In many religious circles there is the common belief that when a person comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, then the next thing he is to do is to become sprinkled with or fully immersed in water. Usually the reasons given are as follows:
It is what the Lord has done, therefore, we are to do this also.
(If this is the case, then should we all become circumcised and enter the synagogue on the Sabbath day too? Also, the Lord kept the feasts of Leviticus and the Passover. Should we also keep these things?).
Other reasons are:
Baptism is a sign to unbelievers.
It takes the place of circumcision.
It is a confession to Christ.
It is the initiatory ordinance of Christianity.
It is an outward sign of newness of life in Christ.
Though these arguments may seem to be right, is it what the Scriptures teach for those who are a part of the Church of the One body? If we believe that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”, then isn’t it our responsibility as believers to depend upon the Word to teach us the truth concerning the subject of Baptism, apart from the traditions of men? In order to understand the subject of Baptism, it is imperative to set aside our traditional learning on this subject (Col. 2:8). Through this short study, it is our hope to find the answers to the following questions:
How did Baptism originate in the Bible?
What does Baptism mean?
Is water Baptism for us today; the Church of the One Body?
The Washings of the Old Testament
Baptism did not begin in the New Testament, but has its roots in the Old Testament.
The first occurrence of the Hebrew word for ‘Baptism’ is found in Job 9:31, but it is translated ‘plunge’. It is also found in the book of Kings when Naaman dipped (Hebrew word for baptized) himself 7 times in the river Jordan. In Exodus 12 we read of the hyssop which was dipped (Hebrew word baptized) in blood.
In Deut. 33 there is an interesting reference concerning Asher, ‘let him dip his foot in oil’. ‘Dip’ is the Hebrew word for ‘baptize’, which means literally to let him baptize his foot in oil. This is highly figurative language, meaning that Asher is going to be rich in oil and olives.
Baptism in the New Testament
When we come to the New Testament, reference is made to John the Baptizer. John is the first person known in Scripture to baptize someone other than himself, with the exception of Moses who consecrated Aaron.
The Lord’s Baptism
In John chapter 1, the Pharisees came to John and asked him –
‘Why baptisist thou then if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?’
John points to the Lord and says in verses 29-31 ‘I knew Him not; but THAT HE SHOULD BE MADE MANIFEST TO ISRAEL, therefore am I come baptizing with water’.
John was a forerunner of Christ to prepare Israel for their long-awaited Messiah, the True King of Israel. Therefore, the Lord was baptized in water in order to MAKE HIM MANIFEST TO HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE ISRAEL.
Israel’s Baptism by John
In Mark 1:3 we read of John as ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’.
John was the forerunner to prepare Israel for their King. When John baptized the Israelites, this Baptism was an outward sign of their inward repentance and a change of heart to God. Those who repented submitted to John’s Baptism admitting their condition of being a sinful people. In God’s sight, Israel had gone “away backward”. Isaiah spoke of her condition in his day and that condition persisted until John the Baptist.
“Ah sinful natin, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters! they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” (Is.1:4,5)
Those who submitted to John’s Baptism admitted their condition by-
CONFESSING THEIR SINS”.
4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
John’s Baptism identified the repentant part of Israel, and as such, they made up a separate company within Israel. They were identified with Israel by birth. They were identified with Israel’s covenants by circumcision. Then with John’s Baptism, they became identified with the repentant ones in Israel. The repentant ones formed the company that was to be the new nation through whom Christ would govern when the Kingdom was set up.
Their repentance would usher in the prophetic Kingdom, with the promised Messiah upon the throne of David. In turn, they would become a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation in order to make known to the world the salvation of God.
The King was upon the earth, the Kingdom was at Hand; all that was needed was for Israel to turn to their Messiah. With their repentance, the long awaited millennial reign would usher in upon the earth and Israel would finally be a Kingdom of Priests and holy nation. (see Ex.19)
The majority of Israel did not accept Christ as their King or Savior, even after given a second chance to repent during the period covered by the book of Acts.
The Baptism After John’s – Baptism of the Holy Ghost and With Fire
In Matthew chapter 3 there is another mention of a Baptism:
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:’
This Baptism is associated with ‘power from on high’ when the Lord gave gifts to men as outward evidential signs that the Kingdom was at hand. These gifts were also shared with the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom.10:9; 11:11), but ceased once the Kingdom was postponed. This was the Baptism after John’s Baptism. It was linked with powerful enduement to the twelve Apostles, the Jews, and the Gentiles during the Acts economy, but ceased when the final pronouncement of blindness in Acts 28 came upon unbelieving Israel. All the way up to Acts 28, Paul was able to use those gifts of the fiery Holy Ghost when He cured a man of a bloody flux and became unharmed from the bite of a snake. (Acts 28:3-8)
Peter, the apostle to the Circumcision, namely the Jews, also preached a Baptism similar to John’s. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, Peter, being filled with the Holy Ghost tells Israel to repent and to be baptized. ‘Then Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’. This fulfills the Lord’s statement in Mark 16, ‘He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved’. This is in fulfillment of what the Lord told them in Acts 1:4.
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
5 – For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
This is in harmony with Luke 24:49 when the Lord was speaking to the eleven Apostles:
Luke 24:49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
So, this power from on high was connected with the Holy Spirit. What was its’ purpose?
It was the powerful equipment of spiritual gifts for the twelve to make known to Israel the proclamation that the long-awaited Kingdom was at hand.
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, also wrote of those same gifts to the Corinthian Church. But the purpose was to provoke Israel to jealousy so that they would repent and turn to God, so that “the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you” (Acts 3:19,20).
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, these evidential signs given to Jews and Gentiles were for the purpose of bringing the nation of Israel to repentance.
Yet, the Kingdom was postponed because some Jews “believed not”. (Acts 28:24)
Acts 28:24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
With the pronouncement of Israel’s blindness, the gifts of the fiery Spirit ceased. The “power from on high” was put on hold. But at some future time, the miraculous will resume and all prophecy concerning Israel will be fulfilled.