Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
23 He said: “I am
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. – John 1:19-28.
“testimony of John” (v.19). — John the Baptist’s testimony to those who question him reveals that his role was to prepare the world for Christ.
“Are you Elijah?” (v.21). — In Matt. 11:14 Jesus, clearly referring to Mal. 4:5, tells the crowd that John is “Elijah who is to come.” John comes in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), but the Baptist here affirms that he is not Elijah himself.
“Are you the Prophet?” — There were different expectations among first-century Jews concerning the “prophet like me” that Moses announced in Deut. 18:15. Here the priests and Levites want to know whether John considers himself to be this Prophet.
In quoting Is. 40:3 (v.23), John applies to Christ what is said of YHWH in that passage. The same truth appears even more clearly in Mark 1:1–3.