The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold I send my messenger before my face, which shall prepare the way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Mark 1:1-4
Many people’s curiosity is aroused when they consider the ministry and baptism of John the Baptist. They do not accept the plain language of the inspired Evangelist who tells us John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing in the wilderness was the beginning of the Gospel of Christ. In the face of the plain testimony of the New Testament that he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, they would contend his baptism belongs to the Old Testament. Here, Mark tells us the beginning of the Gospel was the fulfillment of prophecy by John’s preaching and baptizing. Let us look, Lord willing, at the two things here mentioned in connection with the beginning of the gospel.
The first of these we will consider is the preaching of John. John did not court the favor of the world in his preaching. Instead of going to the cities of Israel, he went to the wilderness where he had been schooled for the work God had commissioned him to do. He did not go to his earthly father or other priests of the Law. He did not go to the sects of Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees or Essenes) to find his doctrine. He had the education befitting the first Gospel preacher to declare the message of the New Testament. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” John 1:6. He was taught by the same teacher the Apostle Paul had: God himself. He was taught in the wilderness. The same place where God found Jacob and led him about, and the same place God finds and teaches all his sheep.
John’s message was not the same as mainstream Judaism of his day. He preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Judaism taught sacrifices and burnt offerings were needed for the remission of sins. John’s message was not the same old line the people had heard all their lives, but rather a radical message of salvation through another. John proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. He declared in his preaching who were the recipients of this: not the outwardly religious ones, who inwardly were whitened sepulchers, but rather to those who had been given knowledge of their sins and then repentance from those sins. Nowhere did John send his disciples back into mainstream Judaism with the idea salvation was theirs because of any relationship with Abraham or ceremonial rites or sacrifices. Rather, he told the Pharisees, who were the strictest of all the sects of the Jews in their observation of the Law, they were a “generation of vipers” and asked them, “who had warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It would seem from this question that his preaching was not what warned people. John needed more evidence of a change of heart than just people coming out in the wilderness to see him. Fruits meet for repentance was what he needed to see. Dead branches of the olive tree were all around him. He saw them withered in all Judea. A living faith in God and Him who was to come was what was needed to get into the water of baptism with John. So John’s message was not of the Law. How could it be when Jesus himself said, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”? If we had no other statement in the Bible except these words from our Lord, would we need any more to convince us John’s preaching was not of the law; neither was he a prophet? When Jesus asked the multitudes, “what went ye out for to see, a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.” He was not telling them John was a prophet under the Law for the New Testament speaks of prophets, too. The phrase “the law and the prophets” is used in Scripture to signify the whole of God’s revelation to man under the Old Covenant. This was in force with all its prophecies of Christ and His redemption, until John. John began the fulfillment of all that was written therein. For the prophecies of the forerunner who was to prepare the way of the Lord were to be fulfilled with just as much literalness as any direct prophecy of Christ himself.
If, to go to our second point, John’s preaching was not of the Law, why should we think his baptism was of the Law? Baptism was not an Old Testament ordinance as Dr. Gill has shown in his Dissertation Concerning the Baptism of Jewish Proselytes which is appended to his Body of Divinity. John did not borrow something from the Law and update, renovate or “Christianize” it. He was commissioned directly by God to begin something new. We can see the newness of it from the curiosity of the people concerning it. They came from Jerusalem and all Judea to see this one who was dipping people who confessed their sins and brought forth fruits of repentance under the waters of Jordan. John is called the dipper. If he had been one of many who had done this sort of thing before would he not have been called a dipper? So we see the baptism of John, like his preaching, was something new.
Christ Jesus must go there and fulfill all righteousness by submitting to the ordinance from the hand of the one He called. John knew who it was who came to him and desired the ordinance from him and he worshipped Jesus and said he had need of baptism from Him. Jesus gave us an example that we should follow in His steps. He did not select someone else to begin dipping those who came to Him; He went to the one God-called dipper in the world John’s heavenly authority marked his baptism with the seal of God, and then the Son of God placed His earthly stamp of approval on it by submitting to the ordinance before He began His public ministry. Christ’s earliest disciples were first disciples of John, and were, no doubt, baptized by him. The first qualification when the apostles selected one to fill the place of Judas was, that he had been with them since the baptism of John, or the beginning of the Gospel.
What is left for us to inquire is whether that baptism with which John baptized is the same with which we baptize today. Baptists baptize repentant sinners. So did John, as we have shown above. We baptize on profession of faith in Christ. John did the same: John said to those he baptized “That they should believe on him which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus.” Acts 19:4,5. John baptized by immersing the body in water, not by sprinkling or pouring. We also completely immerse the candidate in water. The original administrator (John) was characterized as one sent by God, the ministers who continue to baptize in the name of the true and living God have the same calling. John was not commissioned to ordain others to continue the ordinance. He must decrease and Christ must increase. Jesus must commission the ones to carry out the baptism to which He was submissive. We follow the example of Christ by submitting to the ordinance as it was delivered by him.
Some, however, say today’s baptism under the Gospel is not the same as John’s. To try to prove this, they usually take us to the 19th chapter of Acts, verses 1-7. In this section we see Paul finding some disciples at Ephesus who had been baptized unto John’s baptism. Note: these did not say they had been baptized by John. If they were not baptized by John him- self, who then baptized them? In the closing verses of the 18th chapter of Acts we read of Apollos, an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures but knowing only the baptism of John, being in Ephesus. I do not think it wrong to conclude that Apollos immersed these twelve while he was there. Neither Apollos, nor anyone else, was authorized to continue John’s baptism. John, himself, said, “He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease.” He did not intend for his baptism to be carried on by any but those whom God, who authorized him, would authorize. These were the disciples of Christ who were commanded to keep on dipping in the same manner and for the same purpose they had been dipped by John. However, now there was an even greater purpose. “Him which should come after,” had already come. Baptizing in prospect of Messiah could not be done because He had come and died for His people. Now we can see how in baptism we are buried in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. It was not to down-grade John’s baptism Paul baptized these 12 disciples. They had been baptized in prospect of Messiah (Christ) after He had come, so the purpose for their baptism (by Apollos) was incorrect.
So we have shown John’s baptism in its glorious gospel light. John was “a burning and shining light.” He was the first gospel preacher, and the first Baptist on the face of the earth. His ministry was totally of the New Testament in all its parts and showed Jesus as the Christ the Son of the Living God to all those who have eyes to see the Lamb of God To call him less, is to demean him and his ministry to the level of the law, which was against us, contrary to us and taken out of the way by the death of Christ. John’s ministry in showing forth faith, repentance and profession of that faith by baptism, shows us a true Baptist preacher of the Oldest School, commissioned by God alone, rejected by the religious authorities, killed by the civil magistrate, but honored by God. May God bless this to your consideration and edification.
Volume 5, No. 1
January - February, 1991