Who was the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel of John is answered in The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved a new book anyone can download online as a free printable Bible study. Who was the disciple whom Jesus loved? The evidence in the Bible proves that this beloved disciple was not John The fourth Gospel (a.k.a. the Gospel of John) says the author was the other disciple whom Jesus loved
The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved is a book that reveals the identity of the unnamed writer of the fourth Gospel.
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A Better Bible Study Method, Book Two

Chapter 4
The Case of John's Question

Reasonable Doubt?


John the Baptist is a famous New Testament figure. Scripture reports the miracle of his birth (Lk 1:5-25, 36-44 & 57-80). It also lets us know John was a relative of Jesus because scripture tells us John's mother was a cousin of the mother of Jesus (Lk 1:36). Jesus was baptized by John and "John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him" (Fourth gospel 1:32).


Scripture tells us many things about John, including this fact; he had been put in prison by Herod, "for John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife" (Mk 6:18). Scripture also says while John was in prison he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" (Mt 11:2-3, Lk 7:19). So, what are we to make of John's question?


This is the time to get your Bible and look at John's question. Jot down your thoughts about it, then return to this case study to compare your notes to the evidence that will be presented to see if scripture reveals a better way to gain insight on John's curious question.





The Case of John's Question


John the Baptist Asked Jesus a Question


"Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" (Mt 11:3, Lk 7:19). Given the other things John the Baptist said about Jesus, many wonder why he would ask this of Jesus. In an effort to make sense of the question, people ascribe various motives to John, and this usually leads them to characterize his inquiry in one of the following ways:


(A)  'John had a moment of doubt, but since he was in prison at the time he would have been depressed, so his doubt about Jesus is understandable;'

(B)  'John was discouraged so he wondered if Jesus was truly the Christ;'

(C)  'John was perplexed and/or frustrated because Jesus had not yet overthrown the Romans as John had expected;' or

(D)  'John knew who Jesus was and he only asked the question because he wanted his disciples to know it too.'


Sadly, ideas like those pass for sound reasoning with alarming ease, due to our tendency to lean on our own understanding, and our desire to get a fast answer without having to search the scriptures. However, as will be shown, those views cannot stand up to biblical scrutiny.


Doubting John?


The Bible says, "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him" (Prv 30:5), and it surely applies in this case. Notice John's question does not mention "the Christ." Still, people will rush to judgment and assume that is what he was asking about (and this leads them to hold views like the ones listed above). Do they cite scripture to show "the Christ" was the subject of John's question? No. They take it for granted, and because they can find others who agree with them, they assume they are correct. But, agreement among men is no assurance of truth.


In scripture John did not call Jesus "the Christ," but when he baptized Jesus he "saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon" Jesus (Fourth gospel 1:32). John also declared Jesus to be "the Lamb of God" (Fourth gospel 1:29 & 36). When John's disciple Andrew heard this, he left to follow Jesus and the next day he told his brother Peter, "We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (Fourth gospel 1:41). So, Andrew knew Jesus was "the Christ" and this suggests Andrew learned this from his mentor John the Baptist.


Because of all that, those who presume John's question was about "the Christ" have to find ways to explain his question. For example, John was in prison when he asked it, so some say, 'he was depressed and he just had a moment of doubt like we all do.' But would being in prison always lead a man of God to be depressed? No. In Acts 16:23 Paul and Silas were cast "into prison" and they "prayed, and sang praises unto God" (Acts 16:25). While this does not prove John was not depressed when he sent his question to Jesus, it shows it is wrong to assume he was depressed just because he was in prison at the time. Moreover, his execution came as a surprise (Mt 14:6-10, Mk 6:20-27), so those who say he depressed because of that are ignoring the facts.


Besides identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God" and seeing "the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove" and abiding on Jesus, John was "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Lk 1:15). John's mother would surely have told him about his own miracle birth along with whatever details she learned from her cousin Mary about the birth of Jesus. In order to believe John was asking if Jesus was "the Christ," we must assume John forgot or ignored all this evidence. He also said, "one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose" (Lu 3:16). Did he later do an about-face and think he was worthy to question if Jesus was "the Christ?" If not, then we must reject that idea, realize his question had a different purpose, and allow scripture to teach us how to see it from John's point of view.


