Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

John 1:29-42




The witness of John the Baptist is crucial to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John’s witness begins with the reference to “John’s testimony” (Greek: marturia—testimony or witness) to priests and Levites who had been sent from Jerusalem to ask, “Who are you?” (1:19). John made it clear to them that he was not the Messiah, but was sent to “Make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23). Then, speaking of the one on whom the Spirit descended, John said, “I have seen and have testified (Greek: memartureka—testified or witnessed) that this is the Son of God” (1:34).

Then John witnesses to his own disciples, saying of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”—with the result that the two disciples stop following John and start following Jesus (1:37). At that point, having accomplished his witnessing task, John fades from the picture. We see him only once more in this Gospel, when his disciples ask him about Jesus, who has become quite popular (3:26). John tells them, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30).

It seems unfortunate that this lesson ends at verse 42. The lectionary deals with verses 43-51 in Year B, but those verses include elements that appear to belong with verses 29-42. For instance, the last verses of this lesson tell of Andrew bringing his brother, Simon, to Jesus, while verses 43-46 tell of Philip bringing Nathanael to Jesus.

Also, verses 29-51 bestow a number of titles on Jesus, developing a strong Christology:

• John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God (vv. 29, 36); a man who was before me (v. 30); the one on whom the Holy Spirit remained (v. 33); and the Son of God (v. 34).

• John’s disciples call Jesus Rabbi (v. 38).

• Andrew calls him the Messiah (v. 41).

• Nathanael calls Jesus Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v. 49).

• Jesus completes the Christology with his own declaration that he is the Son of Man (v. 51).


29The next day, he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.’ 31I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came baptizing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.”

32John testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. 33I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34I have seen, and have testified (Greek: memartureka—from martureo) that this is the Son of God.”

“The next day (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him” (v. 29a). This Gospel opened with the Prologue (1:1-18), a lengthy theological statement about Jesus, who was with God in heaven, coming down to be born in the flesh. Then John the Baptist testified that he was not the Messiah (1:20), but had come to “Make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23). He also testified that one was coming who was so great that John was unworthy even to loosen the thong of his sandal (1:27). “The next day he saw Jesus coming” (v. 29).

This text helps to clarify the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. Even after John’s death and Jesus’ resurrection, John’s reputation continued to draw disciples (Acts 18:25; 19:1-5). Although, at the writing of this Gospel, the Baptist has been dead for decades, the evangelist goes to great lengths to establish and re-establish that Jesus is the greater and the Baptist is the lesser:

• The Prologue says that John “was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light” (1:8). John cries out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me, for he was before me'” (1:15)—a clear reference to Jesus’ pre-existence.

• When confronted by priests and Levites, John cries out, “I am not the Christ” (1:20). He further declares that he is not Elijah, but is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ ” (1:23). He is not worthy to loosen the sandal strap of the one who is coming (1:26-27).

• John declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29).

• He establishes Jesus’ superior authority by the Baptist’s statement, “After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me” (v. 30).

• The Baptist says that his purpose in baptizing is “that (Jesus) would be revealed to Israel” (v. 31).

• He calls Jesus the Son of God (v. 34).

• He tells his own disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God, with the result that the disciples leave the Baptist to follow Jesus (vv. 35-37).

“Behold, the Lamb of God” (v. 29b). The phrase, Lamb of God, brings to mind:

• The Paschal (Passover) lamb, whose blood saved Israelites from death and paved the way for their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12). The Passover will soon be celebrated (2:13), so the Paschal Lamb would be in the evangelist’s mind as he writes this.

• The lamb provided by God to Abraham for sacrifice in place of Isaac (Genesis 22:8-13).

• The lamb from the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, which portrayed one who, by his sacrifice, will redeem his people. “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7). This certainly became an important part of the church’s understanding of Christ.

• The sheep that were sacrificed daily in the temple to redeem the people from their sins. John the Baptist’s father was a priest (Luke 1:5), so these sacrifices would be very familiar to him.

• The lamb of Revelation 5 who “has overcome” (Revelation 5:5). The twenty-four elders will sing of this lamb, “You are worthy to take the book, and to open its seals: for you were killed, and bought us for God with your blood, out of every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9)—a tribute repeated by angels (Revelation 5:11-12) and “every created thing which is in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them” (Revelation 5:13). This conquering lamb “crushes the evil powers of the earth. The picture of the apocalyptic, destroying lamb fits in every well with what we know of John the Baptist’s eschatological preaching” (Brown, 59).

