The Study of the Church
"As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Matthew 16:18
Four Different Types of Baptism
John the Baptist baptized Jesus
John the Baptist came preaching, urging the people of Israel to repent (Matt. 3:1-2, 6, 8, 11) because the kingdom of heaven was at hand (literally, had drawn near - see Matt. 3:1-2 NIV). By near is meant near in time (chronologically) and nearby (spatially) in the person of Jesus the King. John knew that the Messiah's coming kingdom upon earth was to be not only a political kingdom, but necessarily a spiritual kingdom, in which the citizens had hearts in tune with the values of the King. Most Israelis longed, for political reasons, for the Messiah to come, in order that they might be freed from the tyranny of Rome. What most Israelis ignored was that their spiritual values would need to change so that they could be in tune with the King and his administration. This is why both John (Matt. 3:2, 6, 8, 11); Mark 1:4) and Jesus (Matt. 4:17; 11:20; Luke 13:1-5) called upon the people to repent.People from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the region around the Jordan River were coming to John to be baptized by him as they confessed their sins (Matt. 3:5-6). The fact that they were coming to be baptized indicates that they agreed with him as God's spokesman, and that they agreed with his message, which emphasized repentance preparatory to entering the Kingdom.
John the Baptist admitted that he was a lesser baptizer. Someone coming after him was mightier than he. Of necessity, the one coming after him was not only mightier than John, but his baptism was superior to John's. John used an inferior agent with which to baptize - water (Matt. 3:11). The mightier one would baptize with two agents - with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11) and with fire (Matt. 3:11, 12). Matthew (3:11-17), Mark (1:7-11), and Luke (3:16-22) all imply, but do not state explicitly, that the one mightier to whom John referred was Jesus. In the Gospel according to John (the Apostle), John the Baptist clearly identifies Jesus as the mightier baptizer (John 1:19-34).
In Matt. 28:16-20 Jesus, recently risen from the dead, meets with his disciples in Galilee. There, he commissions them to "make disciples of all the nations," the only imperative in the passage. The accompanying participles are going (Greek text), baptizing, and teaching. Though the command was delivered only to the eleven disciples (Matt. 28:16), the fact that Jesus said he would be with them "always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20) indicates that Jesus had in mind an ongoing succession of unnamed Christian leaders whom he charged with the responsibility of discipling all the nations. It is clear that Jesus expected his followers to baptize their disciples with water (John 3:22-26; 4:1-3).
John the Baptist used water as his agent in baptism (Matt. 3:11). The water he used was the water of the Jordan River (Matt. 3:6). That water was flowing, moving water, not a stagnant pool. The Hebrews considered running water to be living water. (In the phrase "running water," the word "running" is a translation of the Hebrew word chay, meaning "life.") John's baptizing in the Jordan River symbolized a fresh, life-giving start based upon repentance of sin (Matt. 3:6, 11) so the people of Israel would be spiritually prepared to enter the imminent kingdom (Matt. 3:2).
Likewise, the Christian Leader uses water as his agent in baptism. The water in Christian baptism carries great significance. Water baptism is an indicator that one has determined to become a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), and that one has repented, changed his mind about who Jesus is and what his relationship to Jesus ought to be (Acts 2:41). The immersion process of baptism beautifully illustrates the believer's identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).
Jesus is a greater baptizer than either John the Baptist or the Christian leader. As a superior baptizer, he uses a superior agent - in the first place, the Holy Spirit. Water is an inactive agent, and so is fire. But the Holy Spirit is an active agent. Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to do his baptizing and the results are remarkably successful. Not everyone who was baptized by John in water was sincere (Matt. 3:7-8), and not every person baptized in the water of Christian baptism has been sincere either (Acts 8:12-13, 18-24). But when Jesus baptizes using the Holy Spirit, the results are universally positive! When John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11), he was not long in defining what he meant. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit, according to John (Matt. 3:12), was to escape the terrible judgment of Jesus' winnowing fork, and to be gathered safely, like wheat, into the great barn of God's salvation. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit is equivalent to being saved, according to John, preserved to enter the kingdom
The Apostle Paul declares unequivocally that all believers in Christ have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). There exists, in Spirit baptism, a dual action: (1) Jesus employs the Holy Spirit to place all believers into the Body of Christ. (2) All believers are given the one Spirit to drink, which means that all believers are given the indwelling Holy Spirit as an eternal possession.
