Water baptism is traditionally a known phenomenon in Judaism. Ritual cleansing plays a large role in Jewish religious life. In Hebrews 6:1,2, a “doctrine of baptisms” (plural) is listed to the foundation of what the Hebrews had practiced for a very long time. “The baptism of repentance” that John preached at the Jordan River was, therefore, not a strange phenomenon, in itself, for Israel. Indeed, they baptized at all kinds of occasions. But there is a subtle difference. John did not preach that they should baptize themselves, but that they were to be baptized. Passive. He baptized others and to this he owes his nickname, “the Baptist”. He declared:
And I was not aware of Him. But that He may be manifested to Israel, therefore came I, baptizing in water.”
John’s baptism is characterized by water. By baptizing others in water, he directed them to the One who would come and baptize in Spirit. To this truth, Scripture testifies in many places:
For I, indeed, am baptizing you in water for repentance, yet He Who is coming after me is stronger than I, Whose sandals I am not competent to bear. He will be baptizing you in holy spirit and fire.
I, indeed, baptize you in water, yet He shall be baptizing you in holy spirit.”
… I, indeed, in water am baptizing you. Yet coming is One stronger than I, the thong of Whose sandals I am not competent to loose. He will be baptizing you in holy spirit and fire.
… He Who sends me to be baptizing in water, That One said to me, ‘On Whomever you may be perceiving the spirit descending and remaining on Him, This is He Who is baptizing in holy spirit.’
John, indeed, baptizes in water, yet you shall be baptized in holy spirit after not many of these days.”
Now I am reminded of the declaration of the Lord, as He said that John, indeed, baptizes in water, yet you shall be baptized in holy spirit.’
With regard to Israel, John baptized in water. His activity was a picture of Him Who would come after him and also would be baptizing. However, not in water, but in holy Spirit. Note: the so-called Christian baptism is no baptism in water, but a baptism in spirit. No ritual of human hands, but a spiritual reality. Wherever anyone believes in the risen Christ, he or she receives Spirit and life (John 7:39; Eph.1:13).
For in one Spirit also we all are baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free…
That is the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
Translation: Peter Feddema