John and Baptism

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Luke 3:1-20

Luke has more to say about the John the Baptist than any of the other gospels, and what stands out to me is how similar the things he says are to the teachings of Jesus. He tells them to repent so God will forgive them. He tells them that they are not protected from judgement, that simply being the chosen people is no longer enough. An, my favorite part, he teaches them how to treat their neighbor. It’s all very similar to everything I’ve read Jesus say in Mark and Matthew.

The fact that John and Jesus taught such similar things gives validity to both men. Independent of one another (because, as far as I know, no documents state that they ever met outside of Jesus’s baptism), they were given the same message to preach. That couldn’t have been a coincidence, it must have come from God.

And that’s John’s main purpose in the gospels, to affirm who Jesus is. See, even the regular people recognized the Spirit of God in John the Baptist. So much so that they thought he was the Messiah. Even the Jews these days recognize John as a prophet of God. And if John was speaking God’s word, he must have been speaking truth about the Messiah, about Jesus. This is all one big proof of Jesus’s identity.

So far, none of the gospels has explained the purpose of baptism. Obviously we know what it signifies today, but what did it mean when John was doing it? Based on what I know about Acts, I think the gospel writers didn’t bother to explain baptism because it was such a common practice at the time that nobody needed it explained to them. So I’m shooting in the dark here, but I think the purpose is almost identical to ours. To us baptism symbolizes the death of Jesus and our sins on the Cross, and His rebirth and our rebirth in Him. In John’s time I think it was a more simple symbol of repentance. It could still have represented the death of our old self and the rebirth of our new, repented self. Or it could have been even more simple: you went in unclean and came out clean. But you would have to repent of your sins to stay pure. To me this makes the most sense for Jewish culture.

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