.] Baptism with water made way for the manifesting of Christ, as it supposed our corruption and filthiness, and signified our cleansing by him who is the fountain opened.
3. That this was he upon whom the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove. For the confirming of his testimony concerning Christ, he here vouches the extraordinary appearance at his baptism, in which God himself bore witness to him. This was a considerable proof of Christ’s mission. Now, to assure us of the truth of it, we are here told (John 1:32-34),
(1.) That John Baptist saw it: He bore record; did not relate it as a story, but solemnly attested it, with all the seriousness and solemnity of witness-bearing. He made affidavit of it: I saw the Spirit descending from heaven. John could not see the Spirit, but he saw the dove which was a sign and representation of the Spirit. The Spirit came now upon Christ, both to make him fir for his work and to make him known to the world. Christ was notified, not by the descent of a crown upon him, or by a transfiguration, but by the descent of the Spirit as a dove upon him, to qualify him for his undertaking. Thus the first testimony given to the apostles was by the descent of the Spirit upon them. God’s children are made manifest by their graces; their glories are reserved for their future state. Observe, [1.] The spirit descended from heaven, for every good and perfect gift is from above. [2.] He descended like a dove—an emblem of meekness, and mildness, and gentleness, which makes him fit to teach. The dove brought the olive-branch of peace, Gen. 8:11. [3.] The Spirit that descended upon Christ abode upon him, as was foretold, Isa. 11:2. The Spirit did not move him at times, as Samson (Jdg. 13:25), but at all times. The Spirit was given to him without measure; it was his prerogative to have the Spirit always upon him, so that he could at no time be found either unqualified for his work himself or unfurnished for the supply of those that seek to him for his grace.
(2.) That he was told to expect it, which very much corroborates the proof. It was not John’s bare conjecture, that surely he on whom he saw the Spirit descending was the Son of God; but it was an instituted sign given him before, by which he might certainly know it (John 1:33): I knew him not. He insists much upon this, that he knew no more of him than other people did, otherwise than by revelation. But he that sent me to baptize gave me this sign, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, the same is he. [1.] See here what sure grounds John went upon in his ministry and baptism, that he might proceed with all imaginable satisfaction. First, He did not run without sending: God sent him to baptize. He had a warrant from heaven for what he did. When a minister’s call is clear, his comfort is sure, though his success is not always so. Secondly, He did not run without speeding; for, when he was sent to baptize with water, he was directed to one that should baptize with the Holy Ghost. Under this notion John Baptist was taught to expect Christ, as one who would give that repentance and faith which he called people to, and would carry on and complete that blessed structure of which he was now laying the foundation. Note, It is a great comfort to Christ’s ministers, in their administration of the outward signs, that he whose ministers they are can confer the grace signified thereby, and so put life, and soul, and power into their ministrations; can speak to the heart what they speak to the ear, and breathe upon the dry bones to which they prophesy. [2.] See what sure grounds he went upon in his designation of the person of the Messiah. God had before given him a sign, as he did to Samuel concerning Saul: “On whom thou shalt see the Spirit descend, that same is he.” This not only prevented any mistakes, but gave him boldness in his testimony. When he had such assurance as this given him, he could speak with assurance. When John was told this before, his expectations could not but be very much raised; and, when the event exactly answered the prediction, his faith could not but be much confirmed: and these things are written that we may believe.
4. That he is the Son of God. This is the conclusion of John’s testimony, that in which all the particulars centre, as the quod erat demonstrandum—the fact to be demonstrated (John 1:34): I saw, and bore record, that this is the Son of God. (1.) The truth asserted is, that this is the Son of God. The voice from heaven proclaimed, and John subscribed to it, not only that he should baptize with the Holy Ghost by a divine authority, but that he has a divine nature. This was the peculiar Christian creed, that Jesus is the Son of God (Matt. 16:16), and here is the first framing of it. (2.) John’s testimony to it: “I saw, and bore record. Not only I now bear record of it, but I did so as soon as I had seen it.” Observe, [1.] What he saw he was forward to bear record of, as they, Acts 4:20: We cannot but speak the things which we have seen. [2.] What he bore record of was what he saw. Christ’s witnesses were eye-witnesses, and therefore the more to be credited: they did not speak by hear-say and report, 2 Pet. 1:16.
II. Here is John’s testimony to Christ, the next day after, John 1:35, 36. Where observe, 1. He took every opportunity that offered itself to lead people to Christ: John stood looking upon Jesus as he walked. It should seem, John was now retired from the multitude, and was in close conversation with two of his disciples. Note, Ministers should not only in their public preaching, but in their private converse, witness to Christ, and serve his interests. He saw Jesus walking at some distance, yet did not go to him himself, because he would shun every thing that might give the least colour to suspect a combination. He was looking upon Jesus—emblepsas; he looked stedfastly, and fixed his eyes upon him. Those that would lead others to Christ must be diligent and frequent in the contemplation of him themselves. John had seen Christ before, but now looked upon him, 1 John 1:1. 2. He repeated the same testimony which he had given to Christ the day before, though he could have delivered some other great truth concerning him; but thus he would show that he was uniform and constant in his testimony, and consistent with himself. His doctrine was the same in private that it was in public, as Paul’s was, Acts 20:20, 21. It is good to have that repeated which we have heard, Phil. 3:1. The doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice for the taking away of the sin of the world ought especially to be insisted upon by all good ministers: Christ, the Lamb of God, Christ and him crucified. 3. He intended this especially for his two disciples that stood with him; he was willing to turn them over to Christ, for to this end he bore witness to Christ in their hearing that they might leave all to follow him, even that they might leave him. He did not reckon that he lost those disciples who went over from him to Christ, any more than the schoolmaster reckons that scholar lost whom he sends to the university. John gathered disciples, not for himself, but for Christ to prepare them for the Lord, Luke 1:17. So far was he from being jealous of Christ’s growing interest, that there was nothing he was more desirous of. Humble generous souls will give others their due praise without fear of diminishing themselves by it. What we have of reputation, as well as of other things, will not be the less for our giving every body his own.