The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the testimony of john to the dignity of Christ, uttered to his disciples

The day after John’s temptation Jesus returned to him from the wilderness, where He also had overcome the last and most violent onset of His great temptation. Both were animated by a lively feeling of victory; and John more than ever was in a state of mind to understand the suffering Messiah, since his own soul was now enjoying the blessedness of a verified renunciation of the world. But a presentiment of His victory on the cross seemed to glorify the whole being of Christ. In this state of mind, and in the beauty of the priestly spirit, He came to the Baptist. How He greeted him—what He announced to him—and in general what passed between them, the Evangelist does not inform us.

But he narrates the impression which Jesus at that time made on the Baptist, and which the latter probably communicated, in whole or in part, to his disciples in the presence of Jesus. With deep emotion he exclaimed, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world!’ The same prophet who, in the voice of one crying in the wilderness, as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, recognized the serious image of his own life, now beheld with equal clearness the tragical image of the Messiah’s life in the suffering Lamb of God bearing the sins of men, as spoken of by the same prophet. The recognition of the one is closely connected with that of the other. The Baptist might indeed have thought, when he used this expression, of the sacrificial lamb in the Israelitish worship, as it must have been present to the prophet’s mind. But no doubt his expression is founded immediately on the language of the prophet. As he had derived from the prophet the information respecting himself-that he was to be heard as a voice in the wilderness—so he had learned respecting Christ, that He was the Lamb of God described by the prophet, ordained by God, and consecrated to God, and therefore that He must accomplish His redemptive work by unparalleled endurance. At all events, the presentiment of atonement flashed through his soul in this expression. Those who feel themselves placed in a dilemma by this language,—who say, either the Baptist must have propounded a doctrine of atonement dogmatically defined; or he must, at the most, have intended to say that Christ, as the meek One, would remove the sins of the world;1 or, forsooth, with this critic, he could not have uttered the sentence had he not spoken as a dogmatic,2—such persons fail to understand the whole type of prophetic knowledge and illumination. We must, first of all, survey in general the region of the spiritual dawnings of great spirits, if we would distinguish between the momentary flashes of illumination vouchsafed to the prophets and their average knowledge. Respecting the nature of such a difference as it is exhibited in the department of general intellectual life, some great poets of modern times can certainly give us information. They would inform the critic how very often the pregnant language of a man of genius exceeds his everyday insight. Of a prophet this is doubly true; and if John was ever to be the complete herald of Jesus, and therefore the herald of His sufferings, which he was to be, the moment must contribute to it in which he met the Messiah in the identical mood of triumphant renunciation of the world.3

Under these circumstances, the Baptist developed his testimony. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ In these words he declared that Jesus was identical with the Messiah, whom he had designated in similar terms to the deputation from the Sanhedrim.

The words just mentioned form, accordingly, the official testimony of the Baptist, which is found in its original form in his address to the deputation (ver. 26), while here He repeats it before his disciples. But what the Evangelist John had already communicated respecting this testimony, was his own account respecting this second declaration.4

Then he tells his disciples how he arrived at the knowledge of this most important fact. ‘And I knew Him not; but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore came I baptizing with water.’ He next utters his testimony respecting the extraordinary event on which his knowledge of the Messiahship of Jesus rested. ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I’ (he again affirmed) ‘knew Him not till then.’ Whatever he might at any time have otherwise known of Him as a relation or a friend—all that constituted no prophetic certainty, no divine assurance, of the Messiahship of Jesus. But now he says that he was certain of it; that is, so certain of it, that as a prophet he could testify of Him in Israel.5 For the same Being who had sent him had also given him this sign, that He on whom he should see the Spirit descending and remain would be another Baptizer—One who would baptize with the Holy Ghost. This sign was therefore given him in the same prophetic state of mind in which he had received his own commission. So that, in the same ecstasy in which he had received the divine assurance that he should be the forerunner of the Messiah, he received also the certainty that the want of the fulness of the Spirit marked the difference between himself and the Messiah, and that the Messiah would be manifested to him by the fulness of the Spirit resting upon Him as the real divine baptism. This sign appeared to him over the person of Jesus; wherefore he was now made divinely certain as a prophet. ‘And since I have seen this’ (the Baptist concludes his declaration), ‘I am decidedly convinced that this is the Son of God.’ In these words he expressed in what sense he announced the priority of Jesus to the deputation from the Sanhedrim.

