John would have been a priest as a profession. But in all his years, he would never set foot in a temple setting. Yet he would be the greatest of every person born of a woman. John fulfilled his role as a priest through his witness to the Jewish leadership. In verse 21:
"They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?"
John strongly confessed that he was not the Christ. In verse 23 John tells them what scripture said in Isaiah;
",,,,,I am the voice of one calling in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord"
Then they asked John why he was baptising, if he was not the One, if he was not Elijah. Who gave you the right then? Look what John says in verse 26:
"I baptize merely with water, John replied, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the One who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."
Verse 28 tells us that these things were done on the other side of the Jordan River, at Bethbara, where the river was shallow. This was a very pagan place. Evil sacrifice of human flesh was going on around there. John is among pagans talking about a holy sacrifice, because the Great I AM is coming. His harvest is not of human flesh, but of eternal lives. All this is going on and John picks this spot to baptize people. If you read Matthew 3:10-12, you will find that Jesus is the Holy One who is coming for His eternal harvest at the end of all times.
Bethbara was mentioned in the Old Testament as a strategic place of conquest by Gideon. Also,, the death of Saul was here. He committed suicide. It is also the site of the crossing of the Jordan River by Joshua with the Ark of the Covenant. It parted, just like the Red Sea parted. What a spot John chose! Where John was baptizing was where the Passover would begin. Where John was baptizing is where Jesus began to baptize, in the same spot.
Do you think the pharisees didn't like an upstart priest who didn't come to the temple, who didn't follow the rules, who didn't hold all the traditions with them, and was some wild man with goat's hair, and ate wild locust and yelled at the top of his lungs, a renegade priest like that? They didn't know what was happening, so they sent some really choice people from the Sanhedrin to ask some questions. In verse 19 they ask John who he is. In the Greek it reads "Are you He?" John strongly confessed, "No Way." The strong language that John used was used in other places by Jesus (Luke 9:26):
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory, and the glory of the Father and the holy angels."
There is a warning. Never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it has the power to bring salvation to you and everyone around you. Never be ashamed.
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, according to the gospel of Luke. They had been waiting for 430 years in silence. There was a fever pitch when John got there. It was a time when everything was going wrong, no one was speaking the truth. God had been silent for so long, and then John the Baptist says, "Prepare the way for the Messiah.."
In verse 21, they asked him another question, ",,,,Are you Elijah?" Elijah had to come before the Lord would return. John used the same strong language. Absolutely no way! They asked him, Are you THE prophet that Moses talked about that would come in the name of the Lord Himself? John answered no again.
Notice that they saw these three, the Christ, Elijah, the prophet, as separate people. They thought the Messiah would be a person, Elijah would be himself, and the prophet would be another person. They were waiting for three people, but how many did they get? Two.
The anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus is also the prophet, the One who will come in the name of the Lord. They had misinterpreted that one and three were the same God. In this person, Jesus Christ, you not only have Messiah, you don't just have prophet; you have man and God inside the same person. Can you see the confusion?
"Are you Elijah?" depended on the prophesy of Malachi 3:1:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant , whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty.
Here is where they interpreted it wrong Malachi 4:5:
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes."
Was the day Jesus came to us a dreadful day? No. It was the coming of the Kingdom, the coming of the day to repent, for the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This is your chance to come in. The great and dreadful day was the end of the entire existence of the universe. The Jews misinterpreted. Elijah was not coming right away. He was coming much later.
The pharisees thought that Elijah would anoint the Messiah, or baptize Him, and that would identify Him to Israel. Well, that's what John did. They further assumed that Elijah would have to come back in the same way he left, in a flaming chariot.
Finally, the religious authorites were only expecting Elijah to come one time. Here is yet another misreading of the scripture. They thought he would come and wipe out the Romans, makes them the rulers of the Middle East; and God's kingdom and man's kingdom would be one and the same, and God would live with us forever, and the garden will be restored. It will happen, but only after a big battle at Armaggedon, and only after most of the population has been destroyed.
Another question. "Are you the prophet?" It's Moses' words in Deuteronomy 18:18 that makes the pharisees wonder:
"I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I command Him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call Him to account.
In other words, you will be condemned if you do not listen to the voice and the words of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. So, John says there will be a man who is greater than me, who is born a person right out of the brotherhood. His words will be different than my words. It will be word for word--the Father says it, the Son speaks it.
The pharisees thought the prophet coming would lead them into a new eternal kingdom. They did get one thing right, that He would enlighten the people to know God personally and reveal God fully. The prophet was not the same as the Messiah in their minds.
In verse 22, they said you are not the prophet, not the Messiah, not Elijah. Who are you?
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord."
How many people are comforted knowing God loves you, that you are forgiven and are going into Heaven? Look what happens. Whenever there is a decision to be made that is eternal, there is a consequence. The opposites of comfort, love, joy, peace, glory are condemnation, separation, and darkness. Isaiah 40:1 says:
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service (sin) has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
Where sin abounds, grace abounds ever the more, Paul says. Bring down the lofty spirit. Become humble, and bring up the lowly, the ones who have nothing. Bring up your brother and sister with you, that the rough places may be made smooth; so that the glory of God can be revealed. That's what Jesus is going to do when He comes back. We will see His shining glory. And ever eye, tongue and ear will have it revealed to them all at once. Can you imagine?
This is John. Comfort, joy, He's coming. Everything will be made right. The biggest problem in the Christian Church today is that we get to the point where we feel that we have no more need for forgiveness, to be saved from our sins, and we don't have to go any further. We've gone far enough. We are saved. They were doing the same thing back then.
Look how John answers the pharisees who ask him why he was baptizing. "I'm doing what a priest should do" was his answer in verse 26. But there is somebody else, who is already here." He is all around you, within you, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is so holy, so perfect, and so beautiful.