The significance of John's Baptism was repentance to prepare for the coming kingdom (Matt. 3:1-2). The root meaning of the word repentance is a change of mind. The people would need a change of mind about their own sinfulness. They would have to recognize that unless they dealt with the sin problem in their lives, they would be disqualified from entering the kingdom.
Jesus was about to present himself as King of Israel. (It should be noted that the primary focus of the word Christ is King.) If the people were going to be fit for entering a kingdom that was not only political, but also spiritual, they would have to restructure their lives. They would have to become morally and spiritually pure, and so repentance was a prerequisite for entering the kingdom.
It should be noted also, however, that being baptized by John in water symbolized repentance, but it did not create repentance. A great many people were cooperating and were coming to be baptized by John confessing their sins (Matt. 3:5-6). But not all who came were sincere. Evidently there were some Pharisees and Sadducees who came for baptism, not because they were repenting of anything, but simply for public show - to stay in the good graces of the people of Israel. John grew very irate with these hypocrites, calling them snakes (Matt. 3:7)! He immediately transitioned into a message of impending judgment - "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" He urged the Pharisees and Sadducees to prove their repentance, not merely symbolize it (Matt. 3:8)! His message of impending judgment for these hypocrites continued - he spoke of an axe ready to chop down any trees who did not bear fruit, and he warned that the trees thus chopped down would be cast into the fire (Matt. 3:10). There was no way they would make it into the Kingdom if they relied merely upon their Jewish ancestry (Matt. 3:9).
The message is clear. Water cannot make one repentant, and water baptism cannot make a saint. The water of John's baptism was meant to symbolize repentance, not create it.
The clear meaning of Jesus' Baptism of people by means of the Holy Spirit as taught by John the Baptist and recorded in the gospels is salvation from sin. Divinely-wrought salvation was necessary to enter the Kingdom. Sins were a lethal impediment to entrance into the kingdom (Matt. 3:6). Merely going through the motions of a ritual was not good enough (Matt. 3:7-8). To be baptized by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11) was necessary to find oneself in the safety of God's barn and escape the destruction of unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:10, 12).
In Paul's terminology, to be baptized by means of the Spirit is a Divine act in which the believer in Christ is placed into the organic body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), of which he becomes a unique member (1 Cor. 12:12) with unique gifts (1 Cor. 12:4), a unique ministry (1 Cor. 12:5), and with unique results (1 Cor. 12:6). It is important to note that Paul said that all believers are baptized (immersed) into the body of Christ. He wrote this to a church noteworthy in the New Testament letters for their carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-4), their tolerance of immorality (1 Cor. 5), their litigiousness (1 Cor. 6:1-11), and their unworthy partaking of the Lord's table (1 Cor. 11:23-34). Baptism by the Spirit into Christ's body is a reality for all believers, regardless of their station in life or their level of sanctification. Giftedness is not a determinant of the Baptism of the Spirit. It is not accurate to say that the proof of one's having been baptized by the Holy Spirit is one's ability to speak in tongues. All believers are baptized by the Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:12-27), but not all believers speak in foreign languages (1 Cor. 12:30).
A "fringe benefit" of being baptized in water is being affected by the agent. When one becomes baptized, he gets wet! Now there is nothing remarkable about getting wet, but that is because the agent is, relatively speaking, insignificant. But when the agent of baptism is the Holy Spirit, the "fringe benefit" is nothing short of profound! When Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to baptize (immerse) us into the Body of Christ, we get an enormous fringe benefit - we receive the Holy Spirit as one who indwells us! In the words of Paul, when we believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, not only were we deposited into the Body of Christ, the "Barn of Salvation", with guaranteed entrance into the Kingdom, but we also "were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13b)! There is no such thing as being a Christian without also having the Holy Spirit indwell us (Rom. 8:9). We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we no longer belong to ourselves, for we have been bought with a great price (1 Cor. 6:19-20)!
