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John 1:6-9 says,
6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through Him. 8 He was not the light but came that He might bear witness of the light. 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
John’s calling and position was not to be the Christ, nor was he the Memra. He simply bore witness of Christ, who is the light. It is therefore self-evident that a double witness is not the same person as the one he is witnessing. Likewise, the same is true of the Memra, who bears witness to the Creator. Jesus Christ is the double witness of His Father; John bore witness of Christ. So John said truly in John 1:20, “I am not the Christ.”
Hence, John’s crowning achievement was to baptize Jesus, because baptism, as established in Lev. 14:1-7, was where a priest bore witness that God had already healed a leper. The priest was not called to heal the leper through baptism but was called to baptize him “if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper” (Lev. 14:3).
In other words, baptism was meant to provide an earthly witness to a heavenly reality. So when Jesus healed lepers, He told them to present themselves to the priest so that they could inspect him and bear witness that God had healed them already. Luke 5:14 says,
14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, for a testimony [marturion, “witness”] to them.”
Many picture this as a former leper giving his personal testimony to the priest. Perhaps he did. However, this is actually about the priest bearing witness to the congregation or community that he is no longer a leper and no longer needs to shout “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever someone approaches him. The leper, being healed, was then cleansed for seven days and pronounced clean for the third and final time on the morning of the eighth day.
Baptism was a formal cleansing ritual that was used in other contexts as well. Priests baptized themselves at the laver before entering the sanctuary. Common people baptized themselves (hands) before each meal (Mark 7:3) as a ritual cleansing. Jesus needed no cleansing, yet He understood that the prophecy in the law required Him to be baptized (Matt. 3:14, 15).
So John bore witness of Christ, proclaiming Him to be “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). This set the stage for a later encounter with those who objected to His healing a man on the Sabbath. They said that He could not be from God, because He was “breaking the Sabbath” (John 5:18). The implication was that He could not be the Messiah, nor could He be the Memra, the Living Word. But Jesus countered this, saying in John 5:33-36,
33 You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth…. 36 But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.
John bore witness, but men might discredit John’s witness if they thought that Jesus was a lawbreaker. Jesus did not violate the law, for doing good on the Sabbath—even if it requires some work—is not a violation of the law, if one understands the purpose of the law. The people in Jesus’ day viewed the Sabbath in rigid terms that the rabbis had defined, but their views were not consistent with the mind of God. Hence, Jesus remained sinless, even though many of the Jews claimed that He was a law-breaker.
The irony was that the people believed John the Baptist to be a genuine prophet, but most of them, in the end, failed to believe his witness that Jesus was the Christ.