The DEEP

Trick Question

This means war.

John 1:19–28 (ESV)

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John’s historical narrative begins with John the Baptist and his testimony about the Christ. The priests and Levites from Jerusalem sound like they’re cross-examining him. They ask pointed questions about his identity, to which he keeps answering, “No.” Then comes the big tell.

So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

They need to give an answer to those who sent us? What’s that all about?

They’re under pressure. They can’t return empty-handed. They need an answer that fits standard preconceived notions about scriptural prophesies. So, John gives them an answer they can relate to.

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

In the context of everyone in Israel’s anxious anticipation of the Messiah, this should have been satisfactory, even thrilling. He’s clearly saying that the Messiah is coming now.

But instead of being happy with John’s answer, they challenge him. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” That’s weird. Why do they think he can’t baptize unless he’s one of those people?

They don’t. The assumption in their question has no support in scripture, and they know it. It’s a trick question designed to trap him. They’re hoping he’ll say something clumsy in response.

But he’s up to the task and uses their ridiculous question to announce the coming Messiah—again.


As always, John’s gospel packs many profound things into a few words. Here we get a clear view of just how insanely vicious the opposition is. It’s clearly supernatural, and this opposition will never let up.

It’s the greatest spiritual warfare of all time.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.