The Baptism of the Lord

Baptisms in the sense of purifications were common in the Old Testament The "divers washings" (Greek "baptisms") are mentioned in Hebrews.9:10, and "the doctrine of baptisms......

Baptisms in the sense of purifications were common in the Old Testament The "divers washings" (Greek "baptisms") are mentioned in Hebrews.9:10, and "the doctrine of baptisms," Hebrews.6:2. The plural" baptisms" is used in the wider sense, all purifications by water; as of the priest's hands and feet in the laver outside before entering the tabernacle, in the daily service (Exodus.30:17-21); of the high priest's flesh in the holy place on the day of atonement (Leviticus.16:23); of persons ceremonially unclean (Leviticus.14-15;16:26-28;17:15;22:4-6), a leper, one with an issue, one who ate that which died of itself, one who touched a dead body, the one who let go the scape-goat or buried the ashes of the red heifer, of the people before a religious festival (Exodus.19:10; John.11:55). The high priest's consecration was threefold: by baptism, unction, and sacrifice (Exodus.29:4;40:12-15; Leviticus.8).

"Baptism" in the singular is used specially of the Christian rite. Jewish believers passed naturally from the Old Testament baptismal purifications, through John's transitional baptism, to Christian baptism and the subsequent laying on of hands, accompanied with the Holy Spirit (Acts.8:12,14-17). The spiritual sense of ceremonial baptisms was recognized in the Old Testament (Psalm 26:6;51:2,7;73:13; Isaiah 1:16;4:4; Jeremiah.4:14; Zechariah.13:1.)

Ceremonial washings had been multiplied by tradition, before the Lord's coming (Mark.7:3-4). Even the Gentile Pilate washed his hands to symbolize his innocence of Jesus' blood. The Targum of Jonathan on Exodus.12:44 is the earliest authority for the common notion that the Jews baptized male (besides circumcising them) and female proselytes. No notice of such a custom occurs in Philo, Josephus, or the Targum of Onkelos; the commonness of such ceremonial purifications makes it a probable one. In the 4th century A.D. it certainly prevailed. In the case of Jewish proselytes from Ishmaelites and Egyptians, who were already circumcised, some such rite would be needed. Probably it was at first merely the customary purificatory washing before the sacrifice offered in admitting the proselyte, whence Philo and Josephus would omit mentioning it as being usual at all sacrifices. When sacrifices ceased, after the destruction of the temple, the washing would be retained as a baptism of initiation into Judaism.

John's "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Luke.3:3) was the pledge his followers took of their determination to separate themselves from the prevalent pollutions, as the needful preparation for receiving the coming Messiah, who remits the sins of His believing people. The "remission" was not present but prospective, looked for through Messiah, not through John (Acts.10:43). John's baptism was accompanied with confession (Matthew.3:6), and was an act of obedience to the call to renounce all sin and believe in the coming Redeemer from sin. The universal expectation of the Messianic king "in the whole East" (says Suetonius, a pagan writer, Vespas. 4) made all ready to flock to the forerunner. The Jews hoped to be delivered from Rome's supremacy (Malachi.3:1; 4:5-6).

The last of the prophets had foretold the coming of Elijah before the great day of the coming of the Lord, the Sun of righteousness, the messenger of the covenant. Elijah was to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," namely, the disobedient children to the faith and fellowship of their pious forefathers, Abraham, Jacob, Levi, Elijah (Luke.1:17), lest Messiah at His coming" should smite the earth with a curse." The scribes accordingly declared, "Elias must first come." Jesus declared that John was this foretold Elias (Matthew.11:13-14;17:10-12). John's preaching was "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand," the latter phrase referring to Daniel.2:44;7:14. The Jews, as a nation, brought the "curse" on their land ("earth") by not repenting, and by rejecting Messiah at His first advent.

Their sin delayed the kingdom's manifestation, just as their unbelief in the wilderness caused the 40 years of delay in entering into their inheritance in Canaan. He brought blessing to those who accepted Him (John was the instrument in turning many to Him: John.1:11,36), and shall bring blessing to the nation at His second advent, when they shall turn to the Lord (Romans.11:5,26; Luke.13:35). John's baptism began and ended with himself; he alone, too, administered it. But Christ's baptism was performed by His disciples, not Himself, that He might mark His exclusive dignity as baptizer, with the Holy Spirit (John.4:2), and that the validity of baptism might not depend on the worth of the minister but on God's appointment. It continues to the end of this dispensation (Matthew.28:19-20). John's was with water only; Christ's with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke.3:16).

The Holy Spirit in full measure was not given until Jesus' glorification at His ascension (John 7:39). Apollos' and John's disciples at Ephesus knew not of the Holy Spirit's baptism, which is the distinctive feature of Christ's (Acts.18:25;19:2-6; compare Acts.1:5;11:16). The outward sign of an inward sorrow for sin was in John's baptism; but there was not the inward spiritual grace conferred as in Christian baptism. Those of the twelve who had. been baptized by John probably received no further baptism until the extraordinary one by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Christian baptism implies grafting into fellowship or union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; for the Greek expresses this (Matthew.28:19): "Go ye, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name (the revealed person) of the Father," etc.

John, being among the Old Testament prophets, not in the kingdom of God or New Testament church, preached the law and baptism into legal repentance and reformation of morals, and Messiah's immediate advent. Christian baptism is the seal of gospel doctrine and spiritual renewal. Jesus' own baptism by John was, Christ saith, in order "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew.3:15). Others in being baptized confessed their sins; Jesus professed" all righteousness." He submitted, as part of the righteousness He undertook to fulfill, to be consecrated to His ministry in His 30th year, the age at which the Levites began their ministry (Luke.3:23), by the last of the Old Testament prophets and the harbinger of the New Testament, His own forerunner. At the same time that the outward minister set Him apart, the Holy Spirit from heaven gave Him inwardly the unction of His fullness without measure; and the Father declared His acceptance of Him as the sinners' savior, the anointed prophet, priest, and king (John.3:34; John.1:16): "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Since God, against whom we have sinned, is satisfied with Him (and God cannot but be so, seeing it was the Father's love and justice which provided Him), so also may we. As the high priest's consecration was threefold, by baptism, unction, and sacrifice, so Jesus' (compare Acts.10:38) baptism began His consecration, the Holy Spirit's unction was the complement of His baptism, and His sacrifice fully perfected His consecration as our priest forevermore (Hebrews.7:28, margin). This is the sense of 1 John 5:6; "this is He that came by water and blood;" by water at His consecration by baptism to His mediatorial ministry for us, when He received the Father's testimony to His Messiahship and His divine Sonship (John.1:33-34). Corresponding to His is our baptism of water and the Spirit, the seal of initiatory incorporation with Him (John.3:5).

Jesus came "by blood" also, namely, "the blood of His cross" (Hebrews.9:12). His coming "by water and blood," as vividly set forth in the issue of water and blood from His pierced side, was seen and solemnly attested by John (John.19:34-35). John Baptist came only baptizing with water; therefore was not Messiah. Jesus came, undergoing Himself the double baptism of water and blood, then baptizing us with the Spirit cleansing, of which water is the sacramental seal, and with His atoning blood once for all shed and of perpetual efficacy; therefore He Messiah. It is His shed blood which gives water baptism its spiritual significancy. We are baptized into His death, the point of union between us and Him, and, through Him, between us and God, not into His birth or incarnation (Romans.6:3-4; Colossians.2:12).

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