Born of Water: The baptism of John the Baptist, Part 3

BaptismofJesus2These are addition comments I posted in response to Price’s questions about John the Baptist’s (JTB) baptism.

I find these discussion fascinating because (a) they’re about God, Jesus, and the Bible and (b) they push me into unfamiliar territory, forcing me to test my theology against stories and events that I don’t usually consider.

After all, JTB is no longer baptizing, and, in one sense, whatever led to his baptismal practices is of historical interest only. But on the other hand — it happened. And it happened for a reason — and it was so important that all four Gospels speak of JTB. Indeed, they use JTB to set the stage for Jesus — and we (I) generally fail to understand how that works.

So maybe these thoughts will help.

Price wrote,

It does make one wonder what exactly Mark and Luke had in mind when they used “eis” to refer to forgiveness of sin in light of your suggestion that the baptism wasn’t for entry into the Kingdom but in preparation of the event… It seems that your comments regarding the historical and national view points of the Jews would suggest that it meant they wanted to communicate that baptism (at that point) was in anticipation of forgiveness of sin at some future date…

I’ve not made myself clear. I think JTB’s baptism was into the forgiveness of sins, meaning forgiveness was received upon immersion. I just don’t think they immediately entered the Kingdom, as the Kingdom had not yet come. They gained forgiveness to be prepared to receive the Kingdom in the future.

But the Kingdom would require faith in Jesus as Messiah — non-negotiably. Therefore, John’s baptism wasn’t a ticket into the Kingdom. It was, rather, preparation for the Kingdom.

I think it did place the person into a state of grace — saved by faith — until Jesus was revealed as Messiah and faith required faith in Jesus.

It’s quite unprovable, but it would seem likely that those humble enough to accept immersion by JTB and who were taught to expect the Messiah would almost always have come to faith in Jesus when he was revealed.

So it’s not a step that was absolutely essential to salvation. Rather, it was preparation of the heart to be open to the Kingdom when it came. But this preparation provided forgiveness on the spot — but not regeneration or rebirth. There was no Spirit.

Price wrote,

That would be remarkable if in fact the disciples of JTB could immerse someone to have their sins forgiven.

I don’t recall addressing the question of baptism by John’s disciples, but I think that’s likely the case. I take it as nearly axiomatic that all who come to God with faith, repentance, and trust (or in NT language, “faith”) will be accepted by him — from Abraham until now.

If a disciple of JTB baptized someone for repentance in anticipation of the imminent coming of the Kingdom, then the baptized person clearly meets this standard. He is forgiven. Pre-Pentecost, he does not receive the Spirit, is not a new creation, is not regenerated, is not re-begotten (reborn), and not yet a part of the Kingdom. But she is in the same state as the OT heroes listed in Heb 11 as saved by faith.

Jesus said He was authorized to forgive sin and healed a person on the spot to confirm it.

It’s not as though forgiveness was unavailable before Jesus began his earthly mission. Heb 11 and countless other passages demonstrate that forgiveness was available under the Law of Moses — and received by some. So being forgiven was hardly revolutionary.

What was revolutionary was Jesus claiming the power to grant forgiveness himself. John baptized into the forgiveness of sins, but didn’t claim to be the person doing the forgiving. He baptized on behalf of God, who forgave. Jesus claimed to stand in the place of God.

(Matt. 9:2-6 ESV) 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

JTB wasn’t accused of blasphemy, because he didn’t claim to be the one doing the forgiving.

When a preacher baptizes a convert in church “for the forgiveness of sins” and announces afterwards that the person’s sins have been forgiven, he is not blaspheming. He is only announcing that God keeps his promises. And JTB and his disciples were in the same place.

The forgiveness found in John’s baptism is the forgiveness promised by God in Lev 26 and Deu 30. John merely announced the person baptized to be among the penitent faithful as demonstrated by her humble submission to baptism at the prophet’s call.

However Jesus did tell his disciples if they forgave anyone’s sin that the sin would be forgiven (John 20:23)..

Most commentators read this as I do: that we are to announce that God is faithful to keep his promises to those who come to him with faith — not that we get to decide who to forgive other than in the indirect sense that our failure to evangelize is a decision to risk damnation for those we could have reached for Jesus and a decision to evangelize gives opportunities where there otherwise might be none.

Is it possible that the sins that were forgiven were immediate instead of some ongoing forgiveness that we are privy to today ?

A year or so ago, I would have said it was a one-time forgiveness in contrast to Christianity, which provides continuous forgiveness. But I have since realized that the promise given to Abraham applied to Israel as well the church. Abraham’s forgiveness was continuous or else it was worthless — but he could fall away.

The difference is the Spirit.

If so, I might could accept that but it still seems odd that neither JTB himself nor Paul mention that JTB’s baptism actually forgave sin.

As quoted in Part 1 of this series, two of the Gospels say John baptized into the forgiveness of sins, including Luke – who quotes Peter saying exactly the same words in Acts 2:38. It’s no coincidence. But obviously there was something new in Acts 2 — and this was (a) the name of Jesus and (b) the Spirit — which are the two main themes of Peter’s sermon.

As I’ve pointed out a few weeks ago, most of the Jews missed out on salvation — which is the point of Rom 9 – 11. Not having the Spirit did not make salvation impossible, but it meant that most Jews failed to be faithful, that is, most were damned.

