In Matthew 11:2-3, we read that from
prison John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who
is come, or should we look for another?” A similar story occurs in Luke
John the Baptist was already leading people to Jesus. At the
Visitation, John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s
womb as the pregnant Mary approached (Lk 1:44). John later said, “I saw the
Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know
him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see
the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy
Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34).
After John described Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36), Andrew and another
disciple left John to follow Jesus.
Was John the Baptist having doubts about
who Jesus was?
John was probably not having doubts but rather was preparing his disciples for the person
whom they should follow after John’s death. Christians today are very clear
about the relationship of Jesus and John the Baptist, but that was not the case
for all Christians in the first century AD. After all, John the Baptist was well
known before Jesus began his ministry.
In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Benedict Viviano, OP, writes about Matthew
11:2-6: “These verses contain a school of debate, probably of post-resurrection
origin, over the nature of Jesus’ mission, held between disciples of John the
Baptist and Christians.”
Jesus was not the type of Messiah that most of his
contemporaries expected. Always concerned to show Jesus as fulfilling the Old
Testament, Matthew’s account implicitly links verse 5 to Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19;
35:5-6; and 61:1—all passages referring to God’s ultimate victory over evil.
Jewish Christian audience would have made this connection.
John the Baptist
grew in his faith; his disciples’ encounter with Jesus that you cited helped
them grow in their faith. The account in the Gospel of Matthew can help us grow
in our faith.
We can always wonder about why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not
explain something in more detail in the Gospels, but we should never allow our
questions to overshadow what those evangelists very deliberately included.