John the baptist’s testimony about Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 February 2024

John 1.29-37.

Some Christians like to say Jesus’s baptism is in all four gospels. Actually it’s not. The gospel of John never actually says Jesus was baptized.

Seriously; read the text. John says he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus—and the other gospels say the Spirit did that after Jesus came up out of the water—but in the gospel of John, John the baptist never says what was happening at the time. Never says he was in the middle of baptizing people, much less Jesus. Never says.

Because that’s not important to John the baptist. Identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, is.

Here’s the text again, ’cause you probably won’t believe me. Feel free to compare it with other translations. None of ’em are gonna say, in this gospel, that John baptized Jesus. His baptism’s in the other three gospels. Not this one. And the apostle John probably didn’t include it because it’s in the other three gospels.

John 1.29-37 KWL
29 The next day John sees Jesus coming to him,
and says, “Look, God’s lamb, which takes up the world’s sin.
30 This is the one of whom I say,
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me,’
because he’s before me.” Jn 1.15
31 And I hadn’t known it was him!
But I come baptizing in water for this reason:
So that he might be revealed to Israel.
32 John gives witness, saying this:
“I had seen the Spirit, who descends from the sky like a pigeon,
and he had remained on Jesus.
33 And I hadn’t known it was him!
But the one who sends me to baptize in water,
that person tells me,
‘Upon whomever you might see the Spirit descend
and remain upon him,
this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
34 And I had seen this,
and had borne witness that this is God’s son.”
35 The next day John, and two of his students,
were standing in that place again.
36 Looking at Jesus walking by,
John said, “Look, God’s lamb!”
37 John’s two students heed what he says,
and follow Jesus.

Like a dove. Or pigeon. Whatever.

Christian artists don’t really know how to depict the Holy Spirit, ’cause he’s a spirit, and isn’t material, and so he doesn’t look like anything material. We tend to represent him by the metaphors we have of him. Sometimes we go with fire. And from John’s description of him in this passage, sometimes we go with doves.

The word John used, περιστερὰν/peristerán, can mean either “dove” or “pigeon,” because they’re two breeds of the same species. Doves are smaller, and we tend to think of doves as little, fragile birds… so we go with that. In so doing we might get the wrong idea about the Holy Spirit, and think of him as a little, fragile being. Which he’s absolutely not, ’cause he’s God.

Part of the reason I translated this “pigeon” instead of “dove” is because people are far more familiar with pigeons. They’re everywhere. Most of the year I see them daily, perched on traffic signs and lampposts, pooping away; I try to avoid being under them when they do that. I have been hit before. Some cultures claim that’s good luck. Sure doesn’t feel like good luck. Feels more like trickle-down economics… but I digress.

So likely you’ve seen how pigeons land—with a thud. They do this whether they’re fat or skinny. Doves land the very same way. They’re lighter, but they still thump right onto the ground, or shake a branch when they land on ’em.

So if you ever got the idea the Holy Spirit lightly, softly falls on people, man do you not know what you’re talking about. You’re gonna feel him!

In my experience, when you get baptized in the Holy Spirit, you know it. I’ve experienced it myself; I’ve watched other people experience it; it’s not a light, soft touch of the Spirit. It’s like being in a pillow fight with someone who’s not playing anymore. People fall over. Jesus knew the Spirit had come upon him, and John the baptist was granted the ability to see the Spirit come upon him.

And, like Old Testament prophets and Christian-era Christians, the Spirit remained upon Jesus. He wasn’t going anywhere. He was there to empower Jesus to minister, and do everything he needed to do. Same as he empowers us to do everything God needs us to do… if only we’d do it.

Not knowing who Jesus was—till he saw the Spirit.

John twice admitted he hadn’t known who Jesus was. Jn 1.31, 33 Very same statement in both verses. This does not mean John didn’t know Jesus; their moms were related, and it’s entirely possible that they’d met at family gatherings. But John hadn’t known who Jesus was. For all he knew this was Cousin Jesus, the kid whose dad was gonna teach him woodworking and stonemasonry, just as John’s dad was gonna teach him to be a priest. And maybe he knew Jesus had left behind all the handyman stuff in order to become a rabbi.

But then he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus, and realized, “Oh. He’s the guy.”

Like John tells his students a few chapters later, he recognized his ministry was now meant to shrink, as Jesus’s was meant to grow. Not just because two of his students left him to follow Jesus! This, as John cryptically said more than once, is “the one coming after me has got in front of me,’ Jn 1.15, 30 because he takes precedence over John. (And he existed before John, Jn 1.1 which is how various Christians choose to interpret John’s statement instead, but it’s more likely John’s talking about priority, not time.) The Spirit had told John his duty was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, and here he is.

But unlike Pharisees, John recognized Messiah wasn’t here to conquer the world, but save it. He was gonna be God’s lamb; he was gonna sacrifice himself to destroy sin and death. John understood this when nobody else did; when Jesus’s own Twelve still presumed he’d conquer the Romans with fire from his mouth, and never asked themselves whether this was literal fire or the Spirit’s fire. End Times prognosticators still never ask themselves this question. ’Cause they prefer literal fire. Wrath, not grace.