• Jeremiah’s “gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Jeremiah 11:19).

It is not necessary to choose one of these meanings. They merge in John’s “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

“who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29c). Sin is singular, suggesting that the Lamb of God deals with the totality of sin in one sacrifice (Morris, 130). We find this idea reaffirmed in 1 John 2:2, which says: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (see also John 3:16).

“After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me (v. 30). John the Baptist is several months older than Jesus (Luke 1:36), but Jesus ranks ahead of him because he was before him. This is a veiled reference to Jesus’ pre-existence, which the evangelist addresses in the Prologue (1:1-5).

“I didn’t know him” (v. 31a). John and Jesus are related (Luke 1:36) and have been acquainted from childhood, but only now does John recognize Jesus for who he really is. Only divine revelation makes this recognition possible.

“but for this reason I came baptizing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel. (v. 31b). John’s role is to witness to others concerning that which has been revealed to him. He began his ministry with an incomplete understanding of Jesus, and will be prevented by death from seeing the full scope of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, his ministry is crucial as he reveals Christ to Israel. God often calls us to a pathway that is illuminated only inch by inch—if at all. When we walk with God into the darkness, God reveals great truths and makes great things happen.

“John testified, saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him’” (v. 32). This Gospel does not recount the details of Jesus’ baptism, but tells only of John’s seeing “the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven” (v. 32).

It is significant that the Spirit remains (meno) on Jesus (v. 32). This verb, meno, occurs frequently in this Gospel, and is also translated abide (15:1-11). It describes a relationship that is deep and abiding rather than trivial or passing. Jesus has a deep and abiding relationship with the Spirit, and gives the disciples that kind of relationship with the Spirit (20:22).

“I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'” (v. 33). John acknowledges once again (see v. 31) that he did not truly understand Jesus’ unique identity until he witnessed the Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism.

This verse contrasts John, who baptizes only with water, with Jesus, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

“I have seen, and have testified” (Greek: memartureka—from martureo) (v. 34a). To serve as a true witness, one must have seen or experienced that of which he or she testifies. John can serve as a true witness, because he has seen the Spirit descend on Jesus and has heard the voice from heaven.

The Greek word martureo is where we get our English word martyr. The reason is simple. In the early years of the church—and in many places today—witnessing for Christ has often led to martyrdom.

“that this is the Son of God” (v. 34b). The New Testament includes many references to Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 4:3, 6; 8:29; 14:33; 16:16; 26:63; 27:40, etc.). In at least two instances, his status as Son of God is linked with his status as Messiah (Matthew 16:16; John 11:27). On one occasion, Jesus refers to himself as God’s Son (John 10:36), and he often addresses God as Father or speaks of God as his Father (Matthew 11:25-26; 12:10; 15:13; 16:17, 27; 18:10, 19, 35; 24:36; 25:34; 26:39, 42, 53, etc.).

Jesus taught his disciples to think of God as their Father as well (Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11; 10:20, 29; 13:43; etc.), but the title, Son of God, clearly designates Jesus as the unique Son of the Father who enjoys a relationship with the Father that goes beyond the relationship that his disciples can experience (John 1:18; 3:35; 5:19-27; 6:40; 12:49).


35Again, the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

38Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), “where are you staying (Greek: meneis—from meno)?” 39He said to them, “Come, and see.” They came and saw where he was staying (Greek: menei—from meno), and they stayed (Greek: emeinan—from meno) with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.

40One of the two who heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is, being interpreted, Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him, and said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is by interpretation, Peter).

“Again, the next day John was standing with two of his disciples” (v. 35). John continues his witness to Jesus. In this case, he witnesses to two of his own disciples, who respond by leaving John and following Jesus.

“and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!'” (v. 36). John’s willingness to witness to his own disciples concerning Jesus, surely understanding that his testimony might cause his disciples to abandon him for Jesus, is a mark of John’s faithfulness to his calling.

“The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (v. 37). In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus calls the disciples away from their fishing boats to follow him (Matthew 4:18-22). In the Fourth Gospel, they come to Jesus as the result of John’s witness rather than in response to Jesus’ call. Instead of leaving their boats, they leave their apprenticeship to John.

Note the pattern of witnessing that occurs in these verses. John the Baptist witnesses to two of his disciples concerning Jesus. One of these disciples, Andrew, witnesses to his brother, Simon Peter, who becomes a key figure in the Gospel story. The ripples move ever outward, and only God can predict how far they will reach.

