By Art Bull

Then John the baptist burst upon the scene, crowds flocked to the Jordan river to hear him preaching the baptism of repentance. There was an air of expectancy among the Jews.

For much of the time since king Nebuchadnezzar had overthrown their kingdom, the Jews had been dominated by foreigners. Their overlords were now the hated Romans, whose presence they felt daily. They could hardly go anywhere without seeing Roman soldiers, a reminder of who really controlled their national life. Yes, the Romans had brought stability, law and order, fine public buildings and a good network of roads. But the cost was high, as the publicans or tax gatherers reminded them every time they had to pay toll, tribute and custom.

But the prophets had promised restoration to Israel. Not only the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple which had already happened. The prophets were also clear that David’s kingdom would be restored by one who would be known as "the Anointed", or Messiah as it is in the Hebrew language. The book of Daniel in chapter 9 even offered the time when he should come in the enigmatic prophecy of the seventy weeks:

"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command-ment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."

It is possible that some understood the 69 "weeks" to represent 69 x 7 = 483 years. That was about the number of years from the decree that the king of Persia issued to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, until Jesus was born. It is quite possible that the wise men who had travelled from the east to see Jesus were looking for him because they understood Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks.

The gospel of Luke mentions two prophets who were watching for the coming of the Messiah or Christ. Both Simeon and Anna had declared that the young child Jesus was the promised Messiah. These, and other events that happened years before, had brought a feeling of general anticipation among the religious Jews. Now a strange new preacher had come, and was he a fiery speaker! Could this be the Messiah? John told them that he was not the Messiah. God had given John a sign to show him who the Messiah was. he said: "And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." (John chapter 1:33).

Matthew 3:13-17 continues:

"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

The form of the water baptism is clear. Verse 16 says that Jesus went up out of the water, which shows that he first went down into the water. This fits with John 3:23 which says:

"And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized."

Sprinkling or pouring of water over those being baptised would not have required "much water". John selected the location because it was suitable for complete immersion. And we notice back in Matthew 3, verse 14 that John didn’t want to baptise Jesus, whom he recognized to have no need of repentance. But Jesus insisted, saying, "suffer it to be so now", or allow me to be baptised now. "For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness."

Jesus was without sin, but that was not all that God wanted. A person could do absolutely nothing and think he was without sin. But it is also sin to omit those things which God requires. One of the things required is water baptism. And notice that little word "us"—"it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness". Jesus was the "firstborn among many brethren" as says Paul to the Romans. In order to fulfill all righteousness, or the requirements of God, it was necessary for both Jesus and his brethren who follow him to submit to full water baptism.

Notice further that it was not until after Jesus was baptised that the voice came from heaven saying "...this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased". When Jesus requested water immersion he was giving recognition to a principle which is brought out in scripture. God was well pleased with Jesus because of his obedience to God’s will. As Hebrews 10:7 says,

"Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. "

Water baptism was essential for Jesus, and it is essential for all believers as well. In his last commission to the apostles Jesus commanded them in Mark 16:15,16:

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. "

Notice the order Jesus gives. "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved". A baby or young child cannot believe the gospel because it does not yet have the capacity to do so. Jesus is asking for an intelligent acceptance of the gospel, followed by baptism or full immersion in water. This is exactly what is reported in the book of Acts, which is a narrative of how the apostles carried out the work that Jesus gave them to do. Men and women having heard and believed the gospel were baptised in the same way that Jesus was. The Scriptures are silent about baptism of babies or young children. On the day of Pentecost Peter preached the gospel to the crowds in Jerusalem. As a result, we are told in Acts 2:41:

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

Please note the order — they received his word, then were baptised. The next incident in Acts 8:12 shows the same order, in Acts 8:12 when Philip preached in Samaria:

"... they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. "

Later in the same chapter, Philip explained how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and many other Scriptures:

"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him."

Again, there was first belief, then baptism. In addition we get a clear picture of the correct, apostolic mode of baptism. "And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him."

