Luke 3:3 says that John went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There are elements of John’s preaching surrounding this baptism, and we should look carefully at them.
- Mark 1:5 will add that when people came out to baptized by John they were confessing their sins. The emphasis we see here in Mark is a time of national repentance. Mark doesn’t immediately convey a sense of confusion by many Israelites like Matthew, Luke, and John do. It’s a unique thing that John is out in the desert (cf. Exodus 5:1). Israel’s escape from Egypt began in the desert. The nation was delivered through the Red Sea. John is reenacting Israel’s ancient story by immersing penitent Israelites in the river.
- Many were obviously coming to John’s baptism with alternative reasons (Luke 3:7-14). Imagine being called hissing snakes. It seems many associated John with the wrong kind of revolution. [Recall John 6 after Jesus feeds many and then they want to force Jesus to become inaugurated as king. Were they in the desert (6:31) where revolutions developed?] Revolution was definitely on the breath of many. It appears John the Baptist has a different kind of revolution in mind. Heavenly wrath was coming (Luke 3:7) if the nation didn’t flee from its wickedness. John calls them trees. They must produce fruit (3:8) that befits a genuine turning to God with heart and soul. John’s baptism is not a call for them to violently revolt. The true children of Abraham were to be conduits through whom God would bless surrounding nations.
- The Messiah (Christ) was expected to be similar to David. Rid Israel of its foes, set things aright with faithful Israel and judge rebellious Israelites, was the mode more or less expected. Would he be the one out here in the wilderness baptizing people in the Jordan (Luke 3:15; John 1:19-28)? Remember that people came confessing their sins as they were immersed. Who had the right to offer forgiveness of sins other than the rulers of the Jews, the Pharisees and Temple “congress”, through their indebtedness code? No one would dare unless they believed themselves to be a revolutionary, or the Messiah. John responds to them all, saying that he is not the Christ (King) but that he is the one preparing the way for the Christ. He baptizes with water in order that the Christ would be revealed to Israel (John 1:31), but the Christ would baptize the nation with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Christ will separate the faithful from the rebellious among Israel like wheat from chaff. The faithful will receive the promised Spirit that designates them the new Israel. They’ll be the King’s people. The rebellious among Israel will see fire, judgment. Malachi 3:1-2 says “Behold, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord whom you’re seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand we he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” Malachi 4:1 says “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that’s coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. …Does it sound like John the Baptist is getting his message from Malachi?
A revolution has begun with John the Baptist and will continue with Jesus. However, it will turn many in Israel upside down. Those who appear to be first in line to enter the kingdom will be last, and those who appear to be restricted or rejected from the line altogether…will be first.
When asked about baptism today it would be helpful to connect it to the story the Gospel writers seem to be telling. More to come….