Verses 6-8 as a whole: Keddie notes the importance of fanfare to the introduction of heads of state. This is Jesus’ fanfare: the ministry of John the Baptist. This passage introduces us to the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Godet well describes the connection to verse 5: “There appeared a man…,” can only be thus mentioned with the design of giving through history the proof of the thought declared in ver. 5.” The outline of the passage is given by Dodd (quoted in Boice): 1. John is not the Light; 2. John was sent to bear witness about the Light so that 3. all might believe through him. This is the outline of John’s testimony in the rest of chapter 1: verses 19-28- John is not the light; 2. verses 29-34- John points to the Light; 3. verses 35-51- John’s witness produces the first disciples. Note also the contrast between John the Baptist and the Word (see Hendriksen, p. 76): “was” verses “came;” “Word” versus “man;” “is God” versus “commissioned by God;” “is the real light” versus “testifying about the light;” “is the object of trust” versus “being the agent through whose testimony people might come to trust God.” The Word is the truth, but it becomes known to us through witnesses (Keener). Note the differences between the John of John’s Gospel and the John of the Gospels: his sole task was witnessing, in the eyes of the apostle John (McHugh). Luther writes: “It has always been the world’s misfortune to be infested with wiseacres and smart alecks, self-styled lights who explore their own way to heaven and presume to be the lights of the world, to teach it, and lead it to God. John warns against this.” This passage shows the immense important of the ministerial office, and yet also its limitations (Schaff). Ministers aren’t doing their job unless they point to Christ.
6. The verb “there came” has as its prime significance the fact that it places John’s ministry among those “all things” that have come about through the Word (McHugh). It is a continuation of the plan of creation (Michaels). The fact that John was sent is the main thing behind the significance of John. This word has in its focus a specific task, and the idea of authority of the (divine!) sender is also present (McHugh). This also establishes his credentials (Keddie). He was sent as a forerunner. Of course, he was the first prophet that God had sent in quite a long time (Godet). Hengstenberg notes that the name of John is significant here (the Lord is gracious). From the other gospels we know that his testimony started even in the womb (Origen).
7. John’s sphere of concern narrows here from all creation to the world of humanity (Brown). The concept of witness is exceptionally important to John. In fact, the entirety of John’s Gospel could be viewed as a trial narrative. The idea of a witness is that it is competent testimony concerning firsthand experience (Lenski). There is also the idea of commitment: a witness commits himself to a certain interpretation of the events: no commitment, no witness (Morris). Schnackenburg notes that John sees all faith as a result of testimony. It is pathetic that the world would need to be told about the light. Only the blind have to be told that the sun is shining (Pink)! It is not Christ who needs human testimony, but rather the world’s darkness (Henry). Henry says, “John was like the night watchman that goes round the town, proclaiming the approach of the morning light to those that have closed their eyes, and are not willing themselves to observe it.” Bultmann notes that here it is simply the purpose of the witness that receives stress. Only later on will there be a discussion of its content. The world’s witnesses are only false witnesses. However, Jesus’ witnesses not only clear Jesus of any wrong-doing, but actually put the entire world under judgment (Painter, quoted in Keener). The Samaritan woman (4:39), the works of Jesus (5:36, 10:25), the Old Testament (5:39), the multitude (12:17), the Holy Spirit and the apostles (15:26ff), and God the Father Himself (5:37, 8:18) are all witnesses to the Christness of Jesus (Barrett). There are 7 witnesses, just as there are 7 signs and 7 “I Am” statements. There are also 7 discourses. Imagine then, the courtroom scene, with John calling his witnesses, one after another, in order to testify as to the status of Jesus Christ. This directly serves John’s purpose (20:31). John’s purpose in witnessing to Christ is that all might believe in Jesus through his testimony. Many authors have noted that since several of Jesus’ disciples came to faith through John the Baptist’s ministry, and also since John’s ministry prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, it could, with only a little exaggeration, be said that all Christians can trace their spiritual ancestry through the ministry of John the Baptist (Tasker).
8. John’s witness to Christ is vitally important when it is recalled that many in that day thought that John was the light. John himself knew that he wasn’t the Light, and he was constantly bearing witness to the otherness of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was the one true Light. John was a lamp, not the light (5:35). Hendriksen notes that Christ is the light whereas the Baptist is only the reflector. John is like the moon, whereas Jesus is like the sun. John the apostle was himself a disciple of John the Baptist at one time (Bernard). Hutcheson notes the importance of having a calling that is sent from God, and also that the minister’s job is to point out Christ, not to draw attention to themselves. Keddie notes that it is quite possible to follow the wrong man, even if that man is on the right track (Acts 18-19). All true possessors of the Holy Spirit function as witnesses to the grace of God, as John did (and as his name signified). Boice notes that “God regards your testimony as being important enough to be included among all those other monumental testimonies to the person and work of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” What are we doing as witnesses?