In the first two chapters of his Gospel, John presented Jesus’ ministry within the backdrop of multiple Old Testament themes, allusions, and quotations.
(1) In John 1:1-5, John described Jesus’ activity in the creation account of Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, God is presented as an eternal Being. God’s activity at the beginning of creation assumes that He had no beginning—and John presented Jesus in the same category of Being when he opened his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John presented Jesus as the agent carrying out God’s creative word in Genesis 1, writing, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3). While God created human life on the sixth day of creation (Gen 1:26-30), life was in Jesus (John 1:4).
(2) In John 1:11, John wrote that Jesus came to His own people, but they rejected Him, reflecting Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord’s servant was rejected. Isaiah announced that though the Lord’s servant would be raised up and exalted (Isa 52:13), the servant had no quality of appearance that might attract the masses. Rather, “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:3). John spoke prophetically in John 1:11, later recounting the various ways that the Jews and the leaders would spurn Jesus until the time when they handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified.
(3) In John 1:17, John wrote that the law was given through Moses, recalling God’s means of revealing Himself to Israel in the Old Testament. At the burning bush, God called Moses to reveal His great power by leading Israel out of Egypt (Exod 3:1-10). The Lord continued to reveal Himself through Moses, giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-31). In John 1:17, John contrasted God’s revelation through Moses with God’s revelation in Jesus. After the Lord told Moses that—despite the people’s idolatry with the golden calf—He would accompany Israel to Canaan, Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory. The Lord allowed Moses to only see the remnants of His glory as Moses hid in a rock and the Lord passed by Him (Exod 33:12-23). But the Son, John said, has revealed God for all to see (John 1:18).
(4) In John 1:23, John the Baptist confessed that he was the voice crying out to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah predicted. Beginning in Isaiah 40, the prophet proclaimed God’s grace upon His people noting that God would restore them after a season of disciplining them because of their sin. In Isa 40:3, Isaiah cried out preparing the way for the Lord to come and be gracious to His people again. Because many of the Jews were curious about John the Baptist’s ministry, some of the leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to inquire of John directly, asking, “Who are you?” (John 1:19). John denied being the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. John claimed that he was one sent from God (John 1:6) to cry out, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23) in accord with Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 40:3 (see also Matt 3:3-6//Mark 1:2-6//Luke 3:1-6).
(5) In John 1:29, John pointed to Jesus and announced that Jesus was the lamb of God, reflecting Isaiah’s prophecy of the Lord’s suffering servant. In Isaiah 53, the prophet described the Lord’s servant as one who would be rejected and despised by people. Isaiah stated that the Lord would punish his servant “for the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6b). The Lord’s servant would be like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7). After John endured a round of questioning from the priests and Levites the Jerusalem leadership sent to inquire about John’s identity, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29).
(6) In John 1:49-51, Nathanael and Jesus proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus told Nathanael that He saw him even before Philip called him, Nathanael confessed Jesus as the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:49). Nathanael’s conflation of divine sonship with royal authority reflected Psalms 2, 45, and 110 as well as the Davidic covenant recorded in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus affirmed Nathanael’s confession, saying, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jesus’ statement recalled the Lord’s appearance to Jacob in Gen 28:10-22. When Esau recognized that his younger brother Jacob had swindled the blessing from him, he was angry—and Isaac was concerned that Esau might seek revenge. Isaac sent Jacob away to find a wife amongst his family members. One night as Jacob stopped to rest, the Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream. Jacob saw heaven opened and ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down on it as the Lord stood beside him. By citing this story, Jesus presented Himself to Nathanael as God in the flesh, acknowledging Nathanael’s confession of faith.
(7) In John 2:17, John described Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as a demonstration of Jesus’ zeal for the Lord, according to Ps 69:9. The psalmist’s cry for deliverance in Psalm 69 anticipated Jesus’ suffering. The psalmist sought God’s aid both because he had sinned against the Lord and because he had endured shame for God’s name (Ps 69:5-8). The psalmist proclaimed that zeal for God’s house consumed him (Ps 69:9). John wrote that after Jesus cleansed the temple of those buying and selling in the courtyards, Jesus’ disciples remembered that Jesus’ zeal for God’s house reflected that of the psalmist. The psalmist’s opponents gave him gall and vinegar to drink (Ps 69:19-21), just as the soldiers gave Jesus on the cross (Matt 27:34//Mark 15:23).