In Luke 7:18-23, it is written,

18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” 20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” NASB

Question: Why did John the Baptist send his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?" Didn't John know who Jesus was, especially that he was the Messiah, since John baptized Jesus and also heard God the Father speak about Jesus?

  • 6
    I think we all doubt from time to time. Remember, John was in prison at the time, things did not go well for him. He needed some reassurance. Apr 28, 2016 at 3:44

8 Answers 8


That's a very good question, and one that I wondered about for a long time. To understand why John asked such a question, you have to understand that he was in prison and had only stories about the man he sent his disciples to go and see. He had no way of knowing if it was the same man that he had baptized. And since there were a few impostors at that time claiming to be the Messiah, John sent his disciples to ask him a direct question, knowing that the Messiah — including the person he baptized — would give an answer that only the Messiah would give. And keep in mind that we do not have the actual word for word question that they asked. But it's not hard to imagine that John asked his disciples to go and see if the man he'd been hearing so much about was the same man that he'd baptized in the Jordan river. Also keep in mind that because John knew he wouldn't be alive much longer, he wanted to make sure that he wouldn't be sending his disciples to follow a false Messiah. So he wanted to ensure this was the person that he had baptized.

Most Christians, unfortunately, do not recognize the significance of Christ's answer, or what passage he quotes in order that John would know without question that he is the Messiah. For Jesus actually quotes a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls as his answer to John.

So lets compare what the passage in Matthew tells us and what the scrolls say. Matt 11:4-6, 12 (NLT):

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, God blesses those who do not turn away because of me … (12) And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.

Many Christians, including the majority of bible scholars, believe Jesus was referencing a prophecy from Isa 35:5, 6 when he gave this message to John’s disciples. But Isaiah only mentions; the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, those who cannot speak singing, and the lame leaping. There is no mention of the dead being raised, the good news being taught, or the heavens advancing.

Now compare Christ's answer to the Redemption and Resurrection scroll that is part of the DSS.

Frags. 2 + 4 Col. 2:1, 2, 7-9, 11,12:

For the heavens and the earth shall listen to His Messiah and all which is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones … 7 For He will honor the pious upon the throne of His eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bowed down. And forever I shall hold fast to those who hope and in His faithfulness shall … 11 and the Lord shall do glorious things which have not been done, just as He said. For he shall heal the critically wounded, He shall revive the dead, He shall send good news to the afflicted, He shall satisfy the poor, He shall guide the uprooted.

Frags. 7 + 5 Col. 2: 5, 6, 8, 14:

They shall be destined to die, when the Reviver raises the dead of his people … 8 And He shall open the graves … 14 and the heavens shall advance.

It is pretty clear that Jesus is referencing a passage from the DSS that specifically relate to prophecies about the Messiah. But they are passages that the Pharisees and Sadducees would not be aware of as they are not part of the OT canon. It was prophecy, however, that John and his disciples were very familiar with.

  • 2
    Your inclusion of DSS on this topic is interesting. The only part I think you would need to provide better information on is why you think the two sects wouldn't have recognized the material since it wasn't (according to you) part of the Canon. If the DSS contained the material then the chances are high that the Pharisees would certainly have known of it since the Essenes had major similarity in their teachings with the Pharisees.
    – user6053
    Aug 7, 2016 at 4:24
  • 2
    @TrustinJC It seems not credible that John was not sure whether the person whom he baptized and the person to whom he sent his disciples were the same person. Nothing in the Gospel gives any hint to this, but, due to this very hintlessness, the contrary is true, that the Gospel logic entails that John sent his disciples with 100% assuredness that this was the same person whom he had baptized. He and his disciples knew the Lord and His disciples from the outset, even, John and Andrew initially were John the Baptist's disciples, thus it is impossible that he could think it was some other Jesus. Jun 23, 2021 at 21:04

There are alternative possibilities:

a) he asked this not on his own behalf, but on behalf of his disciples, that they may have got assured not only by words of John, but by words of the Lord Himself. That can well explain why does not the Lord reprimand, at least directly, John for his lack of faith or understanding.

b) John was a man, and as any man, beset by doubts, second thoughts etc.. Therefore, it is quite possible that John saw clear and drastic discrepancy between the generally expected Messiah by Jewish people and that what the Lord was about through His acts and teachings. Namely, the Lord Jesus Christ did not put at all any political agenda of liberation of Jewish nation from Romans and restoration of a political Jewish Kingdom, Himself featuring as the Messianic King. On the contrary, He expressly denied political power for himself (John 6:15).

