What did the baptism of John stand for?

In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist gives us the reasons for performing his water baptism: “I baptize you with water for repentance.” The apostle Matthew tells us that people, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:6). Also, Paul confirms that John’s baptism was for repentance of sin and points out that John foretold and prepared the way for the mission of Christ: “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). John’s baptism was a symbolic service that signified forsaking the old evil ways and believing in the Messiah to come.

Our deeper understanding of baptism is based on Romans 6:3–11 where Paul teaches that Christian baptism represents death. To be “baptized,” Paul says, is to be “baptized into his [Christ’s] death” (v. 3), to be “buried with him by baptism into death” (v. 4), to be “planted together in the likeness of his death” (v. 5), to be “crucified with him” (v. 6). Paul then concludes, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (v. 11).

On a side note, pouring and sprinkling are not symbols of death and burial. Paul clearly states the important fact that coming forth from baptism symbolizes being “raised up from the dead” (v. 4). It is evident that the writers of the Bible knew only of baptism by immersion.

It should be added that the ceremony of baptism is simply a symbol and does not guarantee salvation. Unless an individual believes in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9) and repents of sin (Acts 2:38; cf. ch. 19:18), baptism can be of no merit. There is no saving grace in this ceremony itself without faith and action in the person of Jesus Christ.

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In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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