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Was John the Baptist Jealous?

We want to be great, but there’s someone far greater.

by Natalie Abbott


This is what John the Baptist says about Jesus. This is also what John the Baptist says about himself. And this is what I want to say too. I want to say, “Jesus is great. Look at him, not me. Follow him, not me. He’s the big deal, not me.” But, I must confess, when I say this verse, it rings hollow in my ears because I know deep down that I'm not being totally honest. There’s a part of me that longs for greatness and glory. I want people to notice and thank me. I want people to tell me how smart or good or important I am. I want even just a sliver of that glory for me. So, when I say this verse, I feel the fakeness of it, even though I wish it were true. I wish I could say it with an all-in, pure heart, really really wanting to make much of Jesus and less of myself. But how do I get there? If we’re being honest, how do any of us get there? How did John get there? I think if we look at how John got there, we might just discover the answer we’re looking for. 

The problem: everyone is following someone else. 

In our passage, John’s disciples come to him saying, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him” (John 3:26). They are clearly not happy about this new competition. They point out that Jesus, whom they call “that man,” is doing the same things that they’re doing, only now everyone is going over to him. Truth be told, “everyone” was not actually going over to Jesus, the text says that “people were coming and being baptized” by John the Baptist (John 3:23). But clearly, many people were following Jesus instead of John. John was losing people, even 2 of his own disciples (John 1:37). And John’s disciples were starting to fret. 

John’s answer: everyone should be following Jesus. 

John tells his disciples a short parable in response to their accusations. He tells them, “Jesus is like the groom at a wedding—he’s the main event, he’s the big deal. And me? I’m the groomsman. I’m here to announce his coming. 

And now that he’s here, I’m happy to fade into the background” (my paraphrase of John 3:29). As observant readers who understand that Jesus is God, we might tend to miss the shocking nature of John’s remark. John willingly, humbly says to his disciples, “You’re right, everyone is going after Jesus, and it’s good and right for them to do so.” This is completely upside-down and backwards to every natural human inclination for all time! Think about it. When was the last time that a competing brand EVER did this? Did Reebok and Adidas throw a party for Nike in 1971 when they showed up on the scene to steal away customers and revenue? Did they say, “Nike must become greater; we must become less?” I don’t think so. And yet, here we have John the Baptist telling his followers that his competitor should increase in glory and fame while he’s destined to fade into obscurity. Who does that?! How can John be so indifferent to his job security? What would make John say such a thing?

John’s reasoning: Jesus is worth following.

Now we’ve arrived at the crux of things. Directly following his pronouncement that Jesus must increase and he must decrease, John the Baptist tells his followers (and us) why. Let’s read John’s pronouncement and his “why” word for word:

He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. 

— John 3:30-36

Do you see it? John says that Jesus must become greater because Jesus truly IS greater. John is a mere man, but Jesus is from heaven. Jesus speaks the words of God. Jesus has the Spirit without limit. Jesus is loved by God, and God has given him all things. Jesus has authority over life and death, giving eternal life to all who believe in him. Jesus IS great and Jesus alone deserves to be made great. This is why John can say what he does. 

The answer for our glory stealing: focusing on Jesus. 

Because John is concerned about the greatness of Jesus, he is less concerned with himself. Because John sees Jesus for who he truly is, he can also see himself rightly. This is our answer to why John can say what he says. John can say with full honesty, “He must become greater; I must become less,” because he is focused on how great Jesus is (John 3:30). So, like John, when we’re tempted to make much of ourselves, when we want the glory and the fame, we should look to Jesus. We should meditate on his greatness, so that our truly humble position would be reflected in a humble attitude, and our desires for greatness would find their right place in the only Great one who alone deserves all honor, glory, and praise. 

The answer for my own vainglory: focusing on this verse!

So, as I have been studying this verse, I’ve been saying it on repeat. And it is frankly shocking how often my heart has been convicted by it. As I look for congratulations or gratitude or approval, I’ve been reminding myself that there is only one truly great one: Jesus. And he alone deserves glory and thanks and worship. He must become greater; I must become less. 

In what areas do you tend to seek your own glory (thanks, approval, congratulations)?

How might saying this verse help move your heart towards humility?

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the Co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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