As we study John's gospel we are keeping our eyes open for the three strands or themes that John interweaves into one single narrative. These are: Jesus demonstrating both His divine and human nature in various ways, people reacting to Him with faith, others reacting to Him with disbelief.
In the following passage John the Apostle records the last witness of faith in Jesus by John the Baptist and we will have some information on the various understandings of baptism that the people of those days had.
Baptism – 3:22-26
In verse 21 of chapter three we have the last of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. We do not hear of Nicodemus again until later when he will defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin and assist Joseph of Arimathea in burying the Lord.
Vs. 22 – After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.
John picks up the story with Jesus heading into Judea in order to preach and baptize along with His disciples, leaving the city behind. A little later in chapter 4:2 John clarifies that Jesus Himself did not do the baptizing but rather His disciples carried out this function. He did the preaching, they baptized those who responded.
The Bible mentions baptism quite often and I would like to pause here and look at this issue a little more closely so we can understand the various references to baptism John will make as we go on.
Baptism – the word
The word itself is not an English word but rather an anglicized version of the Greek word BAPTIZO. This word came from a root word which meant to make wet or to overwhelm. It was also used to describe something that was covered or immersed in water (i.e. a ship sinking or being overwhelmed by water).
In the New Testament it was mainly used to describe the religious rite of water purification where the individual was covered or immersed in water indicating a spiritual purification or cleansing.
Because of its special nature, when it came to translating the word it was simply kept in its Greek form and given an English suffix or ending (BAPTIZO became BAPTIZE).
Baptism – the practice
There were many types of baptisms in the Jewish religious experience, so the people in those days were familiar with the many references made about baptism:
1. Baptism and washing of priests (John 2:6)
Priests practiced water purification of objects. Proselytes to Judaism had to be circumcised, baptized and offer sacrifice.
2. John the Baptist's baptism
Immersion in water for forgiveness of sins and preparation for the kingdom to come. An expression of faith that this time was at hand.
3. Baptism of suffering (Mark 10:38)
Here the word refers to the idea of being overwhelmed, covered with suffering and not with water. Jesus is said to be immersed in suffering.
4. Baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11; I Corinthians 3:13)
This was a reference to testing and judgment. In I Corinthians Paul says that the work of the saved will be tested by fire, judged as it were. For the unsaved the fire of judgment is punishment and suffering (immersed in suffering).
5. Baptism with or in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33)
This is a reference to Jesus giving the Spirit to others. This is also a fulfillment of an Old Testament promise. Peter quotes the prophet Joel in saying that when the Messiah would come, this promise would be fulfilled (Acts 2:17).
So how exactly did Jesus fulfill this baptism with the Holy Spirit, this covering or immersing of His disciples with the Holy Spirit? He did it in different ways depending on the time period:
A. During the time before His coming
In the Old Testament only a few were baptized or immersed with the Holy Spirit. Patriarchs, leaders and prophets were empowered to minister to God's people in special ways, but this was rare and only a few were so blessed.
B. During the time of Jesus' ministry
Jesus Himself was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism and by His presence He blessed others with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. His miracles showed the Spirit's power; His teachings revealed the Spirit's word.
C. After Jesus' resurrection
After His resurrection Jesus gave the Holy Spirit in three ways:
- He gave the Holy Spirit to His Apostles and they gave it to some disciples to empower them to do miracles and thereby confirm that their preaching was true (Acts 2:1-4).
- He gave to everyone who believed in Him and obeyed the gospel in repentance and baptism the Holy Spirit to dwell within them (Acts 2:38). (Note: The difference between indwelling and empowerment. Having one did not give the other.)
- He poured forth the Holy Spirit on the entire world by providing the Holy Spirit's Word in the Bible, available for all (II Timothy 3:16).
And so when we speak of the baptism with or in the Holy Spirit, we are speaking of Jesus giving the Spirit to others in these different ways during these different time periods.
6. New Testament baptism or the baptism of Jesus (Mark 16:16)
Of all the baptisms mentioned, this is the one that we still do and must do today.
The baptism of Jesus was authorized by Him in Matthew 28:18-20. It was required by everyone who believed in His resurrection (Acts 2:38). Among other things, it was and is performed for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit. This is the only baptism now required; the only baptism left (Ephesians 4:5).
Jesus' baptism eliminates and supersedes all others:
- No need for Jewish purification rites, the blood of Christ purifies and we come into contact with that blood at baptism (Romans 6:3).
- John's baptism has been fulfilled, the kingdom has come.
- The baptism of suffering has been accomplished; Christ has died and is now risen.
- The baptism of fire is an expression for judgment and not a command to be obeyed.
- The baptism with the Holy Spirit has been given to the Apostles and made available to everyone in and through the gospel.
The only baptism left to be preached and practiced is the baptism commanded by Jesus, practiced by the Apostles, recorded in the Word: baptism in water by immersion for the forgiveness of sins and indwelling of the Spirit.
