Origens Commentary On The Gospel Of John by Origen
6. Messianic Discussion with John the Baptist.
Then the Jews sent priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. What legates should have been sent from the Jews to John, and where should they have been sent from? Should they not have been men held to stand by the election of God above their fellows, and should they not have come from that place which was chosen out of the whole of the earth, though it is all called good, from Jerusalem where was the temple of God? With such honour, then, do they enquire of John. In the case of Christ nothing of this sort is reported to have been done by the Jews; but what the Jews do to John, John does to Christ, sending his own disciples to ask him, |Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?| John confesses to those sent to him, and denies not, and he afterwards declares, |I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness;| but Christ, as having a greater testimony than John the Baptist, makes His answer by words and deeds, saying, |Go and tell John those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.| On this passage I shall, if God permit, enlarge in its proper place. Here, however, it might be asked reasonably enough why John gives such an answer to the question put to him. The priests and levites do not ask him, |Art thou the Christ?| but |Who art thou?| and the Baptist's reply to this question should have been, |I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.| The proper reply to the question, |Art thou the Christ?| is, |I am not the Christ;| and to the question, |Who art thou?| -- |The voice of one crying in the wilderness.| To this we may say that he probably discerned in the question of the priests and levites a cautious reverence, which led them to hint the idea in their minds that he who was baptizing might be the Christ, but withheld them from openly saying so, which might have been presumptuous. He quite naturally, therefore, proceeds in the first place to remove any false impressions they might have taken up about him, and declares publicly the true state of the matter, |I am not the Christ.| Their second question, and also their third, show that they had conceived some such surmise about him. They supposed that he might be that second in honour to whom their hopes pointed, namely, Elijah, who held with them the next position after Christ; and so when John had answered, |I am not the Christ,| they asked, |What then? Art thou Elijah?| And he said, |I am not.| They wish to know, in the third place, if he is the prophet, and on his answer, |No,| they have no longer any name to give the personage whose advent they expected, and they say, |Who art thou, then, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?| Their meaning is: |You are not, you say, any of those personages whose advent Israel hopes and expects, and who you are, to baptize as you do, we do not know; tell us, therefore, so that we may report to those who sent us to get light upon this point.| We add, as it has some bearing on the context, that the people were moved by the thought that the period of Christ's advent was near. It was in a manner imminent in the years from the birth of Jesus and a little before, down to the publication of the preaching. Hence it was, in all likelihood, that as the scribes and lawyers had deduced the time from Holy Scripture and were expecting the Coming One, the idea was taken up by Theudas, who came forward as the Messiah and brought together a considerable multitude, and after him by the famous Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing. Thus the coming of the Messiah was more warmly expected and discussed, and it was natural enough for the Jews to send priests and levites from Jerusalem to John, to ask him, |Who art thou?| and learn if he professed to be the Christ.