Having seen that John the Baptist understood himself as the forerunner and herald of Jesus (John 1:19–28), we read in today’s passage of how John pointed out Jesus and His role to others. In so doing, he revealed much about the Savior.
First, John the Baptist proclaimed to the crowd, when he saw Jesus coming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29). This statement raises some difficulties at first because this forthright proclamation of Jesus’ significance does not seem to be in line with John the Baptist’s later doubts concerning the work of Jesus when John suffered in prison under Herod (Matt. 11:2–3). On that occasion, John apparently found it hard to believe that his suffering could be reconciled with Jesus’ ministry if Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. How could he, the Messianic forerunner, suffer if Jesus came to set things right in creation. Here we should make allowances for John’s human weaknesses. John was a fine man of God, but he was not sinless, and under great trial he found himself wondering about whether he had understood Jesus’ identity correctly. Kind Savior that He is, Jesus did not rebuke John for his doubts, but He replied by describing the works He was doing, works that the prophet Isaiah said would be the works of the Messiah (vv. 4–6; see Isa. 42:6–7; 61:1–2). Essentially, Jesus reassured John that he was correct about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Lamb of God.
The sin that the Lamb of God takes away is the sin of the world (John 1:29). Here the word “world” refers to all people without distinction, not all people without exception. That is, Jesus did not take away the sin of every person who has ever lived but only those who trust in Him (vv. 11–13). He made no distinction regarding the kinds of people for whom He died. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, atoned for the sins of rich people, poor people, Africans, Asians, Americans, Europeans, rulers, servants, men, women—all kinds of people.
John the Baptist also told the people that he himself did not know Jesus but that His identity was revealed to him (vv. 31–34). This does not mean John had never met Jesus before; after all, they were relatives (see Luke 1:26–45). John the Baptist’s point was that his insight into Jesus’ identity was not due to personal acquaintance but by revelation from God. As the early church father John Chrysostom writes, John the Baptist’s knowledge of Jesus’ identity “was not from human friendship, but had been caused by divine revelation.”