There is this opinion, however pious, that John the Baptist enjoyed a higher degree of sanctification than your average believer, and so could not possibly have been asking Jesus for his own sake if He was the One who is to come or not (as if he was above such a need for comfort and validation). After all, John leapt in his mother’s womb, confessed Jesus as the Lamb of God, saw the dove descend from heaven, etc. Certainly he was not in doubt about the identity of Jesus.
I will not argue that John enjoyed a very high degree of sanctification, since Jesus himself says that John was “the greatest of those born among women.” Who am I to argue with Jesus? But Jesus also says that the citizens of the kingdom, even the most insignificant, are greater than John (“He who is least in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than him”). So, I do not believe that it is the case that John was greater than me or any other Christian, since I cannot argue with Jesus on this point either.
But to say that John’s greatness in some way diminished his need for the words of Christ is to say that the Pharisee was greater than the Tax Collector, or the Syro-phoenician woman, or the blind beggar. Isn’t it a consistent theme of the Gospels that the greatest people in the kingdom of heaven are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus makes an example of little children, and calls them the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.
John’s question is not surprising, given the fact that the coming of the Messianic age was supposed to mean release for the captives and breaking down the walls of prisons. If it was his disciples who were weak in faith, surely it was because they, like the disciples of Jesus, needed to know that John’s imprisonment was not a sign of the failure of the kingdom to come, or a sign that John was a fraud. John needed to know that his faithwas not in vain, that his preaching mattered, that he was not in prison for nothing (much like I need after six weeks of preaching to a handful of people during Lent!).
If John the Baptist enjoyed a higher degree of sanctification than us average Christians (what are we, “Baptists” or something?) then surely it would mean that John was more hungry and thirsty for the grace and comfort of Christ’s Words. Indeed, we could all learn from John that we can rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances, knowing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in whom the Kingdom of the Heavens has come and is coming.