|Vol. 13 No. 12 December 2011||
First, let us observe the person John the Baptist and what he preached and practiced regarding his calling, which was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Bible students are aware of the prophecies in Isaiah 40:3-5 and Malachi 3:1, that he was to be “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” and “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.” His parents were Zacharias and Elisabeth, faithful children of God (Luke 1:5-7). John paved the way for Jesus, and the first disciples of the Lord were the disciples of John (John 1:35-37). He was neither a socialite nor did he wear the color of royalty, but he had a mission to carry out, and this he did with great courage.
John lived during a transitional period between the Old Law and the New Testament of Jesus Christ. He exclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). It was in the near future that the kingdom of God would be established on earth as individuals were born of water and the spirit (John 3:5). Jesus Christ became its King and Head. The terms “kingdom” and “church” refer to the same entity (Matthew 16:16-19). The Old Testament prophets foretold of the coming of the kingdom that would be exalted above all earthly kingdoms (Isaiah 2:1-4; Daniel 7:13-14). This was indeed good news for those who would believe in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
John also taught that the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was the correct and biblical order at that time. The children of Israel had drastically strayed from the true worship of God, and their lives had become tainted by the pagan society in which they lived. It was needful that they should repent of their sins, and thus be ready to believe in Him who was to be their spiritual Deliverer; however, it seems that most did not readily accept Jesus to be the Son of God (John 1:11-12).
John the Baptist “came into all the region around about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sin” (Luke 3:3-4). Repentance was the major theme of John’s preaching. The response was that “all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River.” John practiced what he preached, and he baptized the people “for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Forgiveness of their sins of course was in anticipation of and dependant upon the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary. It is worthy to note also that those who desired to be immersed by John came “confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).
In contrast with the baptism of John the Baptist, we now observe the baptism that Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to preach and practice, as recorded in the following passages:
Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Mark 16:15-16: “And He said to them Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
Luke 24:46-47: “Then He said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
When you summarize the teaching of these passages, you find the following:
In Acts 8:37 we read where the eunuch confessed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” prior to his being immersed by Philip – instead of confessing his sins. The Gospel that the apostles preached was comprised of the facts that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and that He arose on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Most religionists would have no major problems in accepting what we have written thus far; however, the disagreement mainly pertains to why the people were baptized by John the Baptist and the apostles. Herein is the important similarity. Please read the following passages:
Please observe closely the phrase “for the remission of sins” pertaining to the why of both the baptism of John and the baptism commanded by Jesus Christ and taught and practiced by the apostles. In the Greek text, it is eis afesin harmatioon that is, for, unto or in order to obtain forgiveness of sins – not because one’s sins had been forgiven. Here are three passages in which we find this phrase: Mark 1:4, “for the remission of sins”; Acts 2:38, “for the remission of sins”; Matthew 26:28, “for the remission of sins.”
In Matthew 26:28, we find where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and He said regarding the cup that His apostles were to drink: "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Now, no one would understand that Jesus was saying He shed His precious blood for “many” because their sins had already been forgiven. Why, then, is it so difficult for people to understand that a penitent believer is immersed “for,”that is, to obtain forgiveness of sins by the grace of God through the blood of His Son (Ephesians 1:7; 2:8)?
Yet, someone might say that baptism is a work of man. When the authority of Jesus was questioned, He asked His critics this question: “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men? And they reasoned among themselves, saying, If we say, From heaven, He will say to us, Why then did you not believe him? But if we say, From men, we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet” (Matthew 21:25-26). The fact is, God commissioned John to preach repentance to the children of Israel and to baptize them “for the remission of sins.” Did they all respond to John’s teaching and the baptism he practiced? Please permit the Word of God to answer that question. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:30).
Now, one who is greater than John the Baptist came and commanded all to believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). His apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, taught on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of our Lord that believers should “repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin” (Acts 2:38). Now I ask, the baptism of Jesus, is it from heaven or from men? The answer is plain and simple; it is from heaven! How do we know? Listen to the One who commissioned it and commanded it of all believers. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth”(Matthew 28:18).
The apostle Peter preached that this baptism “for the remission of sins” was to be done “in the name of Jesus Christ,” that is, by His authority. The question now presented, will you reject the will of God by not being baptized for the remission of your sins? If you are a penitent believer, we now ask, “And now why are waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). The Lord who saves you will add you to His church, which is His body (Acts 2:41, 47; Ephesians 1:22-23).