We learn from the letter to the Romans that full immersion is not without significance. Paul shows in chapter 6 that baptism is a symbolic death, burial and resurrection:

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

Paul then shows the parallel between Christ’s death & resurrection and the believer’s baptism. The former sinful way of life must die and be buried, and a new life of obedience commenced —:

"For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."

Jesus was first crucified, and willingly so, to declare the righteousness of God. In consequence God raised him from death to eternal life. The believer follows the same pattern:

"For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God."

The practical outcome is that the believer should always be conscious of that symbolic death unto sin. It should help him to kick the former self-centered way of thinking, and sinful way of life:

"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof."

The effect is not only to turn away from the sinful way of life, but to actively promote the new life of obedience to the will of God:

"Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace."

Now what is to be said about those who have chosen to modify the divinely given mode of baptism, who teach that sprinkling or pouring is sufficient, or that water baptism is inconsequential? Let the last chapter of the Bible give the answer: Revelation 22:14:

"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book"(verses 18,19).

Doubtless this warning has primary reference to the commandments of Christ in the book of Revelation, but that does not exclude the other commandments as well, including the ordinance of water baptism. The warning is grave indeed and not to be taken lightly.

I would suggest at this point that we need not be surprised if professing Christians have in fact added to the commandments, and taken away from them since they were given nearly 20 centuries ago. The Old Testament is a record of how Israel were continuously falling away from worshipping the one true God. After the strong leadership of Joshua or other men, they would remain faithful for only one generation or at the most two, which is less than 100 years. It has been nearly 20 times that since Jesus and the apostles performed their service — and are we expected to believe that the Gentile church is so much superior to the Jewish, that they have not repeated their apostasy?

The Lord Jesus found it necessary to severely reprimand the religious leaders in Israel. They had, over a period of perhaps six centuries, built up a large body of tradition that had buried the spirit and intent of the law given through Moses.

In the same length of time I would suggest to you, the Christian church had completely modified the original doctrine of Jesus and the apostles. Paul had predicted it in his 2nd letter to Timothy, chapter 4 (verse 2):

"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. "

How long would it be until Paul’s prediction would be fulfilled? Two thousand years? Three thousand years? Nowhere near that long. In his own lifetime Paul could write in his 2nd letter to Timothy chapter 1:15, that two false teachers had risen up and turned an entire community of believers away:

"This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes."

If this could happen while the apostles were still alive, what should we expect when they are all gone? Peter, in his 2nd letter, predicted what would in fact happen:

"But there were false prophets also among the people (of Israel in O.T. times) even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of."

Does this mean a 50-50 situation, with Protestants on one side and Catholics on the other? That certainly doesn’t fit, because then the way of truth would be well spoken of by as many as those who spoke evil of it. But if the words of Christ are true, then those who hold the truth ought to be a small minority:

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."—Matthew 7:13.

If modern Christianity were apostolically pure, these words of Jesus would not be true — a billion Christians are not going to get through a narrow gate! No, Jesus is telling his followers that they should expect to be always in the minority — a hated and persecuted minority: "Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake."—Luke 6:22.

That is not the picture of Christianity. But it is true of small, insignificant groups who have been valiantly trying to live up to apostolic tradition as it is presented in the Scriptures. You can read about them in books like The Protesters, and Brethren in Christ, by Alan Eyre. Open persecution is not legal in western countries now, but the hatred is still there, witness the books that are published about so-called "cults".

And speaking of books, I have been reading a 1988 printing of a book by Billy Graham who has something to say about baptism. Speaking about differences of opinion among various churches he writes on page 64, "Some baptise babies; others do not. Some sprinkle or pour; others only immerse ....In no way should these differences be divisive. I can have wonderful Christian fellowship, especially in the work of evangelism, with those who hold various views."

In these few words Billy Graham dispenses with water baptism. As far as he is concerned water baptism is inconsequential. But he places great emphasis on what he calls "baptism with the spirit".

Continued, next issue: Baptism of Fire.

Hearing His Words "Needful," Robert Roberts

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