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Bible Q

What did John the Baptist mean when he asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mat. 11:3)?

I can think of  2 possible explanations for John the baptist’s question:

  1. He wanted his disciples to leave off following himself and follow Jesus, so he sent them to Jesus to see him for themselves the great things Jesus was doing.
  2. John had been imprisoned for some time by this stage and perhaps he was beginning to doubt his understanding that Jesus was the Messiah.

I think the 2nd explanation is more likely.  I think John meant that he wanted assurance that Jesus was the Christ, as John himself had earlier proclaimed. John 3:28

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’

Jesus said to John’s disciples in Matthew 11:4-6:

 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  (5)  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (6)  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I feel the fact that Jesus said “Go and tell John”, is an indication that the focus is on John rather than the disciples of John, giving weight to the idea that John’s faith needed strengthening.

Some possible reasons for the possible turmoil John was experiencing on the subject of Jesus being the Christ:

  • A lengthy incaceration in prison could encourage depression.
  • Perhaps events relating to Jesus and the role of Messiah were not happening the way John thought they would, leading to doubt. For example:
    • John hadn’t seen or heard of Jesus baptising “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” as John prophesied he would. (Luke 3:16)
    • He hadn’t seen or heard of Jesus burning “the chaff with unquenchable fire”  as John also prophesied Jesus would.  (Luke 3:17)
    • John may not have clearly understood “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways,  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:5-6

One is reminded of the prophet Elijah, a prophet who also faced the ire of the wife of the king, just like Johnt did.  Elijah became very depressed and asked God to take his life. 1 Kings 19:2-4:

 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  (3)  Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  (4)  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

This incident in Elijah’s life, shows that even prophets of God can become depressed and have their faith shaken.

The questioner also asked:

Was John asking Jesus “Does God still agree, and art thou he shat should come to hell also, for our release, “Am I your forerunner in Hell (Grave) also”, or Look we for another (Is God going to send someone else, should God do something else at Calvary, and you don’t die and get to hell or the grave where we are?

I don’t believe John was asking Jesus this question.  I believe it is likely that John was wondering if he had misunderstood that Jesus was the Christ.  Jesus was able to reassure him on this point with the miracles  he did.  Once again, see Matthew 11:4-6.

2 Replies to “What did John the Baptist mean when he asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mat. 11:3)?”

  1. The truth is no one had a crew on how Jesus would be glorified or He would save man.Any Prophet or Man God simply saw a glimpse……not the full thing.So yes John had his doubts….his faith on God’s word was being tested and Jesus reassured him……the jail sentence or the misery John was facing must have had something to do with it. But he wasn’t alone…..even Jesus’ disciples doubted Him too…I mean didn’t fully believe Him… one had the whole idea of salvation until He was glorified.

  2. Sothie’s comment below is very good. I see that many commentaries give a similar observation about the the disciples of Jesus also having expressed doubt. But unfortunately the comparison only goes so far, for the disciples were alive when Jesus resurrected and they could repent for their previous behaviour and lack of faith and recommit themselves to Jesus. John died in prison. Not one single gospel, canonical or otherwise, shares any story about John having repented for his lack of faith prior to having been beheaded.
    In other words, a deeper question is did John repented and accepted Jesus as Lord before being murdered? No textual basis exists that could suggest that.
    The most one could due to argue for the integrity of John is to present Matthew 11:11 as evidence of the greatness of John. In there, however, Jesus rejects the very idea of John having become a disciple or follower. Yes, John was the greates born of woman because he was sent from God with the mission to witness and bring everyone into faith (John 1:6-8). He was the only annointed Wtiness, to put it in other words. Everyone else who gave testimony of Jesus did not have the task of bringing everyone into faith. That ‘blessing’ had been placed upon John’s shoulders. Yet though he had been given that task, Jesus said that the least in the kingdom is greater than him. This means that John despite having led two of his disciples to follow Jesus, John did not make the transition into becoming a follower himself.
    To make the last point more clear I want to add one more short passage to this short exegesis. John 5:45-47: 45″Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46″For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.47″But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

    Moses accuses the opponents of Jesus, because they do not believe in Jesus despite the fact that Moses wrote of him. The implication is that Moses is a ‘follower”. Contratry to the idea applied to John that somehow he cannot become a direct disciple of Jesus because John stand in the ‘old age’ and Jesus begins the ‘new providence’, Moses appears in the gospels supporting Jesus’ work. Not only in here does Jesus proclaims that but the Synoptic Gospels contain a parallel to this idea in the episode of the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28–36). In the mountain Jesus had a meeting with Moses and Elijah. How could Moses and even Elijah could meet and have a conversation with Jesus, and Moses would accuse the Jewish religious leaders, and John who lived in the same time had such brief communication with Jesus? (There is a lot more to be said about the extend of the relationship between John and Jesus) John had an incredible opportunity to become a direct disciple of Jesus but he did not do it. Why?