The Baptism of John

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar… the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:1–3).

- Luke 3:1–22

As we have noted, the apostle Paul establishes a link between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:8–15. Our studies on circumcision therefore provide an opportunity to leave the book of Genesis temporarily and examine the wider biblical teaching on baptism with the help of the series Covenant Baptism by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Even though Paul also tells us there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), we must admit there is precious little Christian unity on the sacrament. Orthodox believers of all stripes debate the meaning, mode, efficacy, administration, and many other aspects of baptism. This disagreement, while regrettable, at least shows that Christians understand that baptism is an important matter.

John the Baptist administered the first baptism described in the New Testament to the nation of Israel just prior to the ministry of Jesus. In today’s passage, we see how his baptism fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Luke 3:4–6 quotes from Isaiah 40:3–5 where the prophet predicts an end to Judah’s exile and a road by which the captives would return to their land. Though many Jews returned to Jerusalem under the Persian emperor Cyrus, the lack of the nation’s repentance, as seen in later prophets like Malachi, soon made it clear the return from exile in Cyrus’ day was not complete, for turning from sin was the prerequisite for such blessings (Deut. 30:1–10).

No, God would cleanse His people, end their exile, and usher in the new heavens and earth promised by Isaiah (65:17–25) through the ministry of David’s greatest son. John the Baptist’s ministry was Isaiah’s straight, flat highway in the desert preparing the people to be ready for the kingdom of God to come in power and end their spiritual exile. His baptism was preparatory, revealing Israel must turn from the same uncleanness marking her Gentile persecutors.

John is seen as the new Elijah, for he is a prophet of the coming Messiah (Mal. 4:5–6; Matt. 11:1–14). His baptism is not the same as the one Jesus commands (Matt. 28:18–20), but it does share points of contact. The most important of these is our need to repent of our sin so that we can enter Christ’s kingdom (Mark 1:14–15).

Coram Deo

Jesus was baptized by John, not because He needed to repent, but in order to obey the new command God laid upon His people through the Baptist (Matt. 3:13–17). Unlike Jesus, we are not without sin, and so our baptism is one of repentance. Repentance is to be a daily activity (1 John 1:8–9); thus, it behooves us again today to turn from sin and seek the Lord’s face. Spend time praying for an unrepentant friend or family member that he may turn to Jesus.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 21
2 Chron. 6:36–39
Matt. 3
Luke 1:5–25

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