John, the author, now starts to build his case: The Case for Christ. He is going to bring a string of witnesses to the stand, to let them testify about who Jesus is. “First I call John the Baptizer to the witness stand.” John takes the oath of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and takes his seat.
By this point in time, John has been preaching and baptizing for about 8 months, and people are starting to talk that maybe he’s the Messiah from God they’ve been waiting for for generations. John is THAT impressive. So much so, that the leaders of the people who are responsible to make sure no one is misleading them, show up to listen and evaluate. We’re into the major leagues here, folks.
John didn’t hesitate, and he didn’t beat around the bush: “I am not the Christ.” They were surprised, but, “Fine. Then who are you?” They could tell he was someone extraordinary, and they considered him sent from God. His testimony was supernatural. They open the door wide to hear the truth of his testimony, without asking a leading question. “Who are you?”
John quotes a prophecy from Isaiah, identifying himself as the one who wasn’t the Messiah, but would point him out to everyone else. (This goes back to John 1.6-8: he wasn’t the Light, but was sent to bear witness of the Light.)
(Just for fun, notice John makes three denials: I am not the Christ, I am not Elijah, and I am not the Prophet. Possibly this is foreshadowing, and providing a foil, to the three denials of Peter to come later in the book.)
Anyway, back to the story: “Then why do you baptize?” Baptizing others was a claim to some kind of authority, so they are wondering who sent John and why, like, “What gives you the right?” John sticks to his previous answer. After all, truth is truth is truth. “I’m not the Messiah, but I’m here to show you who he is. As a matter of fact, he’s here.”
That was an absolutely stunning, earthshaking statement. “The One prophesied from the beginning of history, the One you’ve been waiting for for millennia, the very Messiah of God who is bringing salvation to the word—He’s HERE!” And they don’t care. Do you notice their lack of response? The silence is deafening.
John is on the witness stand, though, and continues on. He may be walking ahead of the Messiah, but the Messiah outranks him. It’s as if John is saying, “If you think I’m special and sent from God, wait until you see HIM.” He relegates himself to the position of an unworthy slave in comparison.
But he’s not done yet. John has more to say.