Question:

I have some questions about John's baptism. I've read about how it was a fulfillment of prophecy to prepare the way, but I'm really confused about what that really means and what the point of John's baptism was. I am curious about a few things:

1) What does "preparing the way" mean for John the Baptist?
2) Why did Jesus or his disciples baptize after John baptized, all before the death, burial, and resurrection, and what did it mean for those that were baptized by Jesus' disciples? Did they have to be re-baptized at and after Acts 2?
3) What does it mean when John says in Matthew 3:11-12, that he would baptized with water for repentance and Christ would baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire? What does fire mean too?
4) What is the main point of John's baptism and how does it compare and differ to the baptism in Acts 2?


Answer:

John's purpose was to get the people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah said of him, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God"" (Isaiah 40:3). In the Old Testament he was compared to the prophet Elijah and it was said of John, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5-6).

This is what John did. He taught people to leave sins behind, to repent and get ready for the Messiah. "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"" (Matthew 3:1-2). He was a no-nonsense preacher who was quite blunt in his scoldings (Luke 3:1-18).

John's baptism was stated to be unto repentance; that is, it led up to repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:11). Jesus' baptism, however, made people followers of Christ.

"After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified--behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. "You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. "He must increase, but I must decrease"" (John 3:22-30).

"Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)" (John 4:1-2). Yes, people who had been baptized by John were baptized again into Jesus' baptism. Much later Paul runs across twelve men who had been baptized by John, but not into Jesus' baptism.

"And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." Then Paul said, "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." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:1-5).

The concept of a baptism of fire comes from a statement made by John the Baptist. "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:10-12 and also in Luke 3:16-17). This is the only time the concept of baptism is connected with fire. The word "baptism" means a complete immersion, and so he is talking about a complete immersion in fire.

From the full statement of John we see that the fire here deals with the separation of the just from the wicked and the eternal punishment of the wicked. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is for the just, but the baptism in fire is for the wicked. Basically John is stating that he, as a prophet of God, was given authority to convert people. But Jesus would be greater than he because Jesus has the authority to both convert people and to destroy the unconverted. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

Starting with Acts 2, the baptism taught by the disciples had a different purpose than the baptism of John. Paul talks about this at length:

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:3-11).