To be baptized by Jesus when he uses fire is an abhorrent future with no respite in sight (Matt. 3:12). The fire is unquenchable - it never dies out. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus relates the sad account of a rich man who lived well in his lifetime and a poor beggar named Lazarus who fared poorly. After death, however, Lazarus found himself in Abraham's bosom, while the rich man was in torment. Notice what Jesus tells us about the future awaiting those whom he baptizes with fire: (1) The man had eyes (16:23) and a tongue (16:24). (2) He was in torment (16:23) and in agony (16:24) in the flame. (3) He was cognizant of Lazarus' well-being and his own torture (16:23-24). (4) Not even one scintilla of comfort was available to him, not even one drop of water on the tip of his tongue (16:24-25). He was fully conscious of the world of the living and pleaded for someone to go and warn his family from the doom that awaited them, but there was no recourse for his haunting memories (16:25-31). The Bible has a great deal to say about hell. Change your mind and come in humility and repentance to Jesus now. Don't wait for Jesus to baptize you with fire!
The meaning of Believer's Baptism is a public declaration that one is a believer in Christ. All believers in Christ are commanded to identify themselves as such through baptism (Matt. 28:18-20). The water of Christian baptism does not make anyone a Christian any more than the water of John's baptism made Israelis repentant. Christian baptism is a public statement of identification with Christ just as a wedding ring publicly announces a man or woman is married. Just as wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball jersey does not make Lebron James a great basketball, so baptism does not make someone a Christian. Lebron James is already a basketball player, and his jersey identifies him publicly as to which team he is on - the Cleveland Cavaliers. So baptism doesn't make us a Christian, but through water baptism we publicly announce whose team we are on -- Team Jesus!
In the New Testament examples of baptism, people believed in Jesus, and then they were baptized. Examples include the three thousand who responded Peter's Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38-41); the Samaritans who believed Philip's message of good news about the kingdom (Acts 8:12-13); an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:25-40); the converted Saul (Acts 9:1-19); the Gentile believers in Cornelius' house (Acts 10:34-48), and so on.
It is impossible that mere water carries sufficient value to change someone's heart and save him from sin. Circumcision was a mandatory sign for Jewish participation in God's covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17), but mere circumcision could accomplish nothing by way of eternal salvation (Rom. 2:25-29). Water Baptism is a ritual because water cannot change a human heart. It is an important ritual, to be sure, but it is only a ritual baptism. Only the blood of Jesus Christ has sufficient value to redeem a human from the clutches of sin and Satan (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Since neither the water of John's baptism nor the water of Christian baptism have the capacity to alter peoples' hearts, we assert that they are ritual baptisms. Important rituals, to be sure, but rituals, nonetheless. Ritual baptisms cannot effect real change -- they can only symbolize change. They are important, but they are only symbolic.
Jesus is the superior baptizer. He is superior both to John the Baptist and to the Christian Leader. Because he is a superior baptizer, he uses superior agents. When Jesus baptizes you it not just a ritual. Something really happens. For this reason we call Jesus' two baptisms Real baptisms. They really make something happen rather than merely symbolizing something. When Jesus baptizes people by means of the Holy Spirit, they really are saved. They are placed securely in the Barn of God's Salvation. They are placed securely in the Body of Christ. And they actually receive the Holy Spirit who indwells them and seals them (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
On an exceedingly grave note, when Jesus baptizes someone with fire, they are really judged; they are really sent to the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Something really happens -- they spend an eternity in fiery torment. Both of Jesus baptisms are real, nor merely ritual.
A note of warning. Jesus does not force repentance on anyone. He does not compel anyone to trust in Him. He is looking for people who voluntarily come to him and trust in Him (John 1:10-12; 3:16; Rev. 3:20). Jesus will not compel you to be baptized by His Spirit. But know this. Jesus will baptize every person one way or another. He will baptize you with His Spirit if you choose to come to him to wash away your sins with his effective blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19). But if you do not choose to trust him, you are doomed already to be baptized by Jesus with fire (John 3:18, 36)! I implore you, the reader, to come to Jesus and let him baptize you with his Spirit before it is too late!
Prepared by James T.
This study is based on, and the upcoming links will reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. (www.Lockman.org)
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)