THE MEANING OF BAPTISM
© 2008 John H Mattox

    It is significant that John the Baptist baptized those who confessed themselves to be sinners. The law says:

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
(Ezek. 18:4).

The New Testament says:

"The wages of sin is death."
(Romans 6:23).

    It appears, then, that John's ministry of baptism was to plunge confessed sinners beneath the waters of the Jordan, thereby symbolically putting them to death for their sins. At the same time, John raised those whom he baptized from their watery grave.


    His baptism thus seemed to prophesy that there was to be provided a way in which a repentant sinner could die for his sins and yet live to walk in a newness of life. When Jesus appeared, John identified him as the one through whom this gracious salvation was to be manifested. We know that this salvation was effected by Jesus' taking our place under the judgment of God. But that is not the whole story. When we believe on him, his death and sufferings are reckoned to be ours. We are considered to be legally dead. Baptism since the death of Christ has therefore been a dramatization of our identification with him in death, burial and resurrection. (Romans 6:1-11).


    John's baptism was performed in the Jordan. The name Jordan means the descender to judgment, or the one who descended to judgment. The Jordan is, therefore, rather plainly a type of Christ as the one who descended to judgment in our place. After Christ"s descent to judgment had become an historical reality, there was no reason to confine baptism to the Jordan; and therefore baptism was performed anywhere sufficient water could be found.
    Water is the appropriate medium for baptism, because it is symbolic of the Word of God, which demands the sinner's death and is the means by which the believing sinner is put to death judicially. When baptism is seen in its proper light, it is obvious that it can be administered properly only by immersion and only to one who has the capacity to repent of his sins; and who has, in fact, done so. Only by plunging a candidate beneath the baptismal waters can his death, burial and resurrection with Christ be truly pictured.
 
John H Mattox

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