“What are you looking for?” (v. 38a). When Jesus asks this question, the two disciples respond by asking where he is staying. A rabbi would have a place used for teaching disciples, and their question could indicate a desire to go to that place for instruction. However, the word translated “staying” is the same meno that we encountered earlier (v. 32)—a word used often in this Gospel to describe relationships. Their question may be less about Jesus’ lodging arrangements than with the substance of his being—Who are you?—Where do you stand?—What are you about?

“They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), ‘where are you staying?'” (meneis—from meno) (v. 38b). This Greek verb, meno, which is repeated three times in verses 38-39, has special meaning in this Gospel. Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives (menei) in me, and I in him” (John 6:56)—and “Remain (meinate) in me, and I in you. Just as the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains (mene) in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain (menete) in me” (John 15:4)—and “As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain (meinate) in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain (meneite) in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain (meno) in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Abiding (staying with, remaining with) Jesus, then, clearly has deeply spiritual significance.

“Come, and see” (v. 39a). This is their call to discipleship—and Jesus’ first words in this Gospel.

“They came and saw where he was staying (menei—from meno), and they stayed (emeinan—from meno) with him that day” (v. 39b). See the comments on verse 38b concerning the word meno.

“It was about the tenth hour.” (v. 39c). The comment about the time of day is interesting. Measured from the beginning of the Jewish day at sunrise (approx. six a.m.), this would be four o’clock in the afternoon. Why mention such an inconsequential detail? Perhaps it is to explain the disciples’ decision to remain with Jesus—a superficial explanation of a profound decision. When we have a truly life-changing experience, we remember and report such details (Barclay, 71).

“One of the two who heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (v. 40). The way this verse is phrased makes it clear that the author expects his readers to know who Simon Peter is. It is also clear that Andrew is less well known, and the readers might not know that he is Peter’s brother.

Andrew “first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him to Jesus (vv. 41-42). Andrew has no grand vision. There is no record of him establishing a mission in a foreign land or preaching in synagogues. He goes only to his brother, but that outreach will have profound consequences. Evangelism often begins with those whom we know best—even those within our own family (Gossip, 486).

While Andrew will not achieve great stature among the apostles, he brings people to Jesus on three occasions, this being the first. Later, he will bring a boy with loaves and fishes to Jesus (6:8-9). Finally, he will bring a group of Greeks (12:20-22).

“You can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Andrew bears evidence of the truth of that old saying. He never achieves prominence in the Gospels, but he uses his unique gift of inviting to great effect. From the very beginning, Jesus gathered around him the most ordinary people. People like Andrew, ordinary people who possess only ordinary gifts, still do most of Christ’s work today. If only highly talented people responded to Christ’s call, the church would be stunted and crippled.

“‘We have found the Messiah’ (Hebrew: Messias) (which, being interpreted, Christ)” (Greek: Christos) (v. 41). In this one verse we find both the Hebrew Messias and the Greek Christos, both of which mean “anointed.” This and 4:25 are the only two places where the word Messias is found in the New Testament, and both of these verses also include the word Christos.

Anointing with oil was used for various purposes (healing, burial, expressing grief or joy). Most especially, it was used to designate a person for a significant role. In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed (1 Kings 19:16). Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13-15). Kings were anointed (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39).

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as anointed (John 20:31; Acts 5:42; Hebrews 1:9, etc.). His anointing set him apart for his unique role as prophet, priest, and king.

“‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is by interpretation, Peter)” (v. 42). This kind of name change has precedents in the Old Testament. God told Abram, “Neither will your name any more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). God told Jacob, “Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Such name changes indicate the beginning of a new life—a new purpose—a new relationship with God.

Cephas is the Aramaic word for rock and Peter is the Greek word for rock. Jesus sees rock-like possibilities in Peter that will not be realized for quite some time. For now Peter is spontaneous instead of rock-like. In his enthusiasm, he will walk on water toward Jesus, only to falter as soon as he realizes what he is doing (Matthew 14:28-30). In the heat of anger, he will cut off the ear of one of the men who come to seize Jesus (John 18:10). He will swear everlasting fealty to Jesus, but will deny him three times (Matthew 26). Only after the resurrection will Peter begin to resemble the rock that Jesus saw in him so much earlier. There are possibilities like this in each of us. If we follow Christ, he will bring those possibilities to the surface for us just as he did for Peter.

John the Baptist will now fade away. He has succeeded in his witness to Jesus. He will re-appear briefly in chapter 3 only to re-affirm that he must decrease while Jesus must increase (3:30).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan