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Pt.2 John the Baptist

Updated on January 24, 2019
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Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Bible Expositors Seminary, Philippines.

The Baptism of John

As we said in the previous article, John’s baptism was a water baptism of repentance. It was directed to the Jews and it was rejected by the majority of the people of his time. There is a question we must ask though. Is the baptism of John the same as the baptism of the New Testament church? While many argue over the exact wording of the role that John played, most from the Landmark/Perpetuity camp see the ministry of John as the starting place for the New Testament church.

To recap our previous articles on this issue, the logic flows something like this:

1) Baptism by immersion is the only Biblical form of baptism.

2) John the Baptist baptized by immersion first.

3) Therefore: John the Baptist was the human instrument used by Christ to begin the New Testament Church.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that baptism by immersion is the only Biblical form of administration. For the record, I must note that I do believe it is, but that is not the point. If indeed Baptism by immersion is the Biblical form of administration, then the next question is: Was the baptism of John the same as that of the New Testament Church? Let us further assume that the John's baptism was by full emersion. Is this enough?

Let’s start with what John said about his baptism.

“John answered and said to them all, 'As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'” Luke 3:16

John is making a contrast between the baptism he is performing and the one which Christ will perform. Now, we have to say here, I do not believe that John is speaking of the same thing. It is obvious that John is saying his baptism is external but that Christ will do more. The baptism of Christ will be of a spiritual nature. The phrase “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” requires some explanation. Consider please the comments of Matthew Poole:

“with fire as the symbol of the Holy Ghost; so some understand it, expounding it as a prophecy of the descent of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:3. Others possibly better expound it of the Holy Ghost working in the souls of believers as fire, purging them, and burning up their lusts and corruptions.”

The baptism of Jesus, which is not a literal, water baptism, includes a spiritual dimension that will impart the Holy Spirit and will lead to spiritual cleansing.

Wait for the Holy Spirit

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5

Some might argue that the Disciples had already receive the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost. For example:

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” John 20:21-23

There are two points that should be made. First, if the Disciples received the Holy Spirit in the full measure or with permanence, then why would Jesus instruct them to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Clearly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was different than their receiving the Holy Spirit when Christ breathed on them. Secondly, not all the Disciples were present.

Verse 24: But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came

While it is not possible for us to delve in to all the differences we see between the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, we must at least acknowledge by Jesus’s own words, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to be greater than what had been experienced previously by anyone. And that while the disciples and perhaps even Old Testament believers had experienced something of the Holy Spirit, the fulness of the ministry of the Holy Spirit had yet to be experienced.

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

Although we could look at numerous passages regarding this subject, I will limit our study to three key passages that I believe are most telling. We saw that John unites the Baptism of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. We see the same idea in the preaching of Peter, right after Pentecost.

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

What was promised by John the Baptist and by Jesus was fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter also tells us that this is the fulfillment of the promise of Joel (verses 17- 21). The last age is now upon the earth. God has poured out His Spirit upon all believers who were present at Pentecost. And the reception of the Holy Spirit is the mark of a New Testament believer, both Jew and Gentile.

This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:32

We should also note that Peter tells them to be baptized "in the name of Jesus." This is obviously different than the phrase used by John. Baptism now is connected to the completed work of Christ and is done in His name.

John's Baptism was Incomplete

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:1-6

If the Baptism of John was the same as the Baptism of the New Testament, which was done in the name of Jesus, it would have imparted the Holy Spirit and it would have not been necessary for these people to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Clearly, from this passage we can see that John’ Baptism of repentance was transitory but was not complete as it did not fulfill the New Testament sealing of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:3-6

New Testament baptism is united to and a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Given that John died before Jesus, it would have been impossible for his baptism to picture this. New Testament baptism is connected to regeneration and regeneration in the New Testament includes the reception, sealing and permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism did not include these things.

Part III: John and Baptism

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