No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:18-23)
John says that no one has ever seen God. He’s not saying that God hasn’t manifested Himself physically in any way. Israel followed Him as a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night. Moses encountered Him at the burning bush. He’s also said to have seen His “back”. Jacob wrestled with Him as a Christophany. Many believe “the” angel of the Lord to be Christophanies as well.
What he’s saying is that no one has known Him fully. We have all seen God in some way, at the very least through His creation. But no one has seen Him face to face. No one, that is, except the Savior and those who have gone home to Him.
John says that the only God (Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. Only Jesus has had such close fellowship with the Father, and He reveals Him to us. It is also in this sense that Jesus is the “Word”. He is the perfect communication of who God is and what is His will to us.
John, then, shifts the focus back to the baptist. He introduces his testimony. We read that the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem. This would make sense, and it was actually the right thing for them to do. They had heard of a man baptizing Jews in the river, and it was proper for them to investigate.
They asked the baptist who he was. John says a strange phrase to describe this saying, “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed”. This is a hebraism that means that he says what he says with great emphasis. He emphatically declared that he was not the Christ.
That might’ve been their first guess; they were expecting the Messiah to come. Okay, what’s behind door number two? “Are you Elijah?”, they asked him. Malachi 4:5 foretells that Elijah would return. The baptist obviously wasn’t Elijah reincarnate, so he answered no. Jesus, understanding more than the baptist did, says that the baptist was in fact the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Then, a third guess. They ask him, “Are you the Prophet?” Here, it’s made once again clear that the Jewish leaders did not understand God’s word. They’re referring to Deuteronomy 18:15 which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”. Where they failed to understand is that the prophecy was talking about the Messiah, the Christ, the One who the baptist said he was not right at the outset.
Out of guesses, they finally ask him again, “Who are you? We need to go back to Jerusalem with an answer. And quoting Isaiah 40:3, the baptist responds, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'”. He understood that this was his role in redemptive history. He would be the forerunner for the Messiah. It was revealed to him that he was the fulfillment of this prophecy.
And this is one of the beautiful things that we get to experience in John, because he heavily emphasizes the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. This is just one of many examples that we’ll see in this gospel. And as we see them, we delight in the beauty of God’s work in His word and in redemptive history. The prophets wrote of the Messiah hundreds of years before He was born in Bethlehem (which is one of the prophecies), and Jesus will perfectly fulfill every single prophecy about Him. Behold your God.
Every moment in history is written by Him, and that should cause us to tremble at His feet and be comforted in His goodness and love.