We think most were damned for rejecting Jesus, which I believe as well, but we imagine that they were all saved up to that point. But the signs are that most Jews were lost and in need of repentance to be saved — which is why God sent JTB and why the Jews remained in Exile — an exile that continues today.

The same hardheartedness that made Jesus unbelievable to them meant they were already lost. Jesus came, not to damn the Jews, but to rescue them from damnation — as well as the destruction that would soon follow. They were like the Jews in the days of Jeremiah just before the Babylonian Captivity — only a few were faithful and most were not, and so God was about to impose the curses threatened in the Torah — severe curses indeed — not just damnation but loss of their city, their Temple, and their honor — defeat at the hands of pagan Romans, etc.

After the resurrection, “faith” was redefined to mean faith in Jesus as Lord = YHWH. This is one of the key points of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. But this was not designed to make salvation harder but easier. After all, they’d seen Jesus. They’d seen the miracles. They’d heard his preaching. He came with a flurry of supernatural evidences comparable to God’s appearance atop Mt. Sinai.

Faith should have been easy — but the Jews wanted a different kind of god. And so, at Mt. Sinai, they made a golden calf. At Pentecost, they sharpened their knives to kill Romans.

3,000 died following the golden calf episode as punishment (Exo 32:28). 3,000 were saved at Pentecost. Despite the Jews’ unbelief, God used the faithful remnant to reverse the curse and the Exile and bring the Kingdom — and the Spirit.

And by the power of the Spirit outpoured on the faithful, the Kingdom has grown into the billions. The Spirit matters — not in the sense of providing a continuous forgiveness otherwise impossible, but by being a Helper so that the faithful are far more likely to remain faithful because of the power of God dwelling within them.

Price wrote,

In fact it was JTB who made this remark….[Jhn 1:29 ESV] 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”…. Now that seems JTB was convinced that it was Jesus who forgave sins not what he was doing… but opinions vary.

We learn from Hebrews that all forgiveness is by the power of the cross, going back to the beginning of time. So John was not inconsistent in baptizing for forgiveness even though Jesus would not die on the cross to take away the sins of the world until later. After all, Jesus himself declared sins forgiven before his death, and there are countless OT passages in which sins are forgiven. It’s just that all grace was granted in anticipation of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Forgiveness happens in heaven, where God lives, outside of time as we experience time.

(Heb. 9:15 ESV) 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Born of Water: The baptism of John the Baptist, Part 3

  1. Price Futrell says:

    That may be as good an explanation from your perspective as it can get….and I don’t doubt the extent to which you may be right… I just find it so odd that JTB is quoted regarding the baptism of which he is involved, HE SAYS that it is for repentance and fails to mention forgiveness of sin.

    [Mat 3:11 ESV] 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

    Then Paul says the same thing… [Act 19:4-5 ESV] 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

    Now JTB does make one odd statement… [Jhn 1:31 ESV] 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” A specific statement of purpose with a mention of forgiveness of sin.

    So, I am not 100% convinced from the text alone that JTB’s immersion was anything but a temporary symbolic event in the lives of those fortunate to hear John’s message. If it were sufficient for the forgiveness of sin and one need only receive the Spirit to enter the Kingdom and receive the salvation promised then why would Paul rebaptize the Ephesians ? That seems to be a contradiction. But the covenant transition from Law to Grace is seemingly full of inconsistencies to our normal Roman Road or 5 Step teachings….. If anything it tells me that God is God and that we should never under estimate His love for His people and the purposeful attempt to SAVE us rather than condemn us.

    Enjoyed the conversation… and being able to see things from different perspectives…

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price wrote,

    That may be as good an explanation from your perspective as it can get….and I don’t doubt the extent to which you may be right… I just find it so odd that JTB is quoted regarding the baptism of which he is involved, HE SAYS that it is for repentance and fails to mention forgiveness of sin.

    That’s because you’ve grown up in a sacramental tradition in which repentance is not automatically connected with forgiveness. It’s just one of five steps. But to a Jew who’d read Deu 30 and Lev 26, the means of forgiveness was repentance. Why be baptized for repentance? Because repentance was the specified means of regaining God’s favor – which included forgiveness. After all, they presumably had faith — in the sense of believing in YHWH. Their problem was a failure to live consistently with God’s commands. The solution: repentance.

    Acts 19 speaks of the impact of John’s baptism post-Pentecost when “faith” was re-defined so that faith in Jesus as Lord was required to have faith. Good, scriptural believing, obedient Jews who denied Jesus weren’t saved after Pentecost — no matter how penitent. They lacked faith, in particular, faith in Jesus as LORD.

  3. David says:

    A bit off the subject, but you referenced the 3000 destroyed at Sinai and the 3000 saved on Pentecost. As you probably know, Jewish tradition says the Law was given on Sinai on or near Pentecost. Exodus does give a time frame when Moses went up the mountain, that could correspond to the time of Pentecost. We also know that the gospel writers seemed to go out of their way to show that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection fell on Jewish festivals. And a pretty good case can be made that Jesus was born during the festival of booths. Some Messianic Jews are big on all of this. If you ever run out of subjects to study and write about, I would be interested in your take on all of this.

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