“should we be looking for a different one.” John the Baptist sent his disciples to Christ with the question, “Are you the Coming One, or should we be looking for a different one?” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 7:19). The question is problematic because John was the one who identified Christ with the words: “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29, 34). Had John developed doubts that Jesus was the Messiah? Considering that a number of people close to Jesus, including his mother Mary and Peter, misunderstood him, that is possible, but we think not as likely as the other two possibilities stated below.
Another reason for John’s question is given by Joseph Good in his book, Rosh HaShanah and the Messianic Kingdom to Come (Hatikva Ministries, P.O. Box 3125, Port Arthur, TX, 1989, p. 2). Good writes:
As the ancient Jewish scholars and Rabbis began to study the scriptural information about the Messiah, they encountered a serious problem: many of the passages seemed to contradict one another. Often the Messiah is seen as a conquering king…Other passages speak of a suffering servant. From this paradoxical description of the Messiah came a first-century Common Era (AD) rabbinical teaching of two Messiahs.
Good goes on to say that the ancients called the conquering Messiah “Messiah Ben David,” and called the suffering Messiah “Messiah Ben Joseph.” The Talmud applied Zechariah 12:10, which says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child,” to Messiah Ben Joseph (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book 2, p. 736). However, Edersheim writes that even on that point the Jewish rabbis were divided, some saying the mourning is caused by the death of the Messiah Ben Joseph, while others said it was due to evil concupiscence.
Good goes on to conclude:
This anticipation of two Messiahs by the Jewish people of the first century is the background for the question posed by Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) to Yeshua [Jesus] as to whether He was the Messiah (indicating one, singular), or if they were to expect another. His question was specifically whether Yeshua would fulfill all of the prophecies concerning Messiah, or whether the Rabbis, who said there would be two Messiahs, were right. Yeshua’s answer is a paraphrase of various passages that Rabbis identified as referring partially to Messiah Ben Joseph and partially to Messiah Ben David. Therefore, Yeshua was expressing, in dramatic language that was clear to His listeners, that He would fulfill all of the messianic prophecies. Rather than send two Messiahs with two different roles, G-d would send one Messiah in two separate appearances or comings (Good, Rosh HaShanah, p. 5).
It is also possible that John was not confused about who Jesus was, but his disciples had doubts, and John, fairly certain that he was about to die, wanted his disciples to hear for themselves who Jesus was, so they would follow him when John was no longer alive.
“a different one.” The Greek word “different” is heteros (#2087 ἕτερος), in this case, referring to someone of a different quality. Another in number, another of the same kind, would have been the Greek word allos. The Emphasized Bible by Rotherham and The New Testament by Williams are versions that also use the word “different.” Was this gentle and loving man the Coming One, or was there another, different, conquering Messiah Ben David, who they should be looking for? Interestingly, the question that John’s disciples ask Jesus that is recorded in Luke 7:19 is not heteros, but allos. So there the emphasis is not on “another of a different kind or quality,” but just “another,” i.e., a second one.