As many of you know, we worked through the book of John while I was in Italy, checking three different translations for biblical accuracy. When you comb through a book in this way, you come upon lots of things that you just never really thought about in reading the text. But when you are translating, you suddenly have to understand what it means!
One of those passages is John 3:22-36. This is when John the Baptist’s disciples come to John to complain that more people were going to Jesus for baptism than were coming to them. John replies, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:28-30, NIV).
This is a beautiful testimony which we as Christians take to heart. Christ must become greater in our lives, as we become less. However, we generally tend to gloss over the description of the groom’s friend. After all, we know what a best man does, right? Well, upon closer reading, we began to realize that we didn’t actually know what he was doing! American weddings don’t involve “waiting and listening for the groom’s voice.” So what was the groom’s friend doing, and how does that relate to John?
A little research revealed this explanation, from the New American Commentary, “At that time the bridegroom normally selected one or two close friends to escort the bride to the bridegroom’s marriage chamber and to wait outside the room or tent for the bridegroom’s shout and often for receipt of tokens that the marriage had been consummated with his virgin bride.” Other sources add that sometimes the groom himself went to get the bride from her parents’ house, but sometimes he selected some friends for this purpose. Once they arrived, the friends gave the bride to the groom, and then waited outside the bridal chamber for the groom to shout, signaling that the marriage had been consummated. They communicated this to those waiting, and the marriage feast began. Now, this is pretty different from American culture, and might seem a little awkward! But let’s look at it from John’s analogy.
John was on earth preparing people for the Messiah, but was not the Messiah himself, as the friend of the groom is with the bride, but is not the groom himself. John was proclaiming the news of Christ, as the friend waits and proclaims when the marriage is consummated. Then the friend’s role is over. He fades out of the picture, but he is not disappointed that his role has finished. He is filled with joy because his friend is now married. This was how John felt. His role was coming to an end. He was no longer the center of the message of redemption. John’s role was diminishing, but rather than being upset that his role was ending, he was filled with joy. Christ had arrived! The Messiah had come to redeem his bride! Like John, we continue to point to the Messiah, rather than to ourselves. We are “waiting and listening” for His second coming, and we proclaim His name until He comes to finally and completely redeem His bride. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)