Jesus and John the Baptist, 3:22-36


Our author now gives us some more details on the ministry of the Baptist, v22-30, before summarizing, in v31-36, Jesus' discourse with Nicodemus, v1-21. John wants to make the point that whereas the Baptist washes with water, Jesus washes with the Spirit, and that washing brings with it "eternal life".

The passage

v22-26. Moving from the Nicodemus discourse on new life in Christ, Jesus is compared with John the Baptist. Our author will return again to the subject of new life when he summarizes it in v31-36. Both Jesus and the Baptist were in the countryside baptizing, although probably Jesus' disciples were performing the rite, rather than Jesus himself. There was something different between the two rites picked up by an observant Jew who questioned the Baptist's disciples on the matter. The Baptist's disciples then went to the Baptist himself and questioned him how this might relate to the increasing success of Jesus' ministry.

v27-30. The Baptist goes on to remind his disciples of what he had already told them: "I am not the Christ", rather, "I am sent ahead of him." The Baptist simply describes himself serving as the best-man for a bridegroom, having the responsibility to prepare for his coming wedding. The Baptist knows that Jesus' ministry will power ahead and his will fade; serving this end completes his life.

v31-32. Our author now returns to his discourse on new life and in so doing exposes the difference between the Baptist and Jesus. The Baptist washes with water, but Jesus washes with the Spirit, and it is the Spirit that gives life. Unlike a secular university lecturer, Jesus comes from God with a divine message, although sadly, few accept it.

v33-34. Those who believe the divine message brought by Jesus end up tasting the faithfulness of God because the one who brings the message brings with it the life-giving Spirit of God.

v35-36. This then is how it is: when it comes to God's gift of new life, the Father has given the Son full authority. Whoever believes in the Son will receive the gift of life in all its fullness. Yet, be warned, whoever does not believe does not possess life, but stands condemned.

The comfortable vagueness of life

"Doubt can be as powerful and sustaining as certainty", John Patrick Stanley.

We live in an age of comfortable vagueness. The isolated community that I live in has spawned the alternate path of new age spirituality. I guess its a mountain type of thing - close to nature and all that. The mystery of the moment is orbs. Orbs are power sources which float around us and which we can tap into. Although they can't be seen by the naked eye, they can be photographed by a digital camera. So, what are they? Are they spiritual entities, or moisture on the lens, heat sheer, a flaw in digital technology, ....? Whatever they may be they provide a spirituality of comfortable vagueness which becomes a powerful and sustaining certainty.

When it comes to Jesus, the true source of spiritual certainty, there are two choices facing humanity. There is the path of disbelief, of a comfortable vagueness that leads to spiritual death, or there is the path of belief leading to spiritual life. This new life, life in all its fullness, eternal life, rests on a sure truth, a truth divine in origin, a truth, which of itself, brings spiritual renewal.

John the Baptist was a great man, but not as great as the one who followed him, the one from above. The Baptist washed with water, but the one from above washes with the Spirit. Jesus came to our world to bring life, life in all its fullness. This new life, life eternal, belongs to all who accept his words of truth.


1. Construct scenarios that address the discussion on purification, v25, and the question asked the Baptist by his disciples, v26.

2. Why does the Baptist think that Jesus' ministry is now more successful than his?

3. New life in Christ, eternal life, is realized through the interaction of a number of elements detailed in v31-36. Identify those elements and relate them.

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