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AnswersThe Background of Baptism
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Answer-The Background of Baptism

John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Old Testament.


Click-Luke 16:16

John was brought into this world and sent for a very specific purpose; he was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. He was sent to put in place all the last things that were needed for the Lord Jesus to come and minister and to give His life for a ransom to redeem mankind. 


Click-Luke 7:27

The purpose of Israel, and specifically the prophets, was to identify the Messiah; when John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world Click-John 1:29, it was the last mark of identification for the Lord. The Messiah had now officially and completely been identified, and the work of John was coming to an end. The only really significant work that John did after that was baptizing Jesus. Shortly after he baptized Jesus he said,

Click-John 3:30 Jesus started taking over and John started shrinking back. His work of identifying the Christ and preparing the way for Him was complete; it was time for the Messiah to minister to the people and do the work He had come to do. 


The prophets did not just identify His person or who He was; they also identified His work, and that is why the baptism was so important. When John called Him “the Lamb of God,” he officially identified who He was, and when he baptized Him he had officially pointed out His work. The main work of John was baptizing people in the water, which is what his ministry was known for. Click-Mark 1:8 The water baptism was to identify the Christ, not primarily who He was but rather His work, what He would do. What was the work Jesus came to do? I am not talking about dying on the cross, though that was always His focus. John pointed out what the work of Jesus was to be. 

Click-Mark 1:8 Jesus came to baptize people with the Holy Spirit; this was going to be His ministry. Yet, He never did this during His earthly ministry. Why? Though it was always the focus in His earthly ministry, everything He did during His ministry on earth had to be done before His baptism could be done properly and be understood adequately. Repentance had to be proclaimed, the gospel had to be completed, and the faith had to be advanced to the point for such an act to take place. This was a baptism with the Holy Spirit, God moving into the hearts and souls of people. After His resurrection, everything was ready for the act to happen. This is when He addressed the disciples concerning the matter. He said, “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

Click-Acts 1:5-8 This is what Jesus is doing presently, He is baptizing all who repent and then come to Him to be saved. This is called being baptized “in Jesus’ name.”   


What is baptism? According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word “Bap-tid’-zo” that is translated as “baptism” means: “To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe to overwhelm.”  The word “Bap-tid-zo” is also translated as “wash” a couple of times in the Bible. 


Baptism was not new to the Jewish people, but John emphasizing water baptism and making it a forefront issue was new to them. Baptizing had been part of the Jewish faith since the beginning of the law, but never before had it been so emphasized in teaching and in practice like it was in the ministry of John the Baptist.  


Amongst the Jews, there was a lot of practice of it in their daily activities. Not the full-body baptism like they practiced in the temple, but the washing of hands, which was a form of baptism to the Jews. Here is where the word was translated “wash” instead of baptize. 


“And when they come from the market, except they wash “Bap-tid-zo,” they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Click-Mark 7:4


Click-Luke 11:38

When the religious Jews came home from the market, they would first wash (baptize) their hands before they would touch anything, especially food they would eat. It was not a matter of having touched anything that was dirty or picking up germs; it was a matter of having touched an animal that they were forbidden to eat or having touched something that was dead. During the time of Christ, it was mostly about having touched a Gentile or something that a Gentile had touched. To “baptize” wash their hands would, so to speak, make them religiously clean again. They were very surprised that Jesus would not wash His hands before He would eat after having been out and about ministering to all kinds of people, many of them being Gentiles. To them the Gentiles were the most unclean thing a person could touch. They were all used to baptizing in that matter, but baptizing people completely was also practiced, although only in ceremonial services. 


The word “baptism” is not in the Old Testament; the teaching of it is wrapped up in the teaching on purification and consecration. There were some questions between John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying because of the baptism of Jesus and John Click-John 3:22-27. It is clear in the passage that they connected the two.


This is what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about full-body baptism: 


“The washing of the whole body is the form of Ablution most frequently ordained in Scripture, and for the greatest number of causes. According to rabbinical interpretation, this is only valid when performed by immersion, either in a natural fountain or stream or in a properly constructed miḳweh, or ritual bath, containing at least forty seahs (about one hundred and twenty gallons) of water (see Baths). The following are the cases in which the Mosaic Law requires immersion of the whole body, the object being either purification or consecration:


(a) No leper or unclean person of the seed of Aaron could eat of holy flesh until he had washed his whole body in water Click-Lev. 21:4-6.


(b) When a leper was healed of his leprosy, he shaved off his hair, offered up the prescribed sacrifices, washed his clothing, bathed his person in water, and became clean Click-Lev. 14:8-9.


