John 1:19-23: This is John’s testimony, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He declared, and didn’t deny, but he declared, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” They said therefore to him, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
In today’s section of John, we have the record of John the Baptist’s description of himself when he was questioned by Jewish leadership. These men who came to visit John came from the city of Jerusalem, the city of the Jewish temple. The priests were those who served God in the temple and the Levites were one of the families of Israel that God specifically gave temple duties to. In a sense, this was a traveling inquisition. It appears that they were attempting to find out what authority that John had to be preaching to the people in the name of God.
It is a good thing to verify the message of a prophet to see if they are from God (Deuteronomy 18:22, 1 John 4:1,2). John did not avoid the question but answered. He started by making it clear that he was not the Messiah that they were waiting for. The leadership also asked him if he was Elijah. In Malachi 4:4,5 it says that God was going to send Elijah at some point in the future before the “Day of the Lord”. There did seem to be a great similarity between Elijah and John the Baptist, but John was John and this really wasn’t the “Day of the Lord” yet. The Jews were also expecting the arrival of a Prophet. I am not clear about who this is but John knew that he was not the one. It is clear that there is yet to be two prophets that will come to Jerusalem that have been written about in Revelation 11. And this does happen at the “Day of the Lord.”
So the question then was, “Who was John?” The wonderful thing is that John was also spoken of in prophesy and he quotes it to them. It is an Old Testament prophesy found in Isaiah 40:3. It is my understanding that Isaiah was already hundreds of years old by that time. Isaiah was one of the books of the Old Testament that was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in recently. Amazingly enough, these copies dated back to about the time of John. So we know that they were aware of this prophesy and that it was already old. Evidently, this quote wasn’t enough to satisfy theses leaders as we will find out more about in the next verse next time.