In order to see the dramatic difference between the baptism of John, and the baptism of Christ, we need look no further than a certain Jew named Apollos, who was born at Alexandria. The Word tells us that Apollos was an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures and that he came to Ephesus. This was by no means an ignorant man since the Bible also tells us that he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and that being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Now let’s get this clear. Although Apollos had only known the baptism of John, he was still mighty in scripture, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, and taught accurately the things of God.
Acts 18:26, ‘So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
So even though Apollos taught the things of God accurately, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately still. All Apollos had known, was the baptism of John, until he met these two individuals who showed him more accurately the way of God.
Acts 18:1-6, “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
So within six verses, we see the three baptisms identified and enumerated individually. First we see the baptism of John, with which these men had already been baptized, we see the baptism of Christ, with which these men were baptized upon hearing of it, and finally we see the baptism of the Holy Spirit which these men received as Paul lays hands upon these men and they begin to speak in tongues and prophecy.
Once again, because it is very important, these are three distinct and separate baptisms.
So what were the requirements of receiving the baptism of John? Was it just showing up, standing in a line, saying you wanted to be baptized then proceeding to wade into the water? Surely John must have made it easy for people since so many went out to him that they might be baptized, surely he could not have required anything of them because it would conflict with the modern adage of ‘the less you require of people, the more people will flock to your cause!’
Matthew 3:1-6, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of the one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’ And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”
There were two nonnegotiable requirements made of everyone that came to seek the baptism of John, first they were to repent, and second to confess their sins publicly. Then, and only then, after they’d repented and confessed their sins would John baptize those seeking his baptism. I realize this might seem outlandish to some in today’s generation, how can such requirements be placed on individuals who simply required to be baptized? Because they were necessary for the baptism to be something more than taking a bath with one’s clothes on, they were necessary in order to place the individual squarely in front of the enormity of his sin and bring about repentance.
Even with these requirements, the word tells us that Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the regions around the Jordan went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan. So just as a side note, the remedy to dwindling church attendance and overall lack of interest to the Christian faith is by no means the lowering of the bar, or the lowering of the standards, but adherence to the truth of God’s Word.
Now many of the Pharisees and Sadducees of the time were also among those who came to be baptized by John. These were the power elites of the time, men with influence, and power, men with money and great authority among the people. Rather than be swayed by the men that stood before him, rather than attempt to accommodate them, John said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father.’
Absent repentance and absent fruit of repentance water baptism is a pointless exercise. The Pharisees and the Sadducees wanted the baptism of John, but without the requisite repentance and confession of sins. What they really wanted was an insurance policy against the wrath to come, not understanding the fact that absent true repentance, there could be no reconciliation with God, there could be no transformation or renewing of the mind.
Although John preached repentance, although Paul preached repentance, although Christ preached repentance as a mandatory step to being baptized, repentance has become taboo among many believers today, marginalized and sidestepped becoming a controversial topic among those who claim the name of Christ. Speak of anything else, even tell tall tales which have no basis in fact, but if you dare bring up repentance as a prerequisite to living a life in the fullness of Christ, if you dare bring up repentance as a mandatory experience in the life of every believer, then you will quickly be shunned, labeled a zealot, and banished by those who see themselves as progressive, all inclusive Christians.
Why have I gotten off on the topic of repentance again? I return to the topic of repentance, because repentance and baptism are intertwined, and cannot be separated, and one cannot occur and be of spiritual use unless the other is first and foremost done.
The baptism of John was a forerunner to the baptism of Christ, Just as John the baptizer was a forerunner, or one who prepared the way of the Lord for the Lord’s arrival. We still discuss the baptism of John today, and it is still part of Christian tradition because not only did Jerusalem, all of Judea and all the region around the Jordan go out to him to be baptized, but there was one other who came to John that He might be baptized as well.
Matthew 3:13-15, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.”
John recognized the authority and power of Christ, and so when Jesus came to him to be baptized, John rightly surmised that he was the one that had need to be baptized by Jesus, and not the other way around. Was it mandatory for Jesus to be baptized with the baptism of John? No, it was not mandatory, He was the Son of God, He had no sins to confess, He had nothing to repent of, yet He was baptized with John’s baptism that all righteousness might be fulfilled.
Jesus is our example, He is the prototype of that which we desire to be transformed into, and knowing this Jesus went to be baptized, that when we come to believe, when we come to repent, when we come to confess our sins, we too might be baptized, not with John’s baptism, but rather with His baptism. We will discuss the baptism into Christ, or the baptism of Christ in subsequent posts, but for now let me reiterate that these are two different baptisms.
The baptism of John, the baptism of law, the baptism of the old covenant and Old Testament, has been replaced by the baptism into Christ, the baptism of the new covenant and the baptism of grace. In essence the baptism of John became obsolete when the baton was passed, and the practice of baptism into Christ began.
More could be said about the baptism of John, but alas it would seem we are quickly running out of time, and the next teaching in this series promises to be as exciting if not more so than this. We will continue with the doctrine of baptisms, and focus on two other baptisms, the baptism into Christ, as well as the baptism of the Holy Spirit which promise to be enlightening and uplifting, challenging and nourishing. May we never forget that we must never stop growing in God, growing in wisdom, growing in grace, and growing in understanding of God’s will for our lives. The more we grow, the more we mature, the more we will be of use to the kingdom of God.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.