In John 1:29, John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John the Baptist also said of Jesus, “The strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27), and, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). It is clear that John the Baptist recognized Jesus to be the Messiah and had faith in Him.
However, later, as recorded in Matthew 11:3 and Luke 7:19, John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” What happened? Why was John the Baptist doubting whether Jesus was the Messiah? There are two key points to remember. First, John the Baptist had been thrown in prison by Herod (Matthew 11:2; Luke 3:20). John had perhaps been in prison for over a year when he asked his question. He likely knew that he would eventually be executed, which he was shortly after he sent the message to Jesus (Matthew 14:1–12). Second, Jesus was not being received as the Messiah by the majority of Israelites. Jesus was being strongly rejected by the leaders of Israel: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin. Amid these circumstances, it is understandable that John the Baptist would have some doubts.
Jesus’ response is telling. He tells John’s messengers to inform John of the miracles being performed (Matthew 11:4–5). He then proceeds to praise John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:7–11; Luke 7:21–27).
There was no rebuke of John the Baptist from Jesus. Jesus knew John, loved John, and understood the trial John was enduring. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s doubt is a perfect example of Matthew 12:20, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”