24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
(Now they had been sent [commissioned] from the Pharisees.)
The delegation from Jerusalem was sent by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a lay movement of about 6,000 who were sticklers for a strict interpretation of the written and oral law. They were active from around 150 BC to AD 135. Pharisees were very influential and the primary political and religious voice in Judaism after AD 70. Pharisaic teaching formed the theology of Talmudic Judaism. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion (Php 3:5).
Pharisees were utterly self-righteous types. They were ostentatious with their religion. They were sticklers for ceremony, fasting, public almsgiving, and very long prayers. There were no Sadducees after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. None are mentioned in the gospel of John. John’s readers would not have known who they were.
They [the delegation] asked him,
The investigating delegation was confused; if John had no authority, why did he baptize? “What you are doing seems to us to be illegal, John.” The delegation was concerned about the religious credentials of new teachers. They were intolerant of change.
“Then why are you baptizing,
Baptism in the Jewish first century was related to baptism of Gentiles after their conversion. John, however, baptized Jews. It was a shock to Jews that they needed to be baptized. Baptism was for the purpose of the repentance of Israel (Mt 3:6, 11). This baptism has nothing to do with Christian baptism. Jesus did not need to repent when He was baptized. His baptism was His induction into Messiahship, His reign as King over the kingdom of Israel.
The practice of baptism for Jews was an unusual step to take. This action by John revealed that there was something wrong with religion in Israel.
if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
The delegation thought that John held an eschatological view, a prophecy of the future. They wanted to know his authority for such knowledge.
Baptism shows whom we identify with.
In the Bible, baptism has to do with identity. People confessed their sins, but that confession related to accepting or denying their Lord. To be baptized is to identify with the cause one is being baptized into.
Baptism here is not Christian baptism. God did not institute that baptism until after the resurrection. Neither was it proselyte baptism; it did not initiate someone into Judaism. John’s baptism made it possible for people to declare their public allegiance to the Messiah.
Paul later corrected those who were baptized in John the Baptist’s baptism. These people did not even know that Christ and the Holy Spirit had come. Christian baptism is into the death and resurrection of Christ (Ro 6:3-4). Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an entirely different baptism than John’s baptism.