The Context of the Question


Instead of considering John's question in isolation and out of context, we need to see what moved John to ask the question. In Matthew 11, John's question is found in this context:


"it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" (Mt 11:1-3).


Notice it does not say John heard about the works of 'Jesus.' It says he heard "the works of Christ." Is there any biblical reason to believe such a report would either frustrate John, or prompt him to wonder if Jesus was "the Christ?" No.


If John already knew Jesus was "the Christ," then why did this report of "the works of Christ" cause John to ask the question that he did?


Thankfully, scripture has another account of John's question. In this passage, we find additional details about the report that moved John to send a question to Jesus. Furthermore, this additional information also helps us to see why John phrased his question in the way he did.


Luke 7:11-19 presents the following report:


"And it came to pass the day after, that he [Jesus] went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier [platform to carry a body]: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumor of him went forth throughout all Judea, and throughout all the region round about. And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come or look we for another?"


John Gets Some Good News!


"And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things" (Lk 7:18). What did he learn from their report? He learned about Jesus raising a man from the dead and the reaction that followed. Would this cause John to doubt or be impatient? No. (Also, John's disciples brought him the news. So, those who say he asked the question 'for their benefit' need to realize they knew of "the works of Christ" before John did.)


Of course, one might doubt a report of Jesus raising someone from the dead. However, if a person knew it was true, it would not cause them to doubt Jesus. For example, when the religious leaders heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, they did not doubt Jesus; they plotted to kill him (cf. Fourth gospel 11:43-53).


John's disciples told him about the miracle and the crowd's reaction. Because he trusted their report and learned new information, he sent a question to Jesus. We can learn this if we look to scripture to see what led him to ask it. But if his question is considered by itself, then we can easily misunderstand his words because they are cut off from the rest of scripture.


Jesus on John the Baptist


Jesus' words also let us know John's question did not indicate doubt on John's part, for after he heard John's question he said, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Lk 7:28). Jesus said those words after John's disciples left to bring him Jesus' response. Here is his statement in context:


"And when the messengers of John were departed, he [Jesus] began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John" (Lk 7:24-29).


Do those words suggest John's question indicated doubt, impatience, depression, wavering, or a weak moment on his part? No they do not. Jesus' criticized his own disciples in their moments "of little faith" (Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8), but he said no such words about John.


On the contrary, after Jesus responded to John's question, he said, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist." Those words do not suggest he thought John was doubting or frustrated or perplexed.


Some may still try to defend the 'doubting John' idea by suggesting it is justified because Jesus also said this to the two disciples of John, "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me" (Mt 11:6, Lk 7:23). Those words were part of Jesus' response to John's question, and it is fair to ask, what did Jesus mean by those words? Yet, to assume the phrase "offended in me" justifies the 'doubting John' idea one has to ignore:


(A)  what led John to ask the question, and

(B)  the words of praise about John that were spoken by Jesus right after he sent his response to John.


Cause and Effect


People do not usually ask a question when they think they already know the answer. If someone says, 'John asked Jesus if he was really the Messiah' and we believe them, then that will define how we see John's question. When we discover there is evidence to the contrary, then we will begin to wonder, what was John asking? As you will see, the key to discovering the intent of John's question is to let scripture teach us why he asked it.


Luke 7:11-14 tells us Jesus visited "a city called Nain" where "a dead man was carried out" who was "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow" and Jesus "had compassion on her" and raised her son from the dead right then and there. Here is what happened after that:


"…he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he [Jesus] delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumor of him went forth throughout all Judea, and throughout all the region round about. And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?" (Lk 7:15-19).


In paying attention to "every word of God" always note the sequence in which scripture presents the facts. John's question came after he heard of "all these things." This means the miracle Jesus did was not the only thing John heard about. "All these things" would also have included the crowd's response to the miracle.


"And they glorified God"


"There came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people" (Lk 7:16). No doubt a flood of emotions swept over the people who saw Jesus do the miracle. Given how fans today react at a ball game, one may be tempted to think of this as a time when the crowd went wild. Scripture paints a very different picture, however.


It says, "there came a fear on all." This is far different than euphoria. It is more like how the disciples reacted when Jesus stopped a storm (Mt 8:26, Mk 4:39, Lk 8:24). They were afraid of the storm, but when Jesus stopped the storm, they "marveled" (Mt 8:27), and "feared exceedingly" (Mk 4:41), and asked one another "What manner of man is this?" while "they being afraid wondered" (Lk 8:25).


