While serving as a young deacon in a Baptist church, I appreciated the opportunities I had to visit with the associate Pastor. Pastor Jim was a good listener, and he often would open up to me as well. His oldest son, Joel, was a young boy when he came forward during an evangelistic (revival) meeting to profess the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. Usually what would follow in the Baptist church would be what’s known as believer’s baptism, a ceremony in which the Pastor immerses the believer into water and then takes him out.
Sometime later, Jim shared with me that some in authority at the church were not satisfied with his example, since Joel had not yet been immersed. He told me that he wanted his son to fully understand what Baptism was about first. Sadly enough, the Senior Pastor later placed Jim in the position where he felt he had to resign and move his family on. I’m sure that Jim and I wouldn’t see eye to eye today on this subject; however, I have great respect for him and his concern that his son understand Baptism. I also hope that my family puts the doctrines of the Bible above the doctrines of man, and in their proper place. And this concern is for each of you who reads this as well.
In Luke Chapter 3 we see John preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (v. 3). We see that while John was doing the baptizing with the mode of water, he prophesied that the Lord Jesus Christ would be a future baptizer with two modes, the Holy Spirit and fire. In Luke 3:21-22 we read that Jesus was baptized with water. Surely it wasn’t for the forgiveness of sins, as John was preaching, for we read in the first portion of II Corinthians 5:21, “Him who knew no sin.” Jesus was God in the flesh who never sinned. He needed neither to repent (turn) from sin, nor to be forgiven of any sin.
Some have said that Matthew 3:15 implies that through water baptism Jesus was being identified with mankind. But wasn’t that accomplished in Bethlehem? We read in Luke 2:41-52 that Jesus at age 12, under the Law of the Passover Feast, was at Jerusalem in His Father’s House, listening and talking to the teachers. Wouldn’t Jesus have had enough understanding at 12 years old to have been baptized, if baptism was for a public testimony of His faith? But Jesus Himself gave the reason He was being baptized in Matthew 3:15, when He told John the Baptist to “…Permit it to be so now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So, in accordance with the Law dispensed to Moses, Jesus was thirty years old at the time He was baptized, as we read in Luke 3:23 “…And when He began His ministry Jesus Himself was about 30 years of age.” (Perhaps those who insist we should “follow Jesus in Baptism” should also require the person to be 30 years old today).
The Scriptures teach that Jesus was a Prophet, a great Teacher, the King of Israel, the Messiah, and at His baptism we see Him coming as High Priest to the kingdom of priests—the nation of Israel: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Ex. 19:6). “But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast” (Isa. 61:6). In the New Testament we read in the writings of Peter, who in his own words was “an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Pilgrims of the Dispersion…” (I Pet. 1:1): “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles…” (I Pet. 2:9,12).
When priests were ordained, the Law prescribed certain rituals to be followed, including washing them with water (Ex. 29:4). That ceremonial washing was performed at Jesus’ baptism.
The following Scripture verses from Numbers Chapter 4 require all those who perform the service or the work in the tabernacle to be 30 years old: Vs. 3,23,30,35,39,43, and 47. Chapters 3 through 10 of the epistle to the Hebrews and Psalm 110:4 tell how God the Father designated His own Son the Perfect High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
While 30 years old is the answer to the question in the title of this paper about Jesus’ first Baptism, He also had a second Baptism He spoke of in Mark 10:38-39: “But Jesus said to them, `You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to Him, `We are able.’ So Jesus said to them, `You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized….'”
The Lord Jesus Christ was approximately 33 years of age when according to the latter portion of II Corinthians 5:21, “…He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (Heb. 9:10-15,26; 10:10-13). By His own death upon the Cross for all mankind’s sins, Christ was identified with death and died in our place, was buried in our place, and arose from the dead (Heb. 9:11-12) to offer His own blood in God’s tabernacle in heaven as a propitiation or satisfaction to God, and sat down at the right hand of God (10:12). You or I could never follow our Lord in this Baptism. It would greatly help the reader to read the above verses.
The traditions of man have us following old covenant commands to the nation of Israel while ignoring commands from the Risen Lord Jesus Christ to the apostle to the Gentiles. The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” Under the old covenant, the laws of Baptisms were established in Exodus 29:4 when Aaron was washed or baptized with water (Lev. 8:6; 16:4,30; 22:6,7).
After His resurrection, Jesus instructed the 11 disciples that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues…” (Mark 16:16,17). Peter told the men of Israel in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Later Peter says that if the nation will repent and be converted, then Jesus will come back as the long-promised Messiah for Israel (Acts 3:19-21). But they didn’t, so the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ called another apostle.
To Paul He dispensed The Mystery with the Gospel of Grace, rather than Law as He did to Moses. God sent him to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:1-9) and did not send him to baptize (I Cor. 1:17). Instead, according to Ephesians 4:5, there is one baptism for today (I Cor. 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”). The Holy Spirit performs this Baptism, not an apostle or Pastor. And notice that it is not a baptism with water, but a baptism into The Church The Body of Christ.
When believers see this Baptism for today, they often are cut off from membership rolls in some congregations. But they are not without a church, as the Holy Spirit seals the believer in His Church with a promise (Eph. 1:13). This Identification or Baptism without water makes him one with Christ in His Death, Burial and Resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). And “in Christ” we are immersed forever, never to be taken back out, as one would be from the watery grave of a baptistry.