John 1:25
And they asked him, and said to him, Why baptize you then, if you be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
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(25) Why baptizest thou then?—Baptism, which was certainly one of the initiatory rites of proselytes in the second or third century A.D., was probably so before the work of the Baptist. It is not baptism, therefore, which is strange to the questioners, but the fact that he places Jews and even Pharisees (Matthew 3:7) in an analogous position to that of proselytes, and makes them to pass through a rite which marks them out as impure, and needing to be cleansed before they enter “the kingdom of heaven.” By what authority does he these things? They had interpreted such passages as Ezekiel 36:25 ff. to mean that Baptism should be one of the marks of Messiah’s work. None less than the Christ, or Elias, or “the prophet” could enact a rite like this. John is assuming their power, and yet is not one of them.

1:19-28 John disowns himself to be the Christ, who was now expected and waited for. He came in the spirit and power of Elias, but he was not the person of Elias. John was not that Prophet whom Moses said the Lord would raise up to them of their brethren, like unto him. He was not such a prophet as they expected, who would rescue them from the Romans. He gave such an account of himself, as might excite and awaken them to hearken to him. He baptized the people with water as a profession of repentance, and as an outward sign of the spiritual blessings to be conferred on them by the Messiah, who was in the midst of them, though they knew him not, and to whom he was unworthy to render the meanest service.Why baptizest thou then ... - Baptism on receiving a proselyte from "paganism" was common before the time of John, but it was not customary to baptize a "Jew." John had changed the custom. He baptized "all," and they were desirous of knowing by what authority he made such a change in the religious customs of the nation. They presumed, from the fact that he introduced that change, that he claimed to be a prophet or the Christ. They supposed that no one would attempt it without "pretending," at least, authority from heaven. As he disclaimed the character of Christ and of the prophet Elijah, they asked whence he derived his authority. As he had just before applied to himself a prediction that they all considered as belonging to the fore runner of Christ, they "might" have understood "why" he did it; but they were blind, and manifested, as all sinners do, a remarkable slowness in understanding the plainest truths in religion. 25. Why baptizest thou, if not, &c.—Thinking he disclaimed any special connection with Messiah's kingdom, they demand his right to gather disciples by baptism. The Pharisees themselves would allow the Messiah, or Elias, or a prophet, to make any additions to or alterations in the worship of God, but none else: hence it is they ask, by what authority he baptized, if he were none of these? From whence we may learn, that although they might have some umbrage of that baptismal washing which was under the gospel, to commence into a sacrament, or federal sign, in the washing of their proselytes, or of Jewish children when they were circumcised; yet John’s action was looked upon as new, who baptized adult Jews: now the care of the sanhedrim was to keep the worship of God incorrupt, and the Pharisees amongst them had a particular zeal in the case, especially so far as the traditions of the elders were concerned. And they asked him, and said unto him,.... They put a question, by saying to him,

why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? since he denied that he was the Messiah, or Elias that was to come before the Messiah, according to the expectation of the Jews, or that prophet, or a prophet, they demand by what authority he introduced a new rite and ordinance among them, which they had never been used to; for though there were divers washings or baptisms among them, enjoined by the law of Moses in certain cases, and others which obtained by tradition, as the immersion of themselves after they had been at market, and of cups, pots, brazen vessels, and tables, yet nothing of this kind that John administered: and as for the baptism of proselytes, it seems to be of a later date than this, and had no manner of likeness to it. The ordinance John administered was such, as they apprehended that no one ought to practise, unless he was the Messiah, or his forerunner, or some eminent prophet; they insist upon it therefore, that since he denied he was either of these, that he would show his credentials, and what commission he had from God to baptize; or they suggest he was liable to be called to an account by their sanhedrim, and be condemned as a false prophet, or an innovator in religious affairs. From hence it appears, that the Jews expected that baptism would be administered in the times of the Messiah, and his forerunner; but from whence they had this notion, it is not easy to say, whether from Zechariah 13:1 as Grotius, or from Ezekiel 36:25 as Lightfoot; nor do they speak contemptibly of it, but rather consider it as a very solemn affair, to be performed only by great personages: and this may teach modern ones to think and speak more respectfully of this ordinance than they do, who have given themselves great liberties, and have treated it with much contempt and virulence; calling it by the names of uncleanness, abomination, filthy water, and a devoting of persons to Satan (z): likewise, it is clear from hence, that they expected that this ordinance would be first administered by some person of very great note, either some very famous prophet, as Elias, whom they looked for before the coming of the Messiah, or else the Messiah himself, and not by a common teacher, or any ordinary person; wherefore this rite, as performed by John, could have no likeness with any thing that was in common use among them: besides, it was expressly done in the name of the Messiah, Acts 19:5 therefore they conclude he, or his forerunner, must be come; and that John must be one, or other of them, otherwise, why did he administer it? and it is also evident from hence, that no such practice had obtained before among them, or they would not have been alarmed at it, as they were; nor would they have troubled themselves to have sent after John, and inquire of him who he was, that should practise in this manner,

(z) Vet. Nizzachon, p. 56, 62, 64, 70, 74, 77, 148, 191, 193.

And they asked him, and said unto him, {l} Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

(l) By this we may prove that the Jews knew there should be some change in religion under the Messiah.

25. Why baptizest thou then?] ‘What right have you to treat Jews as if they were proselytes and make them submit to a rite which implies that they are impure?’ Had they forgotten Zechariah 13:1; Ezekiel 36:25?

be not that Christ, &c.] Better, art not the Christ, nor yet Elijah, nor yet the Prophet. See on John 1:21.Verse 25. - And they asked him (put the question), and said to him, Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet? It would seem that, judging from such expressions as Ezekiel 36:25, 26 and Zechariah 13:1, the Jews expected some renewal of ceremonial purification on a grand scale at the Messianic appearance, and John's repudiation of every personal rank, which could, according to their view, justify him called for some explanation.
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