First of all, John came baptizing with water in the Jordan. It was a baptism of repentance (Mt 3:11). Yet Jesus came to be baptized by him. John tried to forbid the Lord, but the Lord insisted that they must fulfill all righteousness.
"Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him." (Mat 3:13-15)
If our Lord, who knew no sin, was baptized, then you can be sure this is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.
It's an outward sign of what we have already demonstrated by our repentance and faith in Christ. Not everyone has a chance to do this, like the thief on the cross. In that case, it's not going to keep them from heaven. As with the thief, the Lord said, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise." But normally you must be baptized after you repent and give your life to Jesus. The Lord commanded it when He gave the Great Commission to His disciples:
"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'" (Mat 28:18-20)
We see that the apostles and other disciples who preached the gospel followed this pattern. When the Ethiopian eunuch got saved, he was baptized immediately when they came to some water.
Paul explained the significance of water baptism when he wrote to the Romans in the sixth chapter.
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection," (Rom 6:3-5)
When we are baptized, we are united with Christ in His death. As we go down in the waters of baptism, the old self is buried beneath the water with Christ. When we come up out of the water, we are raised with Him to new life.
On the day of Pentecost, when the people came under conviction for sin at the preaching of the gospel, and asked what they should do, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Act 2:38)
He taught that you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (into His authority) by faith in Him, for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, repentance and faith in Christ are essential, and so is water baptism.
By the way, when Peter said "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," he spoke of the need to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is also a baptism. Due to the limited scope of this article, I will not go any further into that here, except to mention the importance of it again before my closing.
The apostle Paul also taught that the Lord gave Himself up on the cross for His Bride, which is the Church, to make her holy, and that He cleanses her by the washing with water through the Word of God. He said, "...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5:25b-26, NIV).
I believe as John Wesley did that the expression "washing with water" refers in part to water baptism, which is an "outward and visible sign" that cleanses us from guilt and the power of sin, if we receive with it "the inward spiritual grace." It was only through this study of the Word on holy washings that the Spirit of God revealed to me the connection of this Ephesians passage with water baptism (see my comments in the table below), and upon further research I later discovered to my delight that both John Wesley and Matthew Henry saw the same connection. Before this I had never heard anyone make this connection, so the fact that these two holiness preachers wrote about it hundreds of years ago seems to confirm what the Lord revealed to me.
However, there is more to this Ephesians passage than simply water baptism. For Jesus told His disciples, "You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you." (Joh 15:3). Therefore, we know that He also cleanses us with water through the Word of God, just as Paul said in his epistle.
Origin of Baptism
So where did the idea of baptism originate? Do they have any precedents in the Scriptures?
Under the Law of Moses, they certainly had ceremonial washings that the priests did in the tabernacle and temple. These were required in order to make them ceremonially clean. But these were only types and they have been fulfilled in Christ our high priest. So while they were a type of washing, they were not carried over into the New Covenant as a requirement for believers.
The Red Sea a Type of Baptism
The best type of water baptism in Scripture, which shows us the origin of it was when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Paul referred to this when he said:
"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." (1Co 10:1-4)
The Flood of Noah's Day a Type of Baptism
Peter also referred to the flood during Noah's day as a type of baptism as well. He said:
"When the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ," (1Pe 3:20b-21)
Peter taught that just as the few people, only eight persons, were brought safely through the water, likewise, baptism now saves you. That's pretty clear. Noah's ark being brought safely through water was a type of the repentant believer being saved through baptism (for more on that topic, please see Noah's Ark a Type of Christ). Note that Peter said that baptism is not about the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.
