D The One to Come

Least clear of all is the only other important feature of John's message — his expectation of who was to come. 'There comes after me one who is stronger than me. I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. . . . He will baptize you with Holy Spirit . . ,'.149 Whom did John expect? Of the main solutions offered, none is wholly satisfactory.

(1) God is a possibility not to be lightly discarded.151 In Mai. 3.1, a passage which is thoroughly bound up with the Baptist tradition (Mark 1.2; Matt. 11.10/ Luke 7.27), the messenger goes before the Lord. The Baptist tradition in the Lukan birth narrative reflects the same expectation (Luke 1.17, 76). And the exercise of (final) judgment is regularly attributed to God himself — as in Isa. 30.27-28. Probably decisive here, however, is the consideration that the talk of 'one stronger than me', and of being unworthy to untie his sandals (Mark 1.7 pars.), is really appropriate only to a comparison between two comparable figures. It is difficult to imagine John so trivializing the relation between God and a human being.152

148. 1QH 11(=3).7-12; 1 En. 62.4; Mark 13.8; Rev. 12.2.

149. Mark 1.7-8 pars. Note the parallel to Mark 1.7 pars, in Acts 13.25.

150. See the brief review in Davies and Allison, Matthew 1.312-14; Webb's discussion is too schematic and indecisive (John the Baptizer 219-60, 282-88).

151. See particularly Ernst, Johannes der Täufer 50, 305, 309; Reiser, Jesus and Judgment 182-84; Chilton, Jesus' Baptism 47-48.

152. 'God does not wear sandals' (Stauffer, 'Jesus' 32). See further Meier, Marginal Jew

(2) Also possible is a heavenly figure, as exercise of such final judgment might seem to require. Most frequently suggested is the Son of Man, on the assumption that the figure in Dan. 7.13-14 would already have been interpreted as a specific individual with a role in judgment. The problem here, as we shall see later (§ 16.3b), is that it is very doubtful whether there was such a Son of Man concept and expectation at this time in Second Temple Judaism on which John could have drawn. And it is just as doubtful whether the sole occurrence of the verb 'coming' would be sufficient in itself to evoke the coming Son of Man, since the Jewish tradition, the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra 13 (on which the suggestion depends), does not think of the Son of Man as

(3) The suggestion that John would have thought of 'the one to come' as Elijah has more to commend it than is usually appreciated. In Mai, 3.1 it is actually the messenger who 'is coming' (erchetai, as in Mark 1.7/Luke 3.16). It would have been natural to identify this messenger with Elijah spoken of in

4.5 (both are 'sent' by God), as Matt. 11,14 confirms ('Elijah who is to come'). Moreover, Elijah was remembered as a prophet of fire,157 which fits both with the purificatory role attributed to the 'messenger of the covenant' in 3.2-3 and with the Baptist's expectation for the coming one. But did John see himself only as the forerunner of Elijah? The problem here is not that Christian tradition is convinced that John himself filled the role of Elijah, for such reinterpretation of John's own expectation would be wholly understandable. The problem is rather that the role attributed to Elijah in Mai. 4.5 (cf. 3.2-5) seems to be essentially preparatory, 'before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes'. But, as

2.33-34; Webb, John the Baptizer 284-86 makes an effective response to J. H. Hughes, 'John the Baptist: The Forerunner of God Himself, NovT 14 (1972) 191-218; also 'John the Baptist' 198-202; brief discussion in Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus 201-203.

153.Pesch, Markusevangelium84, Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie 1.61-62, 110, 117, 124, Gnilka, Jesus ofNazareth 74-75, and Becker, Jesus ofNazareth 46-47, are typical of the continuing confidence among German scholarship that there was a recognized 'Son of Man' concept in the Judaism of the time (likewise Riches, Jesus 156, 176). Reiser mentions also the archangel Michael (Dan. 12.1; 1QM 17.6-7; T. Mos:. 10.2; T. Dan 6.1-7) and Melchizedek (1 lQMelch) (Jesus and Judgment 182).

154. Note particularly that 4 Ezra 13 draws both on the Danielic imagery (4 Ezra 13.3 — 'something like a figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea') and on the imagery of Isa. 30.27-28 (4 Ezra 13.10-11).

155. As several have noted, 'coming' is not specific to any particular expected/hoped-for figure (see, e.g., Fitzmyer, Luke 666; Meier, Marginal Jew 2.199 n. 90).

156. Argued in a classic essay by J. A. T. Robinson, 'Elijah, John and Jesus', Twelve New Testament Studies (London: SCM, 1962) 28-52.

157. 1 Kgs. 18.38; 2 Kgs. 1.10, 12; Sir. 48.1; Luke 9.54. In Luke 9.54 the clear echo of 2 Kgs. 1.10, 12 was made explicit by the scribes who added 'as also Elijah did' (AC D W, etc.).

we have seen, the judgmental role attributed by John to the coming one seems to be much more 'final'.

(4) The traditional Christian interpretation of John's words is that he expected the Messiah. The problem here, as again we shall see later (§15.2), is that there was no clear-cut or simple expectation of 'the Messiah' in Second Temple Judaism. Moreover, messianic expectation did not usually envisage a figure of fire, as we see in the most likely precedent (in the Psalms of Solomon) for such an expectation.160 There is more obscurity here than the traditional Christian interpretation has allowed.

A question too seldom asked is whether John himself had a clear idea of who the coming one was to be. In fact the identification could hardly be less explicit — someone following John who would be stronger and greater than John. Subsequently John is remembered as sending disciples to ask Jesus, 'Are you the one coming, or should we expect someone else?' (Matt. 11.3/Luke 7.19). There is no good reason why this question should not reflect John's earlier expecta-tion.161 In which case it tells us that John had no clear idea as to who was to follow him. That the question could be posed in regard to Jesus presumably confirms the unlikelihood that John had in mind God or the Son of Man. The only clue John had himself was the judgmental role he attributed to the one to come. So we should probably not attempt to be more specific than John was himself. In historical terms, John may simply have had a conviction that someone much more significant was to follow, and that he had to baptize in preparation for a much more fearful baptism.162 With that we will have to be content.

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