Why Was John the Baptist Confused?

By Wayne Jackson

“According to a passage in the book of Matthew, John the Baptist questioned whether or not Jesus was the one his nation had been awaiting. Or was there another to come? How could John have asked a question that seems to reveal such weak faith?”

Due to his courageous denunciation of Herod’s adulterous liaison with Herodias (Mk. 6:17ff), John the Baptizer was thrown in prison. In that lonely confinement, John heard of the “works of Christ.” He sent a message to Jesus, asking: “Are you he who comes, or should we be looking for another?” (Mt. 11:3).

When John asked: “Shall we look for another?” he employed the term heteros, which generally suggests “another of a different sort.”

Had the Lord not fulfilled the expectations John entertained? Had the Baptizer hoped that Jesus would be a different kind of ruler, and perhaps usher in a political regime — a longing entertained by many Jews (cf. Jn. 6:15; Acts 1:6)? This is a distinct possibility.

There are several thoughts that come to mind at this point. For one thing, this text demonstrates that even a great and brave person can have moments of confusion. Earlier, John had emphatically affirmed his confidence in Jesus as the Son of God (Jn. 1:29ff). But the great prophet has gone through much trial. His faith was being sorely tested (or perhaps more accurately, his patience). John might have pondered: “Why am I in this dismal prison? Where is the judgment that Christ promised to render upon evil-doers?” (cf. Mt. 3:10).

John had honest inquiries, and he was not afraid to pose them. We can be assured that when we have troubling questions, it does not mean that we have lost faith; it just means we need some answers.

Jesus sent a message to John asking him to compare his miracles with what the Scriptures had prophesied (see Isa. 35; 61). The evidence for the identity of Christ was compelling. Old Testament prophecy is adequate to prove the Lord’s divine nature.

Note this point as well. This context also contains subtle evidence for the inspiration of the Scriptures. John is one of the heroes of the New Testament. It is not likely that one, as great as he, would be described in this slightly negative fashion — if the writer had been left to his own journalistic inclination. In fact, many scholars, seeking to exonerate the Baptizer, have suggested that John’s disciples had the problem — not he. That assertion is negated by the fact that Jesus’ response was to John, and none other (Mt. 11:4).

John’s sincere inquiry, therefore, poses no threat to the student who regards the Scriptures with respect and devotion.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.