Now, that was something unexpected and even undesirable for Jews in general, for not only John the Baptist, but even the Lord Jesus' closest disciples could not understand Him, seeing in Him the earthly Messianic King who would restore the earthly kingdom of Jews (Mark 10:35-45), moreover, even after the Resurrection they still held those earthly political expectations about Him (Acts 1:6).

Thus, in this light, it is not a surprise that John asked this question through his disciples. And the answer he got from the Lord was to have an enlightening and healing effect on his intellect, for if blind see, dead are resurrected etc. then it is clear that this Messiah is even greater than any political messiah can be, and if greater, then He is the true Messiah and not anybody lesser; and if this true Messiah does not promote an earthly political agenda (John 18:36), then one has no other escape than to change mind about the essence of the Messiahship, and understand that the Kingdom which the true Messiah is bringing is not a visible one (Luke 17:20).

To conclude: From those two interpretations I would opt for the second; yet, it is possible also that the two are not mutually exclusive and John already had a light of the new notion of the Messiah amidst some easily dissipate-able doubts; whereas his disciples were in the darkness of the older notion and needed thus a greater instruction.

  • Part B is correct IMO. John had unmet expectations.
    – Dave
    May 12, 2022 at 2:31

In a very terse form Jesus replies to John "You are anxious because what I am doing is not what you were expecting so you ask me if I'm who you are expecting. Well here is what I'm doing: healing, etc. Is that what you were expecting? It seems John was expecting the messiah's coming to be attended with more violence!


Appreciate the earlier answer and comment re DSS, in agreement there might be something there. Just a struggling to learn sojourner through text in context here, but if I may add a couple thoughts to be wrestled with:

1) If we start with the premise that Jesus operated in his earthly life as a Jewish Rabbi (don't have to start there of course, but think it fair) who used rabbinical teaching techniques like PaRDeS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardes_(Jewish_exegesis) & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmudical_hermeneutics when he spoke in passages like Luke 7 and Matthew 11 to the followers of John (who like John and Jesus' own disciples also knew their texts along with possibly external writings of the day like the DSS).

One of the hermeneutical techniques rabbis used was the gezerah shavah, which was basically using specific words/concepts in different passages to string them together to make his point or paint his picture.

We could follow these lines to possibly string Isaiah 35:5-6 (as mentioned previously) to Isaiah 61:1-3 to Ezekiel 37:12-14. These sections of text (i.e. Isaiah 35 & 61 and Ezekiel 37, as the "remez" the R in PaRDeS, typically a "hint" to the D "derash" which was the theme or greater idea in a whole section of text, not just the one verse) were all pictures of what would be happening when the Moshiach (anointed servant-priest-king) showed up and the kingdom arrives. Note both John's and Jesus' good news or "gospel" was that the "kingdom was at hand". So Jesus used his text to basically let John know 'kingdom things are happening' so yes, I am Messiah, but kingdom is not coming in the way you believed (i.e. the axe and winnowing fork may be coming, but are not yet imminent). Interestingly out of all the good "kingdom" things Jesus mentioned (remezed) to tell John were happening, the one he leaves out is "the prisoners will be set free"...John wasn't and was soon killed.

2) There may quite possibly have been a difference in the eschatological views of John and Jesus - i.e John's view may have been more of a two part (e.g. see Mathew 3:7-12) where the axe and winnowing fork and fire were "here now" along with the kingdom, i.e. there is now a "hard stop" between the "current evil age" and the "age to come" to be ushered in by Messiah. This seems to have been a not uncommon view at the time https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-world-to-come/, in addition to the Israelites looking for messiah to free them from Rome and their current exile/slavery.