On that day he must have expressed himself publicly with the most elevated feelings concerning Jesus. In recollection of that event, the Evangelist writes (ver. 15), ‘John testified of Him (continually). He exclaimed aloud, This was He of whom I spoke: He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for He was before me.’



1. Strauss justly asserts (i. 367) that, according to the fourth Gospel, the Messianic idea of the Baptist has the marks of atoning suffering and of a heavenly pre-existence. But the first objection raised against the truthfulness of such a representation amounts to this—that such a view of the Messiah was foreign to the current opinion. The prophet, therefore, is made dependent on the current opinion, which, moreover, in relation to the Messiah, differed as much in Israel as in Christendom. The second difficulty is presented in the question, If the Baptist knew the mystery of the suffering Messiah, which the disciples of Jesus never knew, how could Jesus declare that he stood low among the citizens of the kingdom of heaven? (Mat 11:11.) But the greatness of John was the greatness of his personal elevation on the Old Testament stand-point; the greatness of the least in the kingdom of heaven was a generic greatness, or a general elevation on the New Testament stand-point. The least Christian was so far above John and exalted over him as his stand-point was higher—he stood, as we may say, on his shoulders. But it is well to observe, with Hoffmann, that, on the one hand, in John the glimpses of his higher knowledge were not a ripened and developed insight, and that, on the other hand, the disciples of Christ, before His ascension, could not be considered as decided citizens of the kingdom of heaven in its New Testament spiritual glory. Christ discerned the littleness of the great John in this, that, in his Old Testament zeal, he was in danger of being perplexed at his own quiet spiritual working without violent action, while the greatness of the least Christian consisted in understanding this course of Christ in the spirit, and exhibiting it in his own life.

If John, as is admitted, in his reference to the Lamb of God, was supported by the passage in Isa. 53, his word is a voucher that this passage was referred to the Messiah by the enlightened Israelites of his time. On the meaning of that passage, let the reader consult the admirable discussion by Lücke, Commentar, i. 401-415. The expedients which have been adopted to make the passage in question non-Messianic are at once rendered nugatory, if the principle be first settled, that every prophetic expression in the Old Testament must find its ultimate aim in the Messiah and His kingdom. But this principle results from the whole constitution of the Old Testament prophecy, and nowhere does the Messianic character appear more conspicuous than in the prophecies of Isaiah, without any distinction of the different parts of the book. If we apply this principle to our passage, the sufferings of the servants of God must, at all events, according to the spirit of the prophet, find their highest fulfilment in the person of the Messiah—even should the prophet set out in his contemplation from his own person, or from the elect portion of the theocratic people, or from any historical type whatever of the Messiah.

3. That the πρῶτός μου ἦν (vers. 30, 15) must denote no mere abstract pre-existence of Christ, results indeed, first of all, from the religious weakness of this conception; secondly, from this, that this earlier existence could be no sufficient ground for the earlier authority of Christ in Israel. Rather the predicates, ‘the earliest’ and ‘the only one,’ are always identical when Christ’s priority is spoken of. Christ was before John in Israel, because He was above him in eternity; He had the precedence in rank, because He was his essential Chief (Fürst). Hence this testimony of John finds a distinct correspondence in Mal 3:1, as Hengstenberg has shown in his Christology (iv. 186), and probably there was a conscious reference to it. But, after all, John found the reason for his assertion in the entire Messianic character of the Old Testament. The Messiah as a spiritual form was ‘before’ him in Israel, precisely on account of His eternal glory in God.



1) Hug, Gutachten über das Leben Jesu, 134

2) Strauss, i. 368.

3) Comp. W. Hoffmann, das Leben Jesu, 292.

4) That is, on the testimony in ver. 26 the reference in ver. 30 is founded, and on this the statement in ver. 15

5) On the strange supposition of the well-known critic, that, he ought to have announced the faith of his mother publicly as a prophet, see the preface to the first volume of this work. In the declaration of the Baptist there lies as little a contradiction to Matt. iii. 14, 15 (as Lücke, i. 417, supposes); for though the Baptist felt the highest reverence for the person of Jesus, yet this did not amount to objective certainty.