John, the beloved apostle, maintained his humanity, like the rest of the authors of scriptures, when he wrote his gospel. He wrote with his own style, mannerisms, and how he structured his narrative. There are times when he would break the natural flow of sentences, as if a thought comes into his mind and as a result he’s compelled to make a segue to a different yet still related topic. Same is true with our text in John 1:6-8 and John 1:15. They seem to break into the flow of the text. If you left them out, the text would flow nicely from verse 5 to verse 9. Verse 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And then verse 9 picks this up, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” That seems like a natural flow. In between those two statements about Jesus, who is the light coming into the world, John inserts verses 6-8 about John the Baptist. Then he did it again in verses 14-18, where he inserts verse 15 and talks about John the Baptist again.
Our aim as students of the word is not to mock John’s literary style, neither should we ignore them. But we must press on and ask why John felt compelled to break the flow of thought and add those words. I love John Piper’s golden rule of hermeneutics;
“Do unto authors as you would have them do unto you.”
Meaning we don’t want to be misrepresented so don’t misrepresent other authors. We want to be understood by our listeners and readers, so let’s try to understand other authors as well.
So why insert a testimony about John the Baptist? There are at least three reasons I saw from this text and other passages:
1) In order for us to distinguish mere instruments by which God would enlighten the world from the ultimate cause of that enlightenment, namely the Light, Jesus Christ.
This is very relevant for today’s celebritism. Across the wide spectrum of the Christendom, from the very liberal to the most conservative, from the most theological and doctrinal to the most emotional, idolatry is very rampant. Worship not of gods made out of stones but worship of God’s human instruments. Their fallible words elevated to the infallible word of God. I’m not saying that these preachers necessarily intend to steal(as some really does) the glory from God. What I’m saying is that most of their listeners will just take the preacher’s words just because they’re famous and that they have a good track record, and you are not allowed to respectfully disagree with their hero. Remember that no matter how faithful they testify about the Light, they are not the Light. No matter how faithful they represent the Word and His word, it is not their word but God’s word. They are mere instruments. Don’t ever confuse their word with God’s.
2) In order for us to be reminded that human beings’ chief purpose among God’s created order was to reflect and testify about the Light.
Notice how he started his introduction of John the Baptist; “there came a man”. He could’ve said; “there came a messenger” or “there came a prophet”. Remember from verses 2-5 that the Word created the whole universe, yet in verse 10-11 the world did not recognize Him. John the beloved is using John the Baptist as an example of what we ought to be. The chief end of man is to glorify God and declare His majesty. The world’s rejection of the Light of God in the garden and in the Word, is us revolting against God’s very mandate to worship Him and to rely only on His word. The point of redemption is so that the whole world would return to its chief purpose.
3) For us to see the necessity of human means for God’s ends. God intends for his people to participate in the redemption of the world.
Take note of the ultimate purpose of sending a witness. It says in verse 7 that John the Baptist came as a witness not only to testify about the Light but that through him, yes through a human being, all might believe.
God is sovereign! We are no Arminians here, and we don’t shy away in saying that God determines who will be saved and who will perish. But, just as we believe that He ordained the ends, He also ordained the means. He ordained that the gospel must be heard first before the granting of faith and repentance. Jesus himself told the apostle Paul the same thing in Acts 26:15-18. Indeed, God is the effecient cause of the opening of one’s eyes, and granting of faith and repentance but here Paul was appointed to open the gentiles’ eyes. Being consistent with his Master’s command, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 that with his freedom he’s able to be anyone for others in order to win them and that by all means he might save some. But you will say to me, “Isn’t it that salvation belongs only to the Lord?”. Yes! But he chose to do the saving by using human beings as his means.
I remember one preacher that’s bent on attacking other preachers who does gospel invitations, and pleadings to sinners to believe and repent in Jesus, as if by doing such things it would lessen God’s power to save. But in the New Testament, the disciples both commanded and plead to the sinners to believe and repent, and they saw their efforts as trying to save and win the lost, and in no way they diminish God’s sovereignty in salvation, but enforced it. Notice how Paul in Romans 11:11 used God’s ordaining that through the Jews’ rejection of the the messiah, salvation would come to the gentiles, then in Romans 11:13-14 he said that in magnifying his ministry to the gentiles, he’s trying to make his fellow jews jealous and as a result save some of them. Now look how our salvation will become the means of the whole created order’s salvation in Romans 8:18-24.
Now from the testimony about the witness, we turn to the testimony of the witness. In verse 15, again John seems to interupt the flow of thought. But why?
1) The author used John the Baptist’s testimony as his grounds for saying that Jesus, the Word who became flesh, was God.
Gospel presentation must be grounded on what God has spoken through his divinely inspired prophets and authors in scriptures. Most scholars suggest that John the beloved was one of the 2 disciples of John the Baptist in verse 35. That explains why he gives importance to John’s testimony about Christ. Our personal life testimony can never replace the gospel. The gospel contains objective truths that must be treasured and believed in.
2) To show that as evangelists we are just pointers to Christ. Like in verse 17, just as the law that was given through Moses can’t save us but only points us to Christ so does John and every Christians as we testify about the life.
3) To show that our job was to explain who this Word really is and was, and consequently by having a right understanding of Christ’s person we can know God because Christ is the only being in the universe who can exegete the Father truly and exhaustively.
Therefore we, like John the Baptist, must decrease and Christ must increase as we proclaim the gospel.