In contrast, Jesus view (as seen in parables like the mustard seed, weeds and wheat etc. in Matthew 13 and others) seems to paint a picture of more of a 3 part coming of the kingdom, where the current age and the age to come will overlap for some time. Also, the kingdom was going to come very differently than the expected overthrow of Rome with the sword, it was going to come with forgiveness and charity, and even loving your enemy, and being a shelter and shade and a drink of water etc. (see Isaiah 32:1-3, which by the way is the leading edge of the theme that gets to Isaiah 35, to come full circle)

So perhaps the conversation in Luke 7 & Matthew 11 was partly to bring these concepts to light for the mid-1st century readers of the gospels - who likely were Jesus followers that had questions about what happened/was happening, as living in the kingdom so far they were called to persevere through the struggles/challenges that came from both Rome and the non Jesus-following Jews of the day.


John's doubt was justified and Jesus commends him (v28). John's problem was that Jesus was not fulfilling all the OT prophecies concerning the Messiah. It kind of looks like in v22 Jesus is saying, "check out my awesome miracles", but he's not; John already knew about the miracles, and had heard God's voice about Jesus, so that would not have helped. Jesus is paraphrasing part of Isaiah 35, but only part. Immediately surrounding that part are things Jesus is not doing. Jesus quotes that bit he is fulfilling, then says "Blessed is he who does not stumble on account of me"; in other words "don't get offended as to how God runs his business".


Reference of that 'making sure' assurance can also be drawn to Scriptures showing the sharp contrast of when servants are endued with HIS power and when they are just themselves, simple, human, servants. Some examples include Elijah fearful of Jezebel despite his mighty acts; Moses caught between the Sea and the soldiers; Peter walking on the water; and even Jesus in the garden requesting for the 'cup' to be passed from HIM. These experiences or moments occur to even 'the best' of us in any given field.

The man John needed that assurance and it was rather fitting that his followers were the messengers, too! Imagine the leader, John the Baptist, is imprisoned and later sentenced to be beheaded! His followers and others he'd baptized needed that assurance even the more. The Kingdom had citizens still loyal to the pronounced King.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other SEs. Our community looks for answers to reflect a good degree of research and references. Typically, we like answers that cite scholarly references and consider it a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Aug 11, 2016 at 8:26

Ideas of Jesus, Moses, Peter and Elisha moments of greatness following moments of doubt baffles me tome linked to John and even some scholars stating that John doubted at the very end and that a child is much more greater than John according to their misinterpretation of what Jesus said. Now as a prophet John knew his mandate even said he should decrease as Christ increase. Recognized Jesus in the womb and even from first sight why will he doubt now asking if Christ was the messiah. I rather think that he wanted his disciples to know who to follow hence the DSS quote can be used here as an answer they knew only him as in Christ will know

  • I find it difficult to comprehend that even as a foetus, John was assured of who Jesus was without even seeing him yet he leaped and then when he saw Jesus he said the lamb that take away the sins of man and even wanted Christ to baptise him. So why doubt now?
    – Kyeinana
    Jul 4, 2018 at 21:27
  • Welcome to the BH site! Kyeinana, your reply is interesting and based on a kind of common sense that is natural for a religious person. However, on this site there is unusual to post a comment related to your own answer. Could you please edit and elaborate a single and more comprehensive text? Perhaps if you can find&quote biblical passages where characters like Moses, Peter, Elisha seem to be in some sort of a doubt, would be helpful, in order to support your position and, why not, made it acceptable for someone who does not share a religious point of view, but a scientifical one. Jul 5, 2018 at 10:59

John was aware of Jesus but was clearly expecting more than one person - “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?”

Messiah was used arguably loosely and could indicate – anointed one, messenger, Prophet a person chosen by God – so Messiah is not inclusively Jesus, but generally relates to Jesus.

Was someone else expected few references from NT only with much more in the OT.

Luke 3:16 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (will come – Jesus was already here)

Mark 1:7 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

John 1:19-27 19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (note this would be Jesus) 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” (so who is that prophet)

John 15:26 - 26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. (Jesus is talking about sending someone, clearly not him and not holy spirit (HS is truth, guidance strength etc…) also HS has been there since beginning and continuously in the bible)

John 16:7-8 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

John 16:13 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 14:16 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you ***another ***advocate to help you and be with you forever (another / new not HS already hear or a person already hear)

John 14:30-31 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (someone coming not here already)

John 14:26 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Acts 3:22 - 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren, Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.

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