Again, we are picking up right where we left off in the Gospel of John. Previously, we covered the beloved verse John 3:16, and the verses before it which compare Jesus to a bronze serpent. Jesus has finished speaking to Nicodemus for now, and has decided to take a walk in the Judean countryside where He bumps into that ever-enigmatic figure, John the Baptist, once more.
Making John about Jesus
The great thing about telling the truth is that you do not have to lie about it. You do not have to worry about creating gaps of logic. You do not have to worry about making sense. That is not to say that everything in the real world makes logical sense; truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. However, poorly conceived stories can reveal themselves as lies when their fundamental building blocks just do not stack up.
Enter John 3:22-36. After telling Nicodemus how He was like a bronze serpent, Jesus takes a walk in the Judean countryside and starts baptizing people in the big spring of Aenon. (John 4:1-3 corrects that statement, saying that only His disciples did the baptizing.) It just so happens that John the Baptist was baptizing at the same time in the very same spring!
Right away we hit a minor glitch in the matrix. Obviously (and explicitly in John 3:24) this is before John the Baptist was put in prison. According to John 1:35-51, this is after Jesus picks up some of His fabled Fishers of Men, including Simon-Peter and Andrew, Simon-Peter's brother. That would be fine if Mark 1:14-17 did not put John the Baptist in prison prior to picking up any of the Apostles, including Simon-Peter and Andrew.
So what? There is a minor error in chronology, but that does not defeat the underlying truth, right? Right. For that, we go back to the Scripture, where once again the Gospel of John yields enough rope to hang itself. Consider John 3:25-26:
An argument developed between some of John[ the Baptist]'s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him." NIVDid you happen to notice how utterly clueless John the Baptist's disciples are rendered in this text? They identify Jesus as “that man” and “the one you testified about” instead of the Son of God, which is supposedly what John the Baptist testified about Him in John 1:34 after His baptism. Furthermore, they are actually portrayed as being concerned about people going to Jesus.
Let us put this in perspective. Since John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Son of God at His baptism, Jesus was tempted by Satan, preached that the time has come for the Kingdom of God, picked up disciples, changed water in wine, purged the Temple, and debated some of the finer points of redemption with Nicodemus.
Now during that time (let us very conservatively say about two months), we are expected to believe that John the Baptist, the man supposedly preparing the way for Jesus, was so ineffective in communication of God's plan and Jesus' role that his own disciples were actually concerned about people going to Jesus, even those same disciples who witnessed Jesus' baptism!
This is simply untenable. Furthermore, it is not just a matter of being untrue, but rather it is a matter of deception. This is a lie with a purpose, and that purpose is illuminated in the verses which follow.
John 3:27-36 is packed full of propaganda. In John 3:27-30, John the Baptist reportedly explains how his role is meant to be subservient to Jesus, and how he is quite happy about that. Then John 3:31-36 plays up the importance of Jesus; how Jesus is from Heaven, and how belief in Him is the key to achieving everlasting life.
That is precisely the kind of message you would expect John the Baptist to be repeating over and over and over again if he was really preparing the way for Jesus and directing people to Him; and that is why it is inconceivable that his own disciples would be so clueless about Jesus after hearing such a message repeated over the past couple of months (at least).
The author of the Gospel of John was obviously trying to make John the Baptist's message all about Jesus. However, as we have previously discussed, John the Baptist does not quite fit the prophesies for the Messianic forerunner and his water baptism appears to stand in contrast to Jesus' message when put under scrutiny. Furthermore, part of the legacy John the Baptist left behind with the Mandaeans was the identification of Jesus as a false prophet. Clearly, the real John the Baptist was not all about Jesus.
This section of the Gospel of John shows itself as a poor attempt to persuade those people who were somewhat familiar with John the Baptist to switch over to the Jesus camp, as well as to use John the Baptist's inherent credibility to bolster the image of Jesus. It was a celebrity endorsement, so to speak. Had King Herod not killed John the Baptist early in his life, it seems unlikely that such a tactic would have been successful.