19 ¶ And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Members of the Pharisee party were sent to question John the Baptist. The Pharisees were the ultra-religious party that did believe in the supernatural, in angels, and in the resurrection of the dead. Consider them the fundamentalists of Jesus’ day. According to scholar, Merrill F. Unger, the name Pharisee means “separated.” Unger stated, “The chief characteristic of the Pharisee was his punctilious observance of the law, both oral and written,” as he referred to the writings of the Jewish general-turncoat, Josephus. He went on to say;
They devoted themselves to interpreting and teaching the law, that the nation might indeed be holy before God. Their watchwords were repentance, prayer, and charitable giving. They looked for the Messiah and the resurrection of the faithful at His advent. They had an admirable beginning…but gradually degenerated by Jesus’ day into proud and empty religionists, devoid of faith or spiritual life. (2)
Sound familiar? Nothing is new under the sun, as Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes 1:9.
Acts 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
The Pharisees, like modern fundamentalists, were filled with rules and regulations that went beyond the Bible’s clear teachings and were more concerned with the appearance of something rather than the spiritual reality of it.
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
John the Baptist condemned both conservative and liberals in his preparation for the truth to come.
Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
In verse 41 of this chapter and in 4:25 the Bible defines Christ as the expected Messiah to come.
John the Baptist did not claim to be the Messiah. And although he came in the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet as was foretold in Luke 1:17 and explained by Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 17:10-13 he himself denied that he was Elijah, who was prophesied to come before the end of time, before the Great Tribulation which has not been defined yet.
Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
He also denied that he was that prophet that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18. This is significant as Bible writers do not have to express a knowledge that their writing was given by inspiration of God for it to be so. A person can fulfill God’s will without even realizing that he is a tool for God just as Judas didn’t know that he was influenced or even possessed by Satan when he did his dirty work, a fact revealed later.
What John does is to quote Isaiah 40:3;
Isaiah 40:3 ¶ The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
(This brings to mind a problem with the Critical Text and modern Bible versions in Mark, chapter one, verse two. The New International Version (NIV) says that it is quoting Isaiah when it is actually quoting Malachi 3:1 next and then Isaiah 40:3. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and others make the same, what I call, deliberate mistake, based on the authority of the two corrupt manuscripts; Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus with a small number of Cursive manuscripts. The King James Version (KJV) just saying, “As it is written in the prophets,” is correct.
Another example of a deliberate error that should give one pause to consider the motives of the translators is in the New King James Version (NKJV) is in Matthew 11:3 when, the doctrine of the new age avatar espoused by Satanist, Alice Bailey, in the mid-twentieth century, the, “Coming One,” is introduced instead of the correct phrasing, “he that should come,” as the KJV states.)
John the Baptist has prepared the way for who he will introduce on the following day, the Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, already standing among them but unknown by either the crowd or the elite. So, it is today. The mass of people on earth do not know Christ and the religious and civil elites certainly don’t know Him. They have shut their minds off from understanding the Christ of the Bible. In America He is either a member of the Republican Party toting an automatic rifle over His shoulder, a sidearm on His hip, and an NRA membership card sticking out of the pocket of his three piece suit or He is a member of the Democratic Party and is a simpering wimp who has no moral standards of any kind other than to accept as, “just as good,” any behavior people display. For both views and others not mentioned Christ is merely an image of their own prejudices, fears, opinions, bigotry, and ideologies, a reflection of themselves as they descend into an orgy of self-congratulation for being such good people, pulling their arms out of the socket as they attempt to pat themselves on the back.
(2) Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1962), 45, 46.