Baptism is all about cleansing and has always been used by God to set people apart. It began with the setting apart of the nation of Israel as the people of God. God created the nation of Israel to be his representatives on earth. He set them apart from the rest of the peoples of the world as his own. He established the first priesthood through Aaron, the brother of Moses. One of the first things that God commanded to be done was for Aaron and his sons to be washed or cleansed with water so that they could be set apart for service to God.
"And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water." (Exodus 40:12 KJV)
When John the Baptist came along his mission was to set apart the Jews that were Believers, from those that were not. The Jews that took part in his water baptism identified themselves with the coming Kingdom of Heaven. That kingdom would be set up after the second coming of Jesus, something they didn't know at that time. They were baptized having faith that if they believed in and obeyed him, God would include them in his Kingdom. These believing Jews were baptized by John, admitted they were sinners and therefore set the stage for the forgiveness of their sins by Jesus Christ.
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matthew 3:1-6 KJV)
John's baptism no more saved people than the Old Testament practice of sacrificing animals did. It merely prepared and set apart the believing Jews from the unbelieving Jews looking forward to Salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection as a glorious Savior. The believing Jews would have to come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of their sins). Once they believed, God would seal them and set them apart from un-believers with a baptism from the Holy Spirit. The unbelieving Jews would also be baptized, but that baptism would be by fire. They would be set apart from the Kingdom of Heaven unto damnation. John the Baptist made this fact clear in Matthew 3: 11-12 (KJV):
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
God would eventually destroy the unbelieving segment of the nation of Israel so that the believing Jews could be priests in his kingdom. He would do this with a "baptism" of fire. That happens when God judges the world for its sin. This is made clear in Matthew 13:41-42 (KJV):
"The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
John also spoke of more baptisms to come involving the Holy Ghost. These were also designed to set people apart and would not involve water. The first was the baptism of the Apostles by the Holy Ghost that occurred on the day of Pentecost. They were set apart for service to the Lord Jesus Christ and given the ability to speak various languages. They needed that ability because the Bible tells us that there were Jews and others from all parts of the world in Jerusalem and they spoke different languages. The Bible tells us about this baptism and the results of it in Acts 2:1-11 (KJV):
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
This special baptism was unique to the Apostles. We know this because the Bible says that the gifts of speaking other languages, healing, prophecies and such were temporary. These were all replaced once the Apostles died, the church began to grow and we had the New Testament completed which scripture tells us is a 'more sure word of prophecy.' The Bible makes this clear in I Corinthians 13:-810 (KJV):
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come (the complete Bible), then that which is in part shall be done away."
Again, the baptism that the Apostles received on the day of Pentecost was a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit meant for them to set them apart for special service unto the Lord. We know this because the Apostles who believed in Jesus were already saved and sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Lord makes this clear in Matthew 16:13-17 (KJV):
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
The Father revealed the identity of Jesus to Peter through the Holy Spirit. Jesus blessed Peter after Peter confessed with his mouth that Jesus was the Son of God. At this point Peter was certainly a Believer, and if he was a Believer he was already sealed and set apart to God by the Holy Spirit. And that brings us to the spiritual baptism that sets us apart.
The next baptism we see is the spiritual baptism performed by the Holy Ghost which seals Believers and sets them apart unto God. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit and can only occur after a person accepts the gift of God (which is the payment of their sins) by belief that Jesus Christ died for them on the cross and rose again as a victorious Savior. Titus 3:5-7 (KJV) makes it clear that salvation is a free gift that cannot be earned and that those who accept Jesus as Savior are born again and regenerated by the work of Jesus on the cross and then baptized, sealed and renewed by the Holy Ghost:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
The final baptism that I will discuss here is water baptism. Is water baptism for today, or was it just used for a time by John the Baptist to set apart believing Jews? The answer comes in Acts 8:26-39 (KJV):
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing."
Water baptism is for today and is for all Believers, not just believing Jews. Peter makes it clear in the New Testament book of Acts that water baptism is something separate from the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which sets the Believer apart and seals him or her unto God. He gives us the progression of events that everyone who is saved through belief in Jesus Christ must experience:
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Acts 2:38-41 (KJV)
Peter says we must first repent and accept Jesus as our Savior. Baptism follows repentance as an outward sign of an inward change. Because Peter tells us to be baptized, he is indicating that this is something we need to do. It's a step that we need to take. The baptism of the Holy Spirit which separates us unto God is something that the Spirit accomplishes, not us, and is the result of belief in Jesus. Note that Peter says that the people that "gladly received his word were baptized." They believed first, then were baptized.
As we have already seen, Philip told us later in Acts chapter eight that the Believer's Baptism was by immersion in water and occurred after salvation. It was only after the eunuch made the statement, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" that he could be baptized in water. Philip took the eunuch into the water and baptized him.
Peter made it clear that baptism was also a way that people associated themselves with groups of believers. He told us, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
This is why Bible-believing Churches ask people to be baptized in order for them to become members of the congregation. It's the way groups of believers added people to their numbers in the Bible. Again, water baptism is something we do. It's something which the Bible tells us we must do to set ourselves apart unto God. It's has nothing to do with being born again. Baptism cannot save us. It is merely an act of obedience that tells God we will obey him and a sign to other Believers that we want to identity ourselves with them.
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Ephesians 4:4-6 (KJV)
Many non-Baptist preachers point to these verses to make an argument against water baptism using immersion or for the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" which they may consider a separate and essential blessing available to Belivers which allows them to receive various spiritual gifts and has nothing to do with salvation. However, we must always examine any verse in the Bible in the context of the topic, verses before it and after it, as well as the chapter, book and entire Bible itself. If we do that we discover that Ephesians 4:4-6 refers to the topic of Salvation. The method for sealing Believers who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a baptism or filling of that person by the Holy Spirit. The word Baptism is used here to indicate the conplete immersion of the Believer in Christ.
These verses drive home the point that there is the only one body of Believers, one method by which Believers are sealed (spiritual baptism through the Holy Spirit) and that only through the one true God and one true Savior is salvation available. Anyone looking elsewhere to be saved or trying to add to or take away from God's simple plan of salvation is deceived. These verses in no way indicate that water baptism as a means of a Believer identifying themselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is wrong. Water Baptism for Believers has also been a means of adding saved people to churches with examples throughout the New Testament.
In closing, we see that Baptism is a cleansing and always used to set people apart to or from God. It can be by water, fire and the Spirit. The key to understanding anything in the Bible is to read about it. I strongly suggest that you read a portion of Scripture every day and ask the Lord to reveal His Word to you.
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