This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34 (NKJV)
I already referenced the 1999 movie The Matrix once in this blog series, and I hesitate to do it again. But it provides too perfect an example from pop culture to illustrate the crucial point the Gospel of John is unveiling for is in these introductory verses of the first chapter.
As I mentioned in the podcast series connected to this series, one of the dominant themes in John’s gospel is the issue of sight, specifically, spiritual sight. In the Matrix (the original movie, not the much lower grade sequels), the hero Neo finally arrives at a point of awakening and realizes that all his eyes see is an illusion. It is not real. It is not truth. The truth, the reality, lies beyond the sight of his senses and even his mind. He must look beyond what his eyes see and see the reality occurring behind it.
Scripture describes this process as seeing beyond the natural and into the spiritual reality. The Spirit of God empowers His people to see beyond the natural and into the spiritual reality.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NKJV)
When John the Baptist looked up and saw Jesus coming, he could have seen many things in the natural. He could have seen his cousin (John the Baptist’s mother was Mary’s sister). He could have seen a carpenter. He could have seen a familiar face. But John the Baptist saw beyond the natural. He saw into the Spirit.
We have no idea the nature of John the Baptist’s perception, but only the conclusions which that perception led him to. Perhaps, like Neo, he saw a through the natural reality all around him and into the spiritual dimension and architecture that supported that natural reality. (Although, I doubt he saw computer code.) Whatever John the Baptist saw, his description of that perception did not match the natural reality.
He saw the Lamb of God. He saw the redeemer of the world’s sins. He saw the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus and not depart – something that never occurred in scripture before this. He saw the man born after John the Baptist whose earthly ministry had not yet begun, as someone that came before John the Baptist.
Most importantly, John the Baptist saw the fulfillment of the Word of God that was spoken to this prophet at some point previously. In other words, as we discussed in our study yesterday, John the Baptist saw the Word made flesh.
The experience of John the Baptist in this passage foreshadowed the reality that the Spirit-led believers of the Church would operate in as the new normal. As I describe in my book Understanding the Holy Spirit, the fact that this spirit-led reality is not normal for so many believers shows how far short we have fallen from the designs of God.
Believers were not designed to live under the blinding illusions and deceptions of what this world presents as reality. We were made to live according to the Spirit. We were meant to see and know the truth. Like John the Baptist, we were meant to see the Son of God walking toward us when everyone around him barely recognized anything out of the ordinary was occurring.
- Is the nature of my perception driven by the natural or by the Spirit?
- What would I have seen if I was standing alongside the Jordan River that day with John the Baptist?
- How can I move the standards that guide my perception to a new level of beholding spiritual reality?
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