John the Baptist was someone whose job was to prepare the way from Christ. When Jesus makes his appearance, John introduces him to the people.

John 1:29-34, New Living Translation (NLT)

Jesus, the Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn't know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

John 3:31-36, New Living Translation (NLT)

“He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn't obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

Mark 1:9-14, New Living Translation (NLT)

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.

So the basic timeline is: Jesus enters the scene. --> John proclaims that he is the Messiah. --> John Baptizes. --> John is put in prison.

So, how should I understand this:

Matthew 11:2-3, New Living Translation (NLT)

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we've been expecting,[a] or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Well, this is confusing, since that way John has been talking it is implying that he knew who was Messiah or not. As far as I know he was executed in prison, so the timeline cannot be backwards.


4 Answers 4


The notes in my Bible say:

[11:3] The question probably expresses a doubt of the Baptist that Jesus is the one who is to come (cf. Mal 3:1) because his mission has not been one of fiery judgment as John had expected (Mt 3:2).

So the timeline becomes:

Jesus enters the scene. --> John proclaims that he is the Messiah. --> John Baptizes. --> John is put in prison. --> John expresses doubt because he hears things are not going as he expected them to.

This might have been because John was in some way ill-informed of exactly what was happening, because Jesus sends the following reply:

Matthew 11:4-6
4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Many of the people closest to Jesus express serious doubts at one point or another -- Thomas in particular comes to mind. (It should be noted, though, that many others, like His Blessed Mother, Mary, never doubt.)

  • But the Holy Spirit came in form of a dove over Jesus. That should be iron-clad proof that Jesus was the Messiah. Apr 8, 2013 at 19:55
  • 3
    Yeah, no kidding. Apparently humans are especially susceptible to doubt. John isn't denying Jesus, though. John might just be saying "I'm having doubts over here in my cell - Jesus, what do you say?"
    – Alypius
    Apr 8, 2013 at 20:09
  • True. I'll accept your answer after a bit of waiting for other answers. Apr 8, 2013 at 20:13

The sentence appears as though John doubts Jesus' identity as the Messiah, but we should also consider that this question could be meant merely to confirm Jesus' identity for John's disciples and to anyone else who might have been doubting; or for a formal and final confirmation for others sake. I think John himself could not have been in doubt when he knew the Messiah even when he was in mother's womb. He was sent for a divine mission hence he must have known this basic truth innately.

(Luke 1:39-45) 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”


Let's start by looking at Luke 4:18-19. It's when Jesus was given the book of prophet Isaiah to read. He found the place written:

Luke 4:18-19

18: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19: To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

We can assume that John knew of this Messianic mission.
Then he sent his disciples to ask Jesus:

Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?

Notice Jesus didn't give them a yes/no answer. He just told them:

From Matthew 11: 4-5

4: Jesus answered and said to them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see:
5: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

Now, compare Luke 4:18-19 and Matthew 11:5 (Jesus answer).
It's like Jesus is saying "what was written by prophet Isaiah is happening - the blind see, the deaf hear, the gospel is preached to the poor, the sick are healed, the dead are raised. What other proof do you need that I am the Messiah?"

And from this moment, we don't hear John 'doubting' again whether Jesus is the Messiah or not.


John probably knew Jesus was the messiah spoken of by Isaiah (7:14) but may have doubted whether he was also the one spoken of by the prophet Zechariah (9:9-12) called the coming King (i.e. the one to come) who was prophecied to release prisoners (i.e. himself).

blog entry

[John] probably did not lose his faith in Jesus, what troubled him rather was in the Old Testament - the Messiah is predicted, but also someone called "The Coming One " Malachi 3/Zecharaiah 9 and the Zechariah. Perhaps he was asking, "I know you're the Messiah, but are you the Coming one as well?"

"He will set the prisoners free". John was in prison. Is it possible that he was wondering why he had not been freed?

  • This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? Mar 2, 2014 at 15:58
  • Ray Vander Laan, That the World May Know Ministries founder, Faith Lessons video series creator, volume 11, session 2, "The Way of John the Baptist"; also here: proclaimthytruths.blogspot.com/2013/06/ray-vanderlaan-june-27-2013.html 'he probably did not lose his faith in Jesus, what troubled him rather was in the Old Testament - the Messiah is predicted, but also someone called "The Coming One " Malachi 3/Zecharaiah 9... Perhaps he was asking, "I know you're the Messiah, but are you the Coming one as well?"'. See it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbFARQTlfiA&list=PLFF19B5B720CA13E2&index=3
    – dwb
    Mar 2, 2014 at 20:43

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