The Life of John the Baptist: “He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease”

The Life of John the Baptist


I. John vs. Jesus?

    A. Jesus and His disciples baptizing in Judea (John 3:22)

      1. Judea/Jerusalem was the starting point for the spread of the gospel, as Jesus later commissioned the apostles (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8)
      2. “This Gospel gives the Judean ministry of Christ, almost totally omitted by the synoptics….occurred before John the Baptist was cast into prison, a fact John stressed, thus making it very early in the Lord’s ministry.” (Coffman, John)
      3. Jesus Himself did not baptize anyone (John 4:2). “There was Divine wisdom in this. The apostle Paul was forced to contend with division in the Corinthian church a few years later which had resulted from certain Christians taking pride in having been baptized by certain preachers and apostles (cf. I Cor. 1:14ff).” (Butler, John)
      4. This was the same baptism that John was administering, with a view toward Christ’s death and resurrection

        a. New Testament baptism was not preached and practiced until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and thereafter
        b. New Testament baptism mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord (Romans 6:3-6)

    B. John baptizing in Aenon near Salim (John 3:23)

      1. The exact geographical location is unknown today
      2. However, the purpose of the location is given: “because there was much water there”
      3. If baptism could be acceptably administered by sprinkling or pouring, there would have been no need for “much water”
      4. “Immersion is the ceremony recognized as baptism by Christ and the apostles; and the appearance of other actions called baptism in the historical church should not obscure this fact.” (Coffman, John)
      5. “It would be well to pause here and define the word baptize. Every Greek Lexicon of any repute defines baptize as having a primary meaning of ‘dip, plunge, immerse, submerge.’ In the Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) this word baptize can never mean sprinkle or pour. It is to be feared that the translators of our English versions of the Bible have allowed religious prejudices to guide their translating. It is interesting to note how these translators contradict themselves. In II King 5:14 our English translators have rendered the verse thusly: ‘Then went he down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan…’ (speaking of Naaman and his cure of leprosy). The amazing fact is that they interpreted the word baptize, here used in the Septuagint, to mean dipped. When these scholars came to the New Testament they merely transliterated (change of characters of one alphabet to corresponding characters of another alphabet) the word baptize. ‘Consistency, thou art a gem!’” (Butler, John)

    C. The dispute (John 3:25-26)

      1. The precise question is not known, only that it had to do with “purification”
      2. “Verse 25 informs us of John the Baptist’s disciples beginning a disputation or argument with a Jew (probably one who favored Jesus and His ministry) over the question of cleansing. From verse 26 it seems the whole disputation was over the authority and cleansing efficacy of the two baptisms. The disciples of John began the controversy and probably challenged the Jew because he had been baptized by Jesus’ disciples. That Jesus could baptize without consulting John they could not understand, and undoubtedly argued that the Jew had not been purified or cleansed because he had not been baptized by John.” (Butler, John)
      3. Many commentators (Coffman, Lipscomb, Johnson, and Butler all included) attribute John’s disciples’ attitude to jealousy
      4. “They seem to have grown somewhat jealous that the masses were leaving John to follow Jesus.” (Lipscomb,

II. John’s response to his disciples

    A. John reaffirms his own identity as “not the Christ” (John 3:27-28; cf. John 1:19-20)

      1. “To see his great popularity and influence gradually waning, and another coming up to take his place, was well calculated to arouse jealousy. But John, in the spirit of his mission, rose to a sublime superiority over carnal weakness. He declares, first, that what he is, and what Jesus is, is due to the will of heaven. Each will till his appointed mission ‘given him from heaven.’ Next, he cites his own words before spoken, of which they were witnesses, in which he declared that he was not the Christ, but only the messenger who went before the King to prepare his way. The superiority of Jesus was only what he himself had predicted.” (Johnson, John)
      2. John’s words in verse 27 “are true in two senses. Jesus could not have enjoyed such widespread success unless God had given it; and John’s decline could not have occurred unless the Lord had willed it.” (Coffman, John)

    B. The marriage analogy (John 3:29)

      1. Used in Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:16,19-20)
      2. Used in New Testament (Ephesians 5:25-27,32; Revelation 21:2,9; 22:17)
      3. John rejoiced (cf. Romans 12:15)

    C. John’s humility on full display (John 3:30)

      1. Christ’s work was to build His church (Matthew 16:18-19)
      2. His kingdom was such that “shall never be destroyed…and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44)
      3. John’s mission as the way preparer was drawing to a close
      4. “These last words of John are in the spirit of Christian sacrifice and are a fitting close of his work.” (Johnson, John)
      5. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

III. John’s exaltation of the Son of God

    A. Christ—as “He who comes from heaven”—has supreme authority (John 3:31)

      1. While John’s mission and message was from above, he himself was fully human, in contrast to Jesus who was God in the flesh (John 1:14; Romans 8:3; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2)
      2. Since Jesus Himself (not merely His message) was from heaven, He has authority over all (cf. Matthew 28:18)

    B. The majority’s rejection of Christ’s testimony (John 3:32)

      1. “No one” is hyperbolic, as shown by the next verse – there were some who “received His testimony” (John 3:33)
      2. While we are told on other occasions that “great multitudes came to Him” (Matthew 15:30), it is evident from further examination that not all remained interested in His doctrine
      3. The parable of the sower shows the reasons why some fall away after being taught the truth (Luke 8:4-15)
      4. Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount that few would follow the way leading to life (Matthew 7:13-14)

    C. The truth of the Father (John 3:33-34; cf. 1 John 5:10)
    D. The love of the Father (John 3:35; cf. Matthew 3:17)
    E. The importance of belief (John 3:36)

      1. Obedient faith: second half is translated “does not believe” in NKJV; “does not obey” in ESV, NASB; “obeyeth not” in ASV
      2. “At issue is how to properly translate the single Greek word apeitheo that is found in John 3:36. This term can be translated as either ‘unbelief’ or ‘disobedience.’ To illustrate, the KJV translates the same word, apeitheo, as ‘disobedience’ in other places, such as 1 Peter 3:1 (‘obey not’); and Romans 2:8 (‘do not obey’).” (Ankerberg and Burroughs, Taking a Stand for the Bible)
      3. “In all instances, it is an OBEDIENT FAITH that is meant, and never is some special quality of faith apart from obedience intended. Salvation by ‘faith alone’ is an erroneous tenet of human creeds, but it is not the teaching of God’s word. He who does not obey the Son, in the practical sense, is an unbeliever; and all faith, of whatever degree, is dead without obedience.” (Coffman, John)
      4. Everyone has a choice to make – believe or do not believe/obey (John 3:36); narrow or wide gate (Matthew 7:13-14); light or darkness (John 12:46; 2 Corinthians 6:14); righteous or lawless (2 Corinthians 6:14); transformed by the renewing of your mind or conformed to this world (Romans 12:2)
      5. We will be judged by the choices we make (John 12:48; 2 Corinthians 5:10)

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