(c) Any person who came into contact with the body of, or with articles of furniture used by, a person having an unclean issue, or with any article used by him, was obliged to wash both his body and his garments, and was unclean for a whole day Click-Lev. 15:5-10.

(d) On the Day of Atonement the high priest, after sending off the scapegoat (see Azazel), was obliged to wash his whole body in water in a holy place. The same duty devolved upon the man who took away the goat and upon him who burned the ox and the goat of the sin-offering; and they were also required to wash their garments

Click-Lev. 16:24-28. According to the Talmud, on the Day of Atonement the high priest immersed his whole person five times and washed his hands and feet ten times Mishnah, Yoma, 3:3.


(e) A sufferer from an unclean issue to be clean required immersion of the whole person Click-Lev. 15:16-18.


(f) Whoever touched a menstruous woman, or any article used by her, required immersion of the whole person Click-Lev. 15:19-27.


(g) A native Israelite or a proselyte eating unclean flesh of a beast which had died of itself, or had been torn, became thereby unclean for a day, and was obliged to wash his whole body Click-Lev. 17:15.


(h) The priest who tended the red heifer, itself intended as a rite of purification, became unclean for a day and was obliged to wash his whole body Click-Num. 19:7-8.

(i) Whoever came into contact with a corpse or a grave was unclean for seven days. On the third and seventh days he was sprinkled with water in which ashes from the burnt carcass of the red heifer had been dissolved. On the seventh day he washed his whole body and his garments in water and became clean Click-Num. 19:19.


(j) Among the ceremonies at the installation of priests was the washing of the whole body Click-Ex. 29:4-12.


(k) The Levites were purified by having water of the sin-offering sprinkled upon them Click-Num. 8:7-15.


(l) A menstruous woman requires immersion, as is shown by

Click-II Sam. 11:2-4, and the rabbinical interpretation of

Click-Num. 31:23. Most of the above purifications, with the exception of the last, are in abeyance at the present time, it being impossible, in the judgment of rabbinical authorities, to observe them properly in the dispersion. The immersions for the sake of ritual purity at the festivals are, however, still observed by the pious. The Karaites follow all the laws of purity. The numerous sects of the Ḥasidim are especially scrupulous in their ablutions. A Gentile wishing to become a proselyte must also immerse his whole body. This ceremony is, no doubt, historically allied to Baptism, which is thought by modern authorities to have originated among the Essenes, who were very scrupulous respecting ablutions, and in the observance of the rules of purity.” 


Christianity is a step more advanced in the faith of God and is therefore “once and for all.” In the Jewish faith they did things on a continuous basis; with their repeated activity they were demonstrating what was to come, they were pointing to a coming Saviour who would do things once for all. They baptized often and before many practices. To the Christian baptism is like when Jesus got baptized, once before all service.  He said, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. Click-Matthew 3:15 He did it once before all His service to the Lord, and so is the example for the Christian believer. Christians always demonstrate what has already taken place with their action, so once after salvation and before service is sufficient. 


There were two different whole-body baptisms the Jews practiced. One was before many of the ritualistic practices which took place in a bath called “Mikveh.” It is the Hebrew word used in Click-Genesis 1:10 when God spoke of the gathering of the waters. It means a natural gathering of waters. This was a stone tub that held about 120 gallons of water. The water had to be rain water or from a natural source, a picture of water gathered by God. It would be a picture of holy water. In Christ the believer is washed by the blood of the Lord Jesus, not just any blood but God’s blood Click-Acts 20:28, Click-Revelation 1:5. This was a baptism that was practiced often.  


Jacob spoke of this when he spoke of Judah in his judgment to all his sons. 


and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; 

Click-Genesis 49:10-11


The other was a baptism that took place in the river. It also had to be a natural source of water, but it had to be moving water; it symbolized living water and the washing away of sin. Jesus said that He was the living water that would wash away the natural appetites

Click-John 4:10-15. In this baptism they would dunk the recipient three times; this is still practiced with the Jews today. It probably signified the Father, Son and Holy Spirit like Jesus commanded in

Click-Matthew 28:19.   


When a Gentile would convert to Judaism he would have to be baptized completely in water before he could have any part in the religious practices. 


It is clear from the Scriptures that baptism was not new to the Jewish people. They knew about baptism, but they did not understand the baptism of the John the Baptist. 


What the Jews did know was that someone would be coming that would baptize as his primary ministry. They know it would either be Elijah, the Prophet, or the Christ. This is why they came to John asking him if he was one of those three.


Click-John 1:21-28, It had been prophesied in the Old Testament that a Prophet was going to come, but they had not recognized him as the same person as the Messiah. John the Baptist and Elijah were the same person, and the Prophet and the Christ were the same person. John came in the spirit of Elijah according to Click-Luke 1:13-17; Jesus also made it clear to His disciples that John and Elijah were the same person. I believe He was referring to the fact that John came in the spirit of Elijah. 


Click-Matthew 17:10-13,

like unto me; unto him you will hearken

Click-Deuteronomy 18:15


“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he will speak unto them all that I shall command him. Click-Deuteronomy 18:18


They were waiting for a special prophet, but they did not know that the Messiah and the Prophet were the same person. However, they were expecting both of them to baptize. 


They had it right; the Christ was coming to baptize, but what they did not realize was that the baptism He was coming to baptize with was a spiritual baptism. This is why Jesus sent John to be the forerunner and bring baptism to the forefront, to lay the foundation for Him to introduce spiritual baptism. This is why the baptism of John was a baptism unto repentance. It was only for the purpose of introducing the real one, the forerunner for the official one. All Jesus did on earth was to make it possible for spiritual baptism to take place; that was the focal point of all His ministry. For the spiritual baptism to take place redemption had to be provided and truth had to be introduced. The faith had to be completed, but the aim was always to wash sinners and sanctify them for a special purpose. 


all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, 

Click-Titus 2:13, 14 


When a person is spiritually baptized, he is washed from his sin and placed into the body of Christ. For the believer it takes place at salvation.


Click-I Corinthians 12:12-14 

In the preceding verses of this chapter, the Apostle Paul explains to the church of Corinth that they all have a special purpose in the body of Christ. 


At Pentecost in Click-Acts 2, when spiritual baptism took place for the first time, it was the official mark that the work of Jesus was complete. He had brought it to the place where He wanted it, and now He was going to place all who believed in Him in His body. From that point on, everything He did empowered His people to spread that message. Up until the ministry of John the Baptist, it was circumcision that was emphasized, but from there on it was baptism. First water baptism by John and then by Jesus the preparations were made for spiritual baptism. Water baptism is still practiced in Christianity and is very important, but it no longer prepares the way of spiritual baptism; it testifies thereof. To have water baptism without having been spiritually baptized has no significance. Paul speaks of circumcision still taking place in the hearts of believers, but the physical act does not need to be implemented by Christians. Circumcision was a mark of consecration to the Lord, a separation from lustful sin and consecration to belong to and serve the Lord. Those who consecrate themselves to the Lord are still marked by the Lord, but no outward marks are made. Baptism is more of a testimony than a mark. A person can be baptized and there is no physical mark of identification that proves that he has been baptized. The evidence thereof must be seen in his actions, not in his physical appearance.  


Water baptism is a very important act of obedience by the believer, but it is spiritual baptism that is emphasized in the Scriptures. When they sent the messenger to John to ask him about his baptism and why he was baptizing, he made it clear that it was simply for the purpose of introducing the Messiah and the Holy Spirit baptism that He would introduce and later on perform. 


Click-Matthew 3:11

When John used the phrase “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear,” he was referring to the fact that he was not in a position to question the Lord; he only obeyed the commands given to him. He was simply fulfilling the orders that the Lord gave him to do. “Unto repentance” is referring to the fact that it precedes repentance; believers’ baptism follows repentance. Then he explained that the significance of his baptism was to introduce people to the one who was mightier than he and the baptism that He would perform. Spiritual baptism was the direction that it was heading. 


When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians he mentioned that there was only one baptism.       


Click-Ephesians 4:4-6

John himself mentioned three baptisms: the water baptism he was performing, the Holy Spirit baptism Jesus was going to bring into being, and the fire baptism Jesus was going to perform. Fire baptism is referring to judgment, immersed in the judgment of the Lord. Individual holiness was not emphasized with Israel, but with the believer in Christ it was going to be very important. He was going to completely judge everyone coming to Him. 


Referring back to there being only one baptism as Paul mentioned. With all the different baptisms, how can he say there is only one? He is referring to the one that sets the stage for all of them, which is the spiritual baptism that the Lord performs at the point of salvation. There are many gods in the world, but there is only one true God. There are many faiths in the world, but there is only one true faith. There are many baptisms, but there is only one that is the pattern for all of them. The person who does not have spiritual baptism has nothing.


Jesus, at the end of His ministry, commanded His disciples to go into all the world to preach the gospel and then He said, Click-Mark 16:16 He that would believe would be baptized, and he that would not believe would not be baptized but would be damned. This is what happens when a person believes in Jesus Christ as Saviour; at the point of accepting Him into his life he is being baptized by the Holy Spirit. He is baptized in Jesus’ name. This is what Click-Acts 2:38 is referring to. The hearers of the preaching of the gospel wanted to know how they were to respond to the message.    

If you want to have Christ in your heart, Trust Him and Believe in Him

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