19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
The Holy Spirit now began to set Jesus in a historical context. Since John the Baptist acknowledged the preexistence of the Word who became flesh in 1:1-18, he is always mentioned at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in all of the gospels.
The first half of John concerns itself with miraculous signs (Jn 1:19-12:50). A “sign” is a miracle that points to an important idea that shows that Jesus is God Almighty. This same section concerns itself with the public ministry of Christ.
The first section of the book culminates in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (12:12-19). The remainder of John deals with the last week of Jesus in His suffering.
In 1:19-51 John the Baptizer formally launched the public ministry of Christ. He baptized Jesus for the ministry of the Messiah. The Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3; Mr 1; Lu 3) all mention the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
There is a smooth transition from the prologue (1:1-18) to the main body of the gospel. The idea of God assuming a human body calls for verification by witness.
this is the testimony of John,
The word “testimony” in the noun and verb form occurs 75 times in the gospel of John. John the Baptist is the first “testimony” the author John calls to attest to the veracity of Christ. John’s testimony was to make a formal announcement of the coming of the Messiah to official Judaism. This testimony runs from 1:19-34.
John’s witness was threefold:
to the delegation from Jerusalem, 1:19-28
to a group of disciples, 1:29-34
to two of His disciples, 1:35-37
when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,
“Jews” here were unbelieving religious leaders from the capital city of Jerusalem, probably the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was controlled by the family of the high priest. It was the Pharisees who sent the delegation to John (Jn 1:24).
Large crowds from many walks of life came to John in the wilderness (Lu 3:7-14). His ministry was such a sensation that great crowds came out to hear him in the desert. Even King Herod sought an audience with him. His message was that a remarkable person was about to appear before them.
The ministry of John the Baptist caused such a stir that the religious headquarters in Jerusalem sent out a team to investigate John about who he claimed to be. They sent a delegation of “priests and Levites” from Jerusalem to John in the wilderness of the Jordan Valley. John himself was a Levite and the son of a priest. Levites were less in authority than priests and sometimes served as temple police. In any case, they assisted the priests.
This location was about 20 miles south-east of Nazareth in the Jordan Valley near the Sea of Galilee. This was the year AD 27, in the month of February.
This action by religious leaders was an ominous sign for Jesus’ ministry. This team was on more than a fact-finding mission because they wanted to challenge the Baptist’s legitimacy for ministry. His guarded response to the questions that followed indicate this.
“Who are you?”
The delegation began to interrogate John. This is the first of seven questions they asked him. The formal announcement of the Messiah brought out the question of “who” John the Baptist was.
The delegation wanted to know whether John claimed to be the Messiah (note next verse). They said in effect, “What kind of important person are you? What is your authority?” They knew John had a priestly lineage, but they wanted to know about his office. “Who are you to tell religious leaders that they need to repent?”
Our ministry is to point to Another.
We are not to be ambitious for our ministry at the expense of exaltation of Christ. Authenticity revolves around how Christ centered we are in our ministry. God has not called us to make something of ourselves; He calls us to make something of our Lord (Jn 3:30). The Lord and ourselves cannot both be prominent. Either Christ is primary or we are. Our job is not to draw attention to ourselves but to our Lord.