"Baptism" by Russell Gregory
John’s Baptism for the remission of sins
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the
light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.(John 1:6 to 8 ).
This introduces John the Baptist to us who was baptising in Jordan because there was much water there. Now John’s baptism was the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” and was for the Jews only; those who were already in covenant relationship with God through the Law of Moses, and many Jews came to John confessing their sins and were baptised by him.
At this time John made a public proclamation to the people, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, or, as we read in the Emphatic Diaglott, “Reform! because the Royal Majesty of the Heavens has approached” (Matthew 3:2).
When John saw Jesus coming to him he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:29-31).
But John was hesitant to baptise Jesus “John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? But Jesus answered him, Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." (Matthew 3:14,15).
When Jesus submitted to the Baptism of John He had no sins to confess, nor defilement from which to be cleansed, but by it He typified His own death, burial and resurrection and His baptism was an act of consecration and dedication prior to His work of preaching the gospel and then taking away the sin of the world by the free-will sacrifice of His own life.
Perhaps we could draw a parallel or a similarity between the Passover Lamb being set aside three days before the Passover with Jesus’ baptism three years before His sacrifice for the sin of the world. (Matthew 26:2). “For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Ye must be born again
We find that early on in Jesus’ preaching, a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus, came to Him one night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:2-6).
Here we see Jesus also preaching baptism, and His disciples baptised more people than John, as John had said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
But let us go on ahead to the time when Jesus had finished preaching to the nation of Israel and in His prayer to His Father the night before He was crucified said, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do;” (John 17:4). The work which God had given Him was now complete but Jesus saw the need for one supreme work which only He could complete and this He chose to do – the greatest act that any man has ever done and only Jesus was in the position to do it, to give His life a ransom for many. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13,14).
At the end of the forty days after His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven Jesus told His disciples to go into all
the world and preach the gospel, and that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16). And so it was that the eleven
apostles, having all things brought to their remembrance, whatsoever Jesus had said, and having their understanding opened, were renewed and strengthened and responded according to their faith.
Baptism into Jesus Christ
We now find that the Baptism the Apostles preached and practised was into the death of Jesus (Romans 6:3), which was different to the baptism preached by John in two aspects. First, we saw how John’s baptism was for those who were already in covenant relationship with God through being under the Law of Moses, but this covenant relationship ended with Jesus crucifixion when the veil in the Temple was miraculously torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Jesus had fulfilled the Law of Moses and, being ended, there was no longer a covenant under that Law nor were any of its rituals and ordinances of any value to those who continued to observe them. But before He was crucified, at the Last Super,
Jesus had established the New Covenant when He said ,“For this is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). From the time of Jesus’ resurrection all who would come to God had to come into the New Covenant
relationship with Him through baptism into the death of Jesus Christ and this New Covenant was extended beyond Israel to all the world, to as many as were and are called.
The second aspect is seen when Jesus said, “Ye must be born again.” He was speaking of a new life – a spirit life – in the new relationship with Him. “Born of water and of the Spirit.” All of the human race has received natural life passed down throughout all generations from Adam with the exception of Jesus who was born of a virgin, and He received His life from His Father and not from Adam. This is the reason for the Virgin Birth.
There are two distinct words used in the Greek language for ‘life’ and they are ‘psuche’ for our natural life passed down from Adam, and ‘zoe’ for the spirit life which leads to eternal life which we receive from God when we are ‘born again’. Whenever we read of eternal life throughout the New Testament we find that the Greek word ‘psuche’ is never used but ‘zoe’ is used exclusively. It is a pity this distinction is lost in translation.
And so at baptism we receive a new life – our ‘zoe’, or spirit life. When Jesus said, “I am come that they may have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), he used the term ‘zoe’ thus showing that we have been given spirit life now, along with our psuche or natural life, and that we might have it more abundantly at His return and the resurrection of the faithful who will receive eternal life, and their natural life is no longer required.
Sacrifices for sin – from Eden to Gethsemane.
Let us now turn briefly to the matter of sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament. In the Garden of Eden Adam was told that he should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). When Adam and Eve broke this commandment they were liable to the consequence of breaking the law but God in His mercy spared their lives and the first animal sacrifice was slain in their stead to provide them a covering for their sin.
We believe Cain and Abel were also instructed in sacrifices for Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable but Cain’s was not (Genesis 4:5). Later the ordinances and commandments under the Law of Moses gave further instruction explaining the need for sacrifices for forgiveness for those in covenant relationship with their Creator.
The fundamental idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament is that of substitution, the life of the sacrifice for the life of the sacrificer. It was sanctioned by God Himself and is expressed in terms of covering over, with the substituted life being accepted by God in the place of the life of the offerer. Hence the Scriptural teaching: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity.” (Psalm 32:1,2).
Such sacrifices, however, necessarily pointed to a priesthood to mediate for the people and such a priesthood needed cleansing before they could offer cleansing for the worshippers to bring them near to God and keep in fellowship with Him. Also these priests under the Law of Moses continually changed throughout the generations and the priests and services needed purification and their sacrifices required constant renewal.
There was one sacrifice however which founded the Old Covenant and the Law of Moses and which needed no renewal. We read of this in Exodus 24:3-8, "Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said,
"Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Likewise there is one sacrifice which instituted the law of love of the New Covenant. This time it was a perfect sacrifice and it completed the work of salvation, for the blood of bulls and of goats had only covered over sin and could not take it away (Hebrews 10:4) because the life of the animal was not a true substitute for the life that was lost by Adam. However, the blood, in which was the life (psuche) of Jesus was the exact equivalent to the life Adam forfeited in Eden.
All this shows man’s need and God’s merciful kindness. Hence Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world, and who on a perfect altar brought a perfect sacrifice, once for all - a perfect Substitute and a perfect Mediator. (See Hebrews 10:1-24). “For
Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18).
Our baptism then, is the answer of a good conscience towards God, a compete immersion in water representing our death with Jesus, then arising out of the water to newness of life in Him. And to those baptised into Jesus, Paul exhorts, “If then you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4).