Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1960

The Baptism Of John

Gordon Wilson, Sacramento, California

In order to understand John's baptism it is necessary to understand to some extent John himself, his ministry, and his mission. His name was John, and his occupation was that of a baptist, or immerser. The angel declared to his father, "Thou shalt call his name John." Elisabeth said, "He shall be called John." His father, Zacharias, wrote, "His name is John," and the beloved apostle was moved to write, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." From these passages we can readily see that his name was John, and it was a God-given name; his occupation was "the baptist," and it was a God-given occupation.

Some have supposed that because he was called John the baptist, all whom he baptized automatically became Baptists. Thus, a certain denomination tries to trace its history back to John and call its members by the name "Baptist." This is not a reasonable assumption as we shall see. Take an example: Luke the physician. Did those whom Luke doctored become doctors? Or again, we may speak of Bill the blacksmith. Do the horses which Bill shoes become blacksmiths? "The physician" and "the blacksmith" are occupations attached to these men's names to distinguish them from other prominent Lukes and Bills. "The baptist" is just an occupation similarly. Then it is not correct to say that those who were recipients of John's baptism became baptists. They would have become Johnites if anything, but of course we find no such expression in the Bible, nor does any sect today wear that name.

John's ministry was only to the Jews, therefore his baptism was only for the Jews. "Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God," said the angel. Later John was "showed to Israel." John came and baptized to make Christ "manifest unto Israel." John baptized none but Jews, consequently, anyone who claims today to receive John's baptism is putting himself in the position of claiming to be a Jew.

John came in the "spirit and power of Elias," which explains his mission. God raised up Elias at a time when "all Israel" had turned to worshipping Baal, and used him to call His people unto repentance. John was also raised up during a time of apostasy. Some of those to whom John preached were a "generation of vipers." They were an "evil and perverse generation," and Jesus said that they were worse than Nineveh, and more wicked than Sodom and Gomorrah. Such a people as this were certainly in no condition to accept the Messiah. John called upon them to repent, to "make straight the way for the Lord," and baptized them into a state of repentance. It was a baptism of "repentance, unto the remission of sins."

John prepared the way for the Lord, which was the purpose of the whole Law. John's ministry was a part of the Law, not a separate dispensation as some have imagined. In one of its purposes, his baptism served the same end as animal sacrifices. They were for the typical remission of sins. This baptism was given in addition to the sin offering of the Law because of the particularly evil generation in which John lived. Those who refused the baptism of John were refusing an ordinance of the Law, thus were "rejecting the counsel of God against themselves."

John was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness." He also was baptizing in the wilderness. His preaching, then, was inseparably tied to his baptizing. His baptism is no more acceptable today than his preaching. Both were for the Jews, and not for us.

Did those who were baptized of John need to be re-baptized when baptism in the name of Christ went into effect on Pentecost? We do not here offer any opinion, but consider these facts and form your own conclusion:

(1) John's baptism was for the remission of sins, but in much the same sense as the sin offering of the Law,

(2) John came to make a "people prepared for the Lord." This could mean that they were prepared to receive him. We receive the Lord in baptism.

(3) Some have thought that the 120 persons in Acts chapter one are the "they" of Acts two, to whom the Lord added the converts on Pentecost, and "they" were set into the church, having been baptized of John, and having remained faithful. However, careful examination of the last few verses of chapter one, and the first few verses of chapter two, will show that "they" means the apostles only.

(4) In any case argument on this question cannot affect our duty, since we live this side of Pentecost, and have never known the baptism of John anyway. Those mentioned in Acts nineteen who had received John's baptism this side of Pentecost, were baptized by Paul into Christ.

Jesus was baptized of John, but he could not comply with the purpose of John's baptism, "for the remission of sins," as he had no sins. He knew, however, that the righteousness of the Law was in keeping it perfectly, so he was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness."

It is hoped that in this lesson we have provided enough material to help anyone who is teaching the third chapter of Matthew, to make the lesson on the baptism of John interesting and helpful.