Not the Messiah
Prior to this time there had not been a prophet in more than 400 years and it was widely believed that when the Messiah came, prophecy would reappear. So when John burst onto the scene, the people were excited! They were sure that the eagerly awaited age of the Messiah had come.
Yet John denied being the Christ (John 1:20-21).
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who over lived (his story is recorded in I Kings 17-II Kings 2) and he was Israel’s greatest reformer. Malachi 4:5 says, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” And in Matthew 17:11-12, Jesus Himself referred to Malachi’s prophecy by saying, “But I tell you, Elijah has already come…”
Luke says in Luke 1:16-17 that John will come in the spirit of Elijah. So one might be able to conclude from putting all these scriptures together that though John the Baptist was not Elijah, he did come in the spirit of Elijah.
Not only were Elijah’s and John the Baptist’s messages very much alike, but the men themselves were very similar in stature and appearance. So in a sense, Elijah had already come in the spirit or heart of John the Baptist.
Two different men from two different eras who looked a lot alike and preached the same message with the same fervor!
Then they asked John if he was the Prophet. And again John denied their claim.
And probably a little frustrated with him, they asked in verse 22, “Who are you?”
Basically they were in need of an answer to take back to the Sanhedrin who had sent them. So they asked, “What do you say about yourself?”
You see, if John claimed to be the Messiah and they proved him to be a liar they could arrest him on blasphemy (claiming to be God when he was not). If he wasn’t the Messiah, and he wasn’t Elijah, the question still remained, “Who was he?” Many thought he was a false prophet, especially since he required Jews to be baptized. This too could have cost him his life.
In verse 23, John used the words of Isaiah 40:3 which these men would have been well aquainted with. He called himself a voice, preaching and teaching people and making the way straight, for the Lord was coming. (Making the way straight meant to remove any and all obstacles that might hinder a person from seeing the coming Messiah.) John was using his voice to roll out the red carpet and announce the coming of Christ.
These Jewish leaders knew the OT scriptures like Malachi 3:1, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me,” and Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
The leaders kept pressing John the Baptist to say who he was because the people were expecting the Messiah.
Luke 3:15 tells us, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.” But John clearly emphasized that he had come only to prepare the way for the Messiah.
And though these men wanted to know who John was, all John wanted them to know was who Jesus was.
Yet, they clearly missed the point. John had nothing to say about himself because all he wanted to do was talk about Jesus!
Jesus was the Word and John was His voice!
John was inviting them to see the truth about Jesus. Yet they did not listen and thus did not understand who John was talking about.