(John 1:32-34 ESV) 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
The author uses John the Baptist to transition from his presentation of Jesus as co-equal with God and co-creator to a narrative of events connected with the incarnated Jesus.
John “bore witness.” I could 32 uses of that verb in John. It’s often translated “testify.” It’s a legal term, referring to first-hand testimony (as opposed to “hearsay,” which is speaking of what someone else saw). John is clearly keen on making the point that the things were reported by eyewitnesses.
He’s not writing a theological tract in the form of a story. He’s reporting what really happened.
Surprising, although the three Synoptic Gospels all record the descent of the Spirit as occurring at Jesus’ baptism, and even though John does speak of baptism, in some respects, more than the Synoptics (who say very little of water baptism outside the work of John the Baptist), John’s Gospel entirely omits this point.
Clearly, the author’s intent is to emphasize God’s testimony about the Sonship of Jesus and the role of the Spirit. Water baptism is not really high on the author’s agenda.
Indeed, while Jesus’ water baptism is ignored, John’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit” is emphasized. Indeed, it becomes a major theme of John’s Gospel.
Notice, that unlike Matthew and Luke, but like Luke, nothing is reported regarding baptism with fire. Rather, a First Century reader of John’s Gospel, with no access to the Synoptics, would interpret “baptism in the Spirit” as a fulfillment of the many prophecies regarding the outpouring of the Spirit when the Kingdom comes, an outpouring that would be on all God’s people, not just a few leaders.
(Joe 2:28-29 ESV) 28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
This interpretation, which is plain to a student of the Prophets, is disturbing to many modern Christians as some believers have taken “baptism of the Spirit” to refer specifically to the receipt of the gift of tongues, but the Scriptures simply don’t say this.
Rather, the Spirit is poured out on all who are Christians, and all Christians are thus immersed in the Spirit. And, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12, the Spirit gives whatever gifts he chooses, and not everyone receives the same gifts.
The Pentecostal/charismatic teaching on the subject is wrong, but ours has often been just as wrong, because we went too far in the opposite direction to avoid the errors of the charismatic movement. You just about always reach wrong conclusions when your motivation is to prove someone else wrong rather than to seek God’s will. The goal of winning debates rarely produces sound exegesis.
There are those who take “baptism of the Spirit” as referring solely to what the apostles received at Pentecost, but there is no way that John’s disciples could have understood that. You see, John immediately follows that prophecy with the declaration that “this is the Son of God.” To Jewish ears at that time, this was a declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to become king of the Jews.
The Jews had long expected God’s Messiah, to sit on the throne of David and rule the Kingdom that was also promised. To speak of the coming of the Spirit and the Son of God was to announce the fulfillment of the countless prophecies about the Kingdom and God’s restoration of Israel. That’s what John’s disciples would have heard.
(John 1:35-37 ESV) 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
What would the disciples have understood by the reference to “Lamb of God”? Why would this cause them to follow Jesus?
The most obvious reference would be to —
(Isa 53:7 ESV) 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Isaiah 53 is an astonishingly deep and detailed presentation of the work of Jesus. Most Jews would not have associated this verse with the Messiah (they expected a king who would overthrow the Romans), but it appears that John’s disciples had been taught better.
“Disciple” refers to the follower of a rabbi. These two had attached themselves to John to learn from him as students — students who wanted to become just like their rabbi. For them to follow Jesus was to change rabbis — a very unusual thing.
But it was no act of disloyalty. It was accepting John’s teaching seriously, as John had declared Jesus his superior and the Messiah.
The text mentions two disciples, but only names one (Andrew). Interpreters going back to very early times have assumed this to be the beloved disciple, who was typically assumed to be John himself, as the author of John’s Gospel has long be attribute to the apostle John by tradition. But that tradition is surprisingly hard to prove from the text itself — except that the style of the Gospel is so very similar to 1 – 3 John.
One of the best New Testament scholars working today, Ben Witherington, has made a case for the author to be Lazarus. It’s a fascinating hypothesis that has appeal but is not ultimately provable. I would just be cautious in assuming that the “beloved disciple” of John 13-17 is John. It could be, but it could also be Lazarus. Read the article and reach your own conclusion.
(John 1:38-39 ESV) 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
This exchange seems to indicate how easily the two were accepted by Jesus as disciples. But notice that the disciples did not directly answer the question. But this is a typically Jewish conversation — questions answered with questions. The disciples’ question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” implies that they intend to stay with him, that is, become his disciples.
Another of those words that appear throughout the Gospel is “follow.” The idea of following Jesus recurs throughout the book. Indeed, it’s arguable the theme of the book, introduced subtly and later made more explicit.
To follow a rabbi is not merely to read his writings and listen to his words. It’s to learn how to become just like the rabbi in every way. The point of talmid (Hebrew for “disciple”) is to follow the rabbi so closely as to be covered in the dust from his walking. A talmid would want to emulate the rabbi in every way possible.
We often cheapen the word to mean “Bible student” or “evangelist” or “obedient.” These are all part of being a talmid, but none represents the fullness of the word. No, you are not a talmid unless you are filled with a passion to walk with Jesus in order to become just like Jesus.
If your goal is merely to make it to heaven, then you are a seeker of a gift, but you are no disciple. A disciple wants to go to heave because Jesus is there. To follow Jesus includes going to heaven, but it also includes being on mission for and with Jesus. The Gospel will say much more on the subject as we go.
(John 1:40-41 ESV) 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
V. 40, of course, demonstrates plainly that we were correct in taking John to be calling Jesus “Son of God” as meaning Messiah — that is, the one chosen by God to be anointed king of Israel. “Christ” is simply the Greek for “Messiah.” Both words mean “anointed one,” which means “king.”
The language is borrowed from the Prophets, as we’ve earlier considered, especially Psalm 2 —
(Psa 2:2-7 ESV) 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed … 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated “Anointed” in v.2 is christos, that is, Christ.
(John 1:42 ESV) 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
“Cephas” is Aramaic for rock. “Simon” is a shortened form of Simeon, one of the 12 sons of Jacob — a very common name among both the Jews and Greeks. It means “hearer.” Evidently, Jesus was predicting that Simon would transition from a mere hearer (metaphor for a disciple) to a rock (metaphor for a leader).
There is more here. The power to name someone would have represented some measure of authority. It is God who changed the name of Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Jesus was asserting authority over Simon that would have been inappropriate for a mere rabbi — especially Peter had not yet committed to be a disciple of Jesus. But, of course, if Simon believed Jesus to really be the Messiah (the King), then Simon would have to submit to the change. It was not only an appeal (Follow me and I’ll make you a leader) but a challenge (Will you accept my authority over you as Messiah?)
Thus, Jesus, having been called Messiah, immediately acts in a way that subtly admits to the claim. This is very Jewish and Eastern, speaking through actions rather than direct statements.