And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?…
I. BY WHOM MADE. John: on the testimony of the Evangelist (ver. 19) and his own (ver. 23).
1. The Evangelist's estimate of John was high (ver. 6, 7). The dignity of his person, the nobility of his character, the elevation of his calling (comp. Proverbs 32:2).
2. His estimate of himself was low (ver. 23); an obscure desert preacher, an echo sounding through moral wastes, an insignificant forerunner, a water baptizer who could not touch the impure heart. This language revealed the essential humility of his nature (John 3:20; cf. Philippians 2:3), the felt loneliness of his position (John 3:26; cf. Kings 1 Kings 19:10), his feebleness (John 3:27; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10), the fruitlessness of his mission (ver. 25).
II. WHEN DELIVERED. On the occasion of the Embassy and after the Baptism. It was —
1. Timely: given at the moment required (1 Peter 3:15).
2. Prompt: without hesitation or reluctance, knowing that he had nothing to conceal or to be ashamed of (2 Timothy 1:8.)
3. Consistent: the same to the legates and to the populace (Matthew 5:37; Corinthians 1:8.)
4. Final (Hebrews 10:2; John 3:6).
III. TO WHOM ADDRESSED. The deputation from Jerusalem (ver. 19).
1. Composed of Priests and Levites, who would keep each other in countenance, and perhaps overawe the desert prophet by their combined importance.
2. Prompted by growing excitement in the Temple authorities at John's popularity. Perhaps hastened by report of Christ's baptism. Those who enter on evil courses are easily alarmed (Job 18:7-11.) Rulers governing by force or fraud are afraid of democratic commotions.
3. Instructed to ask who the Baptist was. Public men must expect to be criticized and questioned out of jealousy, fear, and even hate.
IV. OF WHAT COMPOSED. Of his testimony concerning himself.
(1) Not the Christ concerning whom he volunteers no information (Proverbs 29:11; Ecclesiastes 3:7);
(2) Not Elias, i.e, in the sense they meant; although he was Elias in the sense of Malachi (ver. 5), and Christ (Matthew 11:14);
(3) Not the prophet: neither Moses nor Jeremiah (Job 10:21; Zechariah 1:5.)
(1) A voice in the wilderness;
(2) A herald of Jehovah.
(3) A baptizer;
(4) A servant of Christ.Learn:
1. The best qualifications for a witness of Christ — humility and courage.
2. The secret of success in life — to know who oneself is not as well as who oneself is.
3. The inferiority of all Christ's servants to himself.
(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?