I’ve been studying John the Baptist for some time now, and I have a new theory.
Please bear with me?
Could it be that John the Baptist didn’t really doubt from prison? I know we have no reason to assume otherwise, because of the perfection of Christ’s response, but is Christ responding only to John or is He merely doing what we see Jesus doing in so many of the other gospels, searching out the heart of the questioner, looking behind the face-value of the issue and digging into the the marrow of the real matters of the heart?
Think of Jesus when Nicodemus says to him, “we know you have come from God”, and then Jesus’ response, “Truly, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless his is born of water and the Spirit.” Nicodemus hadn’t even asked a question, and Jesus went straight to the heart. Nicodemus went away with his mind and his entire theology blown out of the water.
Look at the conversation with the woman at the well. He shifts gears from talking about water to using water as the analogy of eternal life, answering the deepest questions of her soul.
Or take the rich man, “Good teacher, What must I do?” to which Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good?” He began to uncover the real matter, following up with the answer to the real question in the man’s heart, “One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.’
Even in the account of the invalid by the pool in Bethesda, Jesus healed the man, and then later found him and told him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” He knew the heart of the problem was sin.
Matthew 9: ‘Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?’
Matthew 25: ‘But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?’
When Peter in his confidence said, “I’ll follow you to prison, even to death.”, it’s Jesus who looks at this man whom He loves and says, “Before the cocks crows, you will have denied me three times”, as if to say, “I love you so much, but there’s still this glaring problem in your heart that you yourself cannot see. You have one more great mountain to climb before you will be truly ready.”
Even On the cross as they were driving the nails, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These men had not a clue that they were killing their Savior.
And finally in the end, stretched out in perfect Love, He looks to one of the other poor sinner dying on the cross next to him and speaks those beautifully insightful and authoritative words of life , “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Hanging from that cross we still find the Son of God peering into the soul of the man, answering the real cry of the heart.
How could he know these things? He is God, and he could see the heart of the man in front of him. Over and over, our Savior’s ability to see the truth uncovered the masks of men as he zeroed in on His target, the very salvation of the soul before Him.
I then see John's character on display in the epistle of John, so vividly before his imprisonment, in this great transition as the Baptist points so wonderfully to Christ and the coming of the New.
So, In Matthew and Luke as we get to peek from behind the bars of John’s prison, does it really fit with the man to doubt what he so confidently affirmed in the other pictures?
In John 3 when the arguments arose between his own disciples and a certain Jew, it was John who readily affirmed Christ, this Lamb of God, as the one they should all be following. When some of his own disciples left him, it wasn’t John’s jealousy on display, it was John’s humility that hushed the murmurers. “He must become greater; I must become less.”
He knew who he was, and he knew his mission. ”I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.’"
I understand that John was just a man, even though the greatest, and certainly all men doubt, all men waver and hesitate in the storms and trials.
But still it makes me wonder if John from prison wasn’t just pointing the last of his faithful disciples onward, saying “go ask Him if He’s the One?” This man who ate the locusts and wore the camel’s hair, had not a care for himself or a fear for his own life, even when warned of prison and death. It makes me wonder, would this be the man to doubt, to trip in the last leg of the race?
I do not have a knowledge or understanding of the original text, Greek or Latin, and this is why I’m posting this theory here, as well as submitting it to the most learned scholars of this modern day. Do you, who know the ancient text, see the confirmation of doubt in such confidence because of the language and meaning conveyed by Luke?
When Thomas doubted after the resurrection, it was affirmed by Christ, “Thomas, why do you doubt?” There’s no disputing the condition of his heart. Even the other gospels confirmed. Is there more that we simply are not afforded in the English language to express the meaning of Christ’s reply, something that seals this verdict for us, or have we made John the Baptist into the fall-guy that he wasn’t? Has history given this man a bad rap for 2000 years?
I’m not one to look for something new, some fresh revelation never before understood. I’m just looking at the character of the man, what he stood for and what he was prepared to lose his life for. It was to John so simple; Christ, and Christ alone.
I see in Scripture the response of Christ, ‘Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” But was Christ addressing the prisoner or the messengers? I can understand the disciples’ doubt, faithful to John to the end, but could it be that Jesus is peering once again into the hearts of these men who still do not follow, addressing the doubt of the disciples and not the doubt of the Baptist? These men were still clinging to the man in prison, when the man in prison knew they should be following Christ.
John knew his ministry was complete, his job was done. He applauded as did Moses and Paul, the idea that others were pointing to Christ. Anything less would seem to contradict his very reason for breath.
So many of the other accounts in Scripture find John the Baptist so confidently making the claim to the supremacy of Christ, the perfect fulfillment.
Yes, I see Christ telling them, “Go back and report to John…” But does that include somehow definitively that John himself had personally doubted?
I almost imagine John saying in today’s terms, “Look, you’re still hanging around me after all I’ve taught you? After I’ve pointed to Him with every bone in my body, you still linger? Go! Ask HIM if He’s the one.” As if a master is making the faithful dog to run away by raising up at him a threatening rod, even though he would never find it within his bones to actually strike such an unconditional love.
This is why I pose the theory. Does the text in its origin absolutely apply to and for John the Baptist alone? Or is there room here that we have merely assumed? Could it be that Christ was in fact replying to John that the prophecies were being fulfilled, as a nod of affirmation, and then switching his gaze to the doubt of the messengers before Him, once again giving them the truth to the answer that was hidden in their own hearts?