John The Baptist’s Baptism Was for the Forgiveness of Sins

You have undoubtedly heard that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and that the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism was that Jesus’ baptism took it a step further by adding the effect of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Well, was anyone even reading Mark 1:4? “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” I have read that verse a zillion times and never picked up on it until this week when a good friend of mine pointed that out.

What is more, Jesus’ disciples baptized people during his ministry. John 4:1-2 says, “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” I had always assumed this was the same kind of baptism John was doing and for the same purpose. Was this also a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? If that is what Jesus came to do it would only make sense that it was. Would Jesus baptize in a way less than what John was doing?

Honestly, this should come as no surprise. God constantly forgave sins under the old covenant. The sacrificial system itself came with the blessing of atonement and forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins wasn’t a new idea in the new covenant. The means of that forgiveness certainly changed.

Then Why Did Jesus Have to Come?
When my friend shared this with me, he said the person who pointed this out to him then asked him “Why did Jesus have to die if John’s baptism brought forgiveness?” That is a question a lot of people would ask if you showed them Mark 1:4. I believe that question shows a gross misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. They might as well have pointed out the verses in the Old Testament where God said he would forgive their sins and ask why Jesus had to come if God could forgive sins any other way. The Gospel we have preached is too small when people ask questions like that.

Jesus certainly came to forgive sins but Jesus did more than wipe away the bad. Jesus came to bring us abundant life. Jesus came to give us his yoke. Jesus came to show us the inbreaking kingdom and reign of God. Jesus came to be victor of sin and death so that by his overcoming of those powers he would open the door to our having eternal life with