"And there came a fear on all" describes a profound awe. This lets us know the words "and they glorified God" do not suggest the crowd cheered or jumped for joy. Rather, those eyewitnesses recognized the miracle of Jesus raising the widow's son from the dead was far more than just a great gift. They had seen God's hand at work and their response was to glorify God. John heard about both the miracle and the response of the eyewitnesses in the aftermath of the miracle and this is what led John the Baptist to ask Jesus a question.


Scripture versus Our Assumptions


The idea that John's question had to do with Jesus being "the Christ" does not arise from scripture. That assumption needs to be subjected to biblical scrutiny. Once it is, then the facts in the word of God can open our eyes to true intent of John's question.


When we read the Bible, we tend to view things through the lens of our present beliefs (i.e., we lean on our own understanding). Since we assume our beliefs are correct, we think the men of God whom we read about in scripture would think like us. However, we know things the people of John's day did not know, so we need to avoid imposing our views on the text. The way to do this is to let scripture teach us the views of the people we are reading about.


Churchgoers are taught to see Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, but the people who lived in John's day had a different perspective than post-resurrection believers do. No doubt John had more insight about Jesus than others did in that era. Nevertheless, he had a first century, pre-resurrection perspective. Therefore, to understand his question, we must see it from his point of view.


John Asked the Right Question


Why would the miracle, and the crowd's reaction to it, inspire John to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?" John did not ask, 'Was I wrong?' or 'Are you really the Lamb of God?' (Then he would have been doubting.) Instead, he asked if Jesus was "he that should come." When people make a rush to judgment and assume this term referred to the Christ, they are leaning on their own understanding, and they misconstrue his question. As will be shown, John's knowledge of Jesus was actually growing when he asked it.


There was an air of anticipation in that era, as we see in Luke 3:15 "The people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not." Yet, to understand how people in that day viewed Jesus, we need to recognize "the Christ" was not the only person they were expecting!


After the miracle people said, "a great prophet is risen up among us," and hearing of those things caused John to ask if Jesus was "he that should come." Why? Scripture has the answer, for it proves the Jews of John's day were waiting for someone other than "the Christ."


They were also looking for…


The Prophet That Should Come


Moses said, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me" (Dt 18:15). Moses spoke of a prophet to come and this was highlighted again when the Lord told Moses, "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him" (Dt 18:18). It was Moses who communicated this prophecy, and it was stated this prophet would be "like unto" Moses. The Jews who esteemed Moses would have looked forward to the fulfillment of this prophecy, and given his prominence in Israel's history, this promise would have been high on their list of expectations. In John's day, terms such as "that prophet" and the one "that should come" were used to refer to this person, as will be shown.


[The Old Testament prophets had come and gone and none of them were the fulfillment of this prophecy. This is also true of Elijah, though scripture has a separate prophecy related to him: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal 4:5).]


In John's time, there was an unfulfilled prophecy delivered by Moses, about one who would be "like unto" Moses. So, it should not surprise anyone to learn the Jews were looking for this prophecy to be fulfilled. However, it may come as a surprise to many churchgoers today when they learn the people of John's day thought the prophecies regarding "that prophet" and "the Christ" spoke of two people, not one person.


Getting to Know Jesus


People cannot make sense of John's question until they see that, at the time of Jesus' ministry, God's faithful did not view Jesus the way we do now. This included John the Baptist who, like those of his day, believed the prophet to come was a separate person from the Christ  or at least he did until he was moved to pose his question to Jesus.


"All men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not" (Lk 3:15). They also had other ideas as to who John might be, as we can see from this passage:


"And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No" (Fourth gospel 1:19-21).


Note the three options: "the Christ," "Elias," or "that prophet." This is where we learn those designations were seen as distinct individuals in that era. The "priests and Levites" who asked John those questions clearly thought "that prophet" and "the Christ" were different people. Others "which were sent were of the Pharisees" (Fourth gospel 1:24), also asked John about the same options: "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" (Fourth gospel 1:25). He did not correct those who asked him those questions. At that time, John did not say anything that would suggest he thought "the Christ" and "that prophet" would be one individual. Keep this in mind.


People living in John's day assumed the role