Genealogy of Jesus Christ Part 3 of 9 (series: Harmony of the Gospels)
by John Lowe
Gnosticism, a dualistic heresy that reached its full strength in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A. D., regarded the spiritual as being inherently good and the earthly (that is, the created world) as inherently evil. Asceticism is another response to this concept that the created order is inherently evil. John may have emphasized Christ’s humanity in his Gospel in order to combat the beginnings of the philosophical-spiritual ideology called Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the spirit world contained many different levels of knowledge and that everyone must ascend through them to achieve gnosis(Gk.), a secret inner knowledge resulting in salvation and available only to those who had their consciousness raised to such a level.
Gnostics argued that through Christ they had experienced a spiritual resurrection and had arrived at knowledge (Gk. gnosis). Therefore, since the sins of the body were totally unconnected with the spiritual life, they were free on a spiritual plane to worship God through Christ Jesus and on a physical plane to do as they pleased. Paul strongly taught against this viewpoint as did the early church fathers (2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:17–24). First Timothy 1:3–7 and Jude 3–19 may also refer to teachers of incipient (or developing) Gnosticism. Since Gnostics believed the flesh is always evil, they taught that a sinless Christ could not have become truly human.
Gnostics were divided over the Incarnation. The Docetic Gnostics claimed that Christ’s human body was only an illusion, while Cerinthian Gnostics taught that God’s divine spirit filled the human Jesus at His baptism but fled before His death. Like all other tenets of Gnostic belief, Scripture refutes both of these positions (Col. 1:15–18; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 4:2–6; see 1 Cor. 1, Heresies; Gal. 4, Christology; Eph. 2, Salvation).
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Alternate Translation (CEV): God sent a man named John.
This verse along with the next two, contrast Christ and John the Baptist (not the John who was the apostle and author of the Gospel of John). John the Baptist was sent from God to be a forerunner of the Lord Jesus. His mission was to announce the coming of Christ and to tell the people to get ready to receive Him.
The apostle’s purpose in bringing in John the Baptist is for him to present an honorable testimony for Jesus Christ, but before he does this, he gives us some explanation of the witness he is about to give.
We are told that he was a man sent from God. The apostle had said concerning Jesus Christ that he was with God and that he was God; but here concerning John, He says that he was a man, a mere man. God is willing to speak to us through men like ourselves. John was a great man, but he was a man, and a son of a man. He was sent from God for the purpose of being God’s messenger, and that is what he is called in Malachi 3:1—“’Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” God gave him both his mission and his message, both his credentials and his instructions. We are not told that John performed any miracles or that he had visions and revelations. However, the strictness and purity of his life and doctrine, and the direct tendency of both to reform the world, and to revive the interest in God’s kingdom among men, were plain indications that he was sent from God.
7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.
Alternate Translation (TLB): God sent John the Baptist as a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the true Light.
This man came to testify to the fact that Jesus was truly the Light of the world, so that all people might put their trust in Him. He was not the Messiah, but rather a human individual. John was commissioned by God; he was not God Himself. John was a witness; to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. John’s purpose was to give testimony concerning Christ that would lead persons to a saving faith in the Light.
The Revelations that God had given to Israel was kept up through their religion; therefore, we read about the tabernacle of the testimony, the ark of the testimony, the law and the testimony: But now all divine revelation is to be turned into another channel; now all the testimony for Christ is also testimony for God.
God had not left himself without witness among the Gentiles, but the Redeemer had no testimonies given for him among them. “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
There was a profound silence for 400 years, in the interval between Malachi and John the Baptist, between the Old and New Testaments. There was no revelation from God until John the Baptist came to be a witness for Christ. Now notice two things concerning his testimony:
1. The substance of his testimony: He came to bear witness to the light. Light is a thing which witnesses for itself, and carries its own evidence along with it; but to those who shut their eyes against the light, it is necessary that there are those that will bear witness to it. Christ’s light does not need man’s testimony, but the world’s darkness does. John was like the night watchman that goes around the city, proclaiming the approach of the morning light to those that have closed their eyes in sleep. He was sent from God to tell the world that the long-looked-for Messiah was now here, and that he would be a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.
2. The purpose of his testimony: That all men through him might believe; not in him, but in Christ, whose way he was sent to prepare. He taught men to look through him, and pass through him, to Christ, through the doctrine of repentance for sin to that of faith in Christ. He prepared men for the reception of Christ and his gospel, enabling them to see and sense sin. The Holy Spirit would use His preaching of Christ to open the people’s eyes so they might be ready to receive those beams of divine light, which, in the person and doctrine of the Messiah, were now ready to shine in their faces. If they would only receive this witness of a man, they would soon find that 12the witness of God was greater.
Notice, it was God’s plan that all men would have the opportunity to come to faith in Christ, and He would not exclude anyone from the beneficial influences of His ministry that did not exclude themselves, as multitudes did, who rejected the counsel of God and His Messiah.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
Alternate Translation (NCV): John was not the Light, but he came to tell people the truth about the Light.
John was not that Light. The ministry of John the Baptist is similar to the ministry of Christians today. We are to give a personal witness and testimony concerning the Light, so that others might believe.
If John had tried to attract attention to himself, he would have been unfaithful to his appointed task. He pointed men to Jesus and not to himself.
We are cautioned here not to mistake him for the light, because he only came to bear witness to it: He was not that light that was expected and promised, but he was sent to bear witness of that great and ruling light. He was a star, like the one that guided the wise men to Christ. There were those who were satisfied with John’s baptism, and looked no further, like those Ephesians in 13Acts 19:3 did. To rectify this mistake, the apostle speaks very honorably of John the Baptist, and yet he shows that he must give higher status to Christ. He was great as the prophet of the Highest, but not the Highest himself. Note, We must be wary of over-valuing ministers, as well as under-valuing them; they are not our lords, and they do not have dominion over our faith. We must not yield ourselves to their way of life, for they are not that light; but we must receive their testimony; for they are sent to bear witness of that light; so then let us esteem them for their office, if for no other reason. If John had pretended to be that light, he would not have been a faithful witness of that light. Those who usurp the honor that belongs to Christ only, forfeit the honor of being the servants of Christ; yet John was very serviceable as a witness to the light, though he was not that light.