The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him tells us that our Lord came to him after his confession and protestations. His humility toward the coming Messiah now is coupled with further spiritual illumination. These verses suggest that Jesus had already been baptized and John sees Him coming again. He says, Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The phrase Lamb of God is used twice (vv. 29, 36) but the idea of the “lamb” and Christ can be found in Rev. 7:17; 17:14, etc. Of course this goes back to the OT idea of sacrifice (Lev. 14:25; 16:15-22). He is the Lamb whom God (τοῦ θεοῦ) provides (cf. Gen. 22:8) and his death (the shedding of His blood) will take away the sins of the world. The death would be sacrificial, substitutionary, and on account of its nature, propitiatory.
Let us remember this is Christ’s mission; this is why He came. Yes, he gives us light, He instructs, etc. but all those things are useless if He did not die for our sins. Through this atonement, all the other blessings of Christ can become ours.
He adds, This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me. John did not and cannot take away the sins of anyone. We see now why Jesus is greater. This is already quoted in v. 15.
Verse 31 indicates that John’s calling to baptize also served as a means of identifying the Lamb of God: I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel. John was to reveal the Messiah and yet, up to this moment, he did not know the identity of the Messiah. Jesus’ coming was to be a blessing to Israel; Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was to be revealed to Israel first. But as we know, his own people did not receive him (v. 11).
Verses 32-34 explain how John came to recognize Jesus. I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. The Spirit’s descent and dwelling fulfill Is. 11:1ff. which says, “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him…” (cf. Is. 42:1; 61:1; cf. Acts 10:38). As John baptized (drawn from the Synoptics), he saw this fulfilled and this was revealed to him: He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. John saw this and bears witness that this is the Son of God.
The identity of who Jesus is did not even come to John by flesh and blood; it was divinely revealed to him. If the forerunner of the Messiah had to be told and instructed regarding his own Lord, then how much more for all who are lost? John confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. Remember what our Lord said to Peter who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood (σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα) has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” (Mt. 16:16, 17)
The Spirit comes from Jesus Christ as a gift to His church. The Spirit is never severed from Him (Acts 2:33). It is Jesus who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and that baptism is what you and I need. The water baptism means nothing if we do not the baptism of the Spirit. Two important points need to be remembered. One, a person cannot have the Spirit without Christ. If we do not have Christ, we do not have the Holy Spirit. No saving experience of the Spirit is possible without Christ. Two, one should never seek to “experience” the Spirit as if it is a mystical, indefinable, and mysterious encounter. Though we cannot understand everything about the Spirit’s work yet one thing is clear, a genuine “experience” of the Spirit is always consciously Christocentric and Christological (Christ centered and about Christ).