“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). That statement does not refer to John the apostle, but rather John the Baptizer, a man who played a key role in God’s plan of redemption.
One part of John’s activities was something that the Bible calls “the baptism of John.” We read those exact words in Matthew 21:25, Mark 11:30, Luke 7:29, Luke 20:4, Acts 1:22, and Acts 18:25. “The baptism of John” would be the same thing as “John’s baptism,” a term found in Acts 19:3.
John’s baptism – It was not part of the Law of Moses. The first time we read about this baptism is in Matthew chapter three, where we learn that people (that is, Jews) from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the region around the Jordan went to John to be baptized in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:5,6). It is interesting that when a new apostle was going to be chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, part of the criteria was that he must be someone who had been involved in the Lord’s activities “from the baptism of John” (Acts 1:22).
John’s baptism – There was divine authority behind it. When Jesus was asked about who granted Him the authority to do what He was doing in the temple area, He responded by asking a question: “The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men?” (Mark 11:30). The unspoken answer was, “From heaven,” meaning it was endorsed by God. John was a man sent from God (John 1:6), and as a prophet of God (Luke 7:24,26), his message came from God. So did his baptism.
John’s baptism – Those who refused to accept it were rejecting God’s plan. The Bible says, “. . . even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:29,30). The bottom line: a Jew who had access to John’s teaching about baptism and failed to submit to it was rejecting God’s will and could not please Him.
John’s baptism – It involved believing/faith. The apostle Paul declared, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (Acts 19:4). At one point in his ministry, John spoke about one who was coming that was mightier than him (Mark 1:7). In a later phase of his preaching, John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away sin. John’s baptism required faith: faith in the Christ Who was to come. Baptism of “the Great Commission” also involves believing (Mark 16:16), but it is faith in the fact that Jesus already died for our sins and already rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
John’s baptism – It involved a confession. Those who received John’s baptism confessed their sins (Mark 1:5). In contrast to that, those who receive Great Commission baptism confess their faith in Jesus, as the eunuch from Africa did (Acts 8:35-37; Romans 10:9,10).
John’s baptism – It required repentance. As we noted, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance . . .” (Acts 19:4). Repentance also is mandatory for those who want to receive Great Commission baptism (Acts 2:38).
John’s baptism – It had a purpose. “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). It was not just a baptism. It was not just a baptism of repentance. It was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Now what gave us that idea? It is a direct quote from the Bible, so I plan to believe it.
John’s baptism – John immersed Jesus (Mark 1:9), but our Lord did not receive the baptism of John for the remission of sins. What is called “John’s baptism” was for people who needed to repent of their sins. Those folks confessed their sins. Sinless Jesus had no sins to confess or forsake. Again, John’s baptism was “for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). The Christ was not subject to such a baptism. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).
John’s baptism – It was not a permanent arrangement. The baptism of the Great Commission is into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit (Matthew 28:19), and it is in force until the end of the world/age. Neither of those things is said about the baptism of John. Baptism under the new covenant is into the Christ and His death (Romans 6:3). That is never said about John’s baptism. About twenty-five years after John and Jesus died, a man by the name of Apollos was preaching John’s baptism as if it still were valid. Aquila and Priscilla “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Apollos was preaching an outdated baptism: John’s baptism evidently was not in force after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
John’s baptism was part of his God-given mission to prepare the way for the Christ. Our salvation is not through John and his baptism, but via Jesus and our obedience to Him (Hebrews 5:9).
— Roger D. Campbell