Baptism Types, Analogies, and Their Meanings
I'd like to present to you the various baptism analogies and their meanings in the following chart, in order to better help you correlate them together:
|Scripture text||Corresponding Analogy||Type of Washing||Purpose of washing||Meaning of text|
|“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Ac 2:38)||(None in this passage)||Water baptism||For the forgiveness of your sins||Water baptism accompanied by repentance and faith in Christ provides forgiveness of sins.|
|“…in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you…”(1Pe 3:20-21a)||Flood||Water baptism||A flood to destroy sinners and an ark to save the righteous||Just as Noah and his family, eight people in all, were brought safely through the flood water, so baptism saves you from being destroyed with sinners.|
|“…not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1Pe 3:21)||Bath||Water baptism||To remove dirt from the flesh and make the person completely clean||Baptism is not just a bath that removes dirt from the body, but it is an appeal to God for a good conscience, as well as a pledge to God to keep a good conscience.|
|“…all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”(Rom 6:3)||Grave||Water baptism||To be united in Christ’s death and burial in the grave||One who is baptized into Christ has been immersed into His death under the water|
|“…we have been buried with Him through baptism into death…” (Rom 6:4)||Grave||Water baptism||To be united in Christ’s death and burial in the grave||One who is baptized into Christ has been buried with Him under the water|
|“..we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death…”(Rom 6:5a)||Grave||Water baptism||To be united in Christ’s death and burial in the grave||One who is baptized into Christ has been baptized into His death under the water|
|“…we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Rom 6:5b)||Grave||Water baptism||To be united in Christ’s death and burial in the grave||One who is united with Christ in His death through baptism will also be united in His resurrection from the grave|
|“…there arose a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purification…”
|Washing||Water baptism (and possibly ceremonial washing)||To purify the person||John’s disciples discussed or argued with a certain Jew about “washing” (Greek, katharismos).|
|“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.'" (Joh 3:26)||Washing||Water baptism||To purify the person||John’s disciples (in the context of the discussion with the Jew about washing) reported to John that Jesus was baptizing beyond the Jordan and all were coming to Him.|
|“…cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word…”(Eph 5:26a, NIV)||Washing||Water baptism (and possibly foot washing)||To cleanse||Through the power of His Word making His work on the cross effective in our lives, the Lord washes His Bride, the Church, cleansing her from the guilt and power of sin in the waters of baptism.|
|“…to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”(Eph 5:26b, NIV)||Washing||Water baptism (and possibly foot washing)||To cleanse||The Lord’s purpose in water baptism is to present His Bride to Himself as a radiant Church without stain or wrinkle, but holy and blameless.|
|“the elementary teaching about the Christ …instruction about washings…” (Heb 6:2)||Washing||Water baptism and foot washing||To cleanse||Since the word “washings” (Greek baptismos) is plural, and the Greek may refer to baptism, washing, or ceremonial washing, this text probably means that new believers must be instructed about both water baptism and foot washing.|
|“…our fathers were all under the cloud…and all were baptized into Moses
in the cloud …Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their
bodies were scattered in the wilderness”
(1 Cor 10:1b-2,5, NIV)
|The glory cloud||Water baptism||To be immersed under the presence of God’s Holy Spirit||All the Israelites were under the same cloud of glory, yet their bodies were scattered in the wilderness because God was not pleased with them. Likewise Christians who have been water baptized could still perish if they set their hearts on evil things as the Israelites did.|
|“…our fathers…all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses…in the sea…Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their
bodies were scattered in the wilderness”
(1 Cor 10:1b-2,5 NIV)
|The Red Sea||Water baptism||To pass through the waters (of death) out of bondage||All the Israelites passed through the same waters of the sea out of the bondage of Egypt, yet most of their bodies were scattered in the wilderness because God was not pleased with them. Likewise Christians who have been water baptized could still perish if they set their hearts on evil things as the Israelites did.|
Must We Be Immersed?
There are many Christian churches that baptize people by sprinkling them with water. I don't see any Scriptural basis for it. The word "baptism" in the Greek refers to total immersion. As I read the Bible, that is what John the Baptist did, it's what Jesus did, and it's what the apostles did. All the analogies I have just cited in the chart above imply total immersion. The burial with Christ in a watery grave, the flood, the Red Sea, the glory cloud, and the bath. Therefore, I do not advise anyone to be sprinkled but to be baptized by complete immersion.
Water Baptism Itself Does Not Save You
Let's never forget that while baptism is necessary, along with repentance and faith in Christ, we must not set our hearts on evil as the Israelites did, who consequently perished in the wilderness. They did not make it into the promised land, which is an example for us as a warning.
As Paul said, “…our fathers…all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses…in the sea…Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Cor 10:1b-2,5 NIV)
"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" (1 Cor 10:11-12. NIV).
Just as the Israelites all passed through the same waters of the sea out of the bondage of Egypt, so are we as disciples all baptized in water into Christ. And just as most of their bodies were scattered in the wilderness because God was not pleased with them, likewise those who have been water baptized could still perish if they set their hearts on evil things as the Israelites did. Therefore, water baptism itself does not save you.
Must We Be Baptized "In the Name of Jesus" Only?
I would like to mention another important point. There are certain Christians, such as oneness Pentecostals, who emphasize that we must be baptized in the name of Jesus only. They teach that if you were baptized in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that your baptism was not valid. They teach that the original apostles all baptized disciples in the Name of Jesus Christ, and therefore, if you were not explicitly baptized with those exact words, then they say you need to be baptized again specifically in the Name of Jesus. I think this is an error they make. Here are some of the Bible verses they quote:
Act 2:38, "Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
Act 8:16, "For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Act 10:48, "And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days."
Act 19:5, "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Act 22:16, "Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name."
As I have already stated earlier in this article, our Lord Himself taught us to make disciples and baptize them "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Mat 28:19). That's quite clear, and we know who He meant by "the Son." He was not talking about someone else but about Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Scriptures are clear on this point.
While the Scriptures do say the early disciples baptized disciples in the name of Jesus Christ, you should understand what that means. Anything that is done in the name of another person is done in their authority. If you can legally sign checks in someone's name, it means you do so in their authority. Your signature carries the same authority as theirs, if you have been authorized to do so. Likewise, a law enforcement officer carries out his work in the name of the law, such as when he arrests a criminal. He cannot do so in his own name but in the name of the law of the city, state, or municipality he serves, because he has been authorized to do so. All arrests he makes are in the authority of the law.
The Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Mt 28:18-19. NIV). By noting the word "therefore", we understand that the authority to make disciples and baptize them comes from the Father through Jesus. Just as Jesus came in the Father's name, which the Father gave Him (Joh 17:11b), likewise, Jesus came in the Father's authority that was given to Him, which He has in turn delegated to His chosen servants. To be baptized "in the name of Jesus" means "by the authority of Jesus". Therefore, if you were originally baptized "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" when you began to follow Christ, I don't think you need to be baptized again, unless your first baptism occurred as a baby, or by sprinkling, or any time before you had actually repented of your sin and given your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
I think that those of us who baptize disciples should do so "in the name of the Father, and the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit." And I also think it's very important to get disciples baptized with the Holy Spirit and baptized with fire (Mt 3:11).
Putting it All Together
In this part-one article I have explained both the requirement of water baptism and the reason for it, as well as its origin and types in Scripture. I trust that it has helped you to understand a little better the correlation of the various analogies and what they were intended to teach us about baptism. This is part of the initiation process for every new disciple, and it only needs to be done once. If you have repented and given your life to Jesus Christ, but have never been baptized, then this is an important next step for you to take in your walk with God. I urge you not to delay in carrying it out.
Continue to Holy Washings - Part II.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, where noted. "Baptism" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist. The "Water Baptism" graphic used by permission from Broadway Church, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Author's note: After you have read Holy Washings - Part II, please also see Baptized with the Spirit, Holy Fire Baptism, Entering the Kingdom of God, All Things Are New!, The Link Between Two Realms, and The Name of Jesus. You may find my complete collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.