And so, in our brief review, we have looked at the various meanings of baptism that both the Jews and Christians had at that time. We have also looked at Jesus' commands concerning the baptism He wants His disciples to receive, the manner of it and what occurs spiritually when we receive it.
We can close this sub-file and get back to our main passage where John says that Jesus and His disciples were preaching and baptizing in the area where John the Baptist and his disciples were doing the same.
Question: Which baptism was Jesus preaching at this time?
Answer: The baptism of John the Baptist (to prepare for the coming) because He had not completed the work of salvation yet. Only after His death and resurrection did Jesus command to baptize in His name for the reception of the Holy Spirit. At this time He is still preaching John's baptism.
Vs. 23-26 – John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— for John had not yet been thrown into prison. Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew 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."
If one saw how dry and rocky most of the land is there, they would realize how special a place with "much" water was for a person whose ministry was largely to baptize or immerse.
We also note that there begins to be some confusion among John the Baptist's disciples. Note that it was a "Jew" who was the center of the dispute. The term Jew was used to describe Jesus' enemies and so it was a person who was not sympathetic to either John or Jesus. John's disciples note that a comment was made as to which baptism was superior (probably by the Jew and probably with the desire to sow discord). So they go to John to settle the matter. We can read of their disappointment at seeing their numbers growing smaller. They were with John but had they really understood his message? Many times immature disciples confuse faithfulness with "party spirit."
Note again the two strands of belief (those who were coming to be baptized) and disbelief (the Jew who caused the dispute) are woven as a constant backdrop into the main narrative. John will answer his disciples' question and in doing so give his final witness of faith.
John's witness about himself – vs. 27-28
Vs. 27 – John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
First, John makes a general statement saying that all one has comes from God. In his case he is referring to his ministry. The gifts and opportunities to serve come from God and He can take them away as well. This should make us pay attention and be good stewards and not be proud because it all comes from Him and it can all be taken away.
Vs. 28 – You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.'
Here John makes a specific statement concerning his own unique role. He repeats and confirms what his role was, to be a forerunner, one who would prepare the way for the Christ. His ministry was the culmination of all the prophecy and history of the Jewish nation contained in the Old Testament. John knew this and carried out the task given to him by God.
John's witness about his ministry – vs. 29-30
Vs. 29-30 – 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. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.
He is satisfied that he has both understood correctly and accomplished his ministry. He compares it to the role of "best man" at a wedding who is very busy before the big day, but once the wedding day arrives his role diminishes.
We see John's humble attitude in accepting his decreasing role and Jesus' constantly increasing and primary role. Humility is not speaking softly or having no opinion, humility is allowing God's will to be done in your life instead of your own.
We also note his joy at seeing God's will fulfilled in Jesus' coming. John testifies that what is happening (he is decreasing and Jesus is increasing) was in God's plan and he is happy that this is happening.
John's witness concerning Christ – Vs. 31-36
John is still talking to his disciples and ends his comments with a final testimony about Jesus. In this he will answer three questions about Jesus that have not been asked but hang in the air as his ministry decreases and the Lord's increases.
1. Why he must decrease and Jesus increase
Vs. 31 – He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.
The reason will become quite evident. John is from below, human, like all men. Jesus is from above, the God/Man, the greatest of all. It is only natural that this be the progress of events.
2. How will the people react to Jesus
Vs. 32 – What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.
Jesus will speak God's truth, but men, for the most part, will not believe. And considering Jesus' teaching, His pure life, His miracles and resurrection, disbelieving was a grave sin. John's point is that condemnation is deserved seeing that such a great witness was given.
3. Did everyone disbelieve?
Vs. 33-36 – He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John concludes by saying that not everyone disbelieved. Those who did believe in Jesus' words however, were literally saying: God really is!
The word true in the Greek means "manifest, unconcealed." And they know this about God from Jesus Christ, because He comes and speaks from God. The only way to acknowledge God is to acknowledge Jesus Christ, to deny Christ is to deny God. One's eternal destiny was decided by how they responded to Christ.
John the Baptist believed this about Christ and the witness he is making to his disciples is done so they will believe and follow Jesus also. In doing this he is completely and joyfully fulfilling his ministry.
Chapter 4, vs. 1-3 – Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.
We know that verse numbers and chapter headings were added much later after the original gospels were written and so there are some awkward divisions.
Chapter 4:1-3 is really a bridge between what happened in Judea with John's disciples and Jesus' leaving the area to return to His home area in the north, around the sea of Galilee.
Note that what moves Him to change locations is the news that the Pharisees have taken a greater interest in Him as His ministry has grown.
They were to become His fiercest critics and enemies, but not wanting a confrontation so soon, Jesus leaves for the friendlier and quieter surroundings of His home in Galilee.
This ends a section where we observe many descriptions of people who believe (John and many of his disciples) as well as those who disbelieve (some of John's disciples, the Jew and the Pharisees). In our next lesson we will get back to seeing Jesus, through His teachings and miracles, demonstrate once again His God/Man nature.