Was baptism commanded in the Old Testament at the time of John the Baptist?


Was baptism commanded in the Old Covenant at the time of John the Baptist? I thought baptism was not commanded in the Old Testament for salvation. I have always heard that baptism was not commanded in the Old Testament. Am I missing something here?

Mark 1:4 mentions John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

I’m having trouble understanding is why would people need to get baptized by John the Baptist if Jesus could forgive sins while He was alive?



At the start of the Gospel accounts, we are introduced to John the Baptist. We find John preaching in the wilderness region around the Jordan River. His message was one calling for Israel to repent of their sins in preparation for the Messiah’s coming and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. The use of the phrase “is at hand” (Matthew 3:2) tells us that John knew that the time was very close. Though John was in an unpopulated area, people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the areas around the Jordan River came to hear his message and they responded to the message by confessing their sins and being baptized.

This is the first mention of baptism in the Bible. Water was used in the Old Testament for ceremonial cleansing to remove uncleanness (Numbers 19:7), but there is no mention of complete immersion, particularly in connection with the removal of sin. That it was a new rite is shown by the Jews’ question of John, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25). They questioned his right to add a new ordinance if he did not have sufficient authority.

With the strong expectation of the coming Messiah, John’s forceful teaching led people to wonder who he was to come teaching with such authority. The religious men, sent to check out this prophet in the wilderness, wanted to know if he was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet to which he answered, “No” (John 1:19-21). John’s account specifically mentioned that these questioners were sent by the Pharisees (John 1:24). Since the Pharisees were the conservative element of the Jewish religion of that day (Acts 26:5), it is likely that they were the ones most concerned about any possible change to Judaism.

John claimed to be the fulfillment of prophecy, quoting Isaiah 40:3. But the questioners were more concerned about the new rite that John appeared to be introducing. If John did not have the authority of the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, then what right did he have to command baptism? (John 1:25).

The authority for John’s baptism comes from the one who would follow him. John warned the men from the Pharisees that this mighty person was already among them, though they did not realize it (John 1:26-27). This man’s authority was so great that John stated that he wasn’t worthy to serve him in even the lowliest of ways. Where John’s baptism was with water, the mighty one’s baptism would be with God’s Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11-12).

All of this shows us that John is not continuing an existing rite, but introducing a new rite as a prophet of God.

John's purpose was to prepare the way for Christ (John 3:28). That required getting the Israelites, who were complacent in their lives, to change. "So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" " (Luke 3:7-9). John's baptism was primarily for repentance. "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus" (Acts 19:4). It was also for forgiveness (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3-6), but it was temporary. It was replaced by the baptism of Jesus (Acts 19:4-5).

In a sense, what John did was similar to Moses' demand of Israel to prepare to meet God. "The LORD also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 'No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman" " (Exodus 19:10-15). Jesus was God, coming in the flesh, and the people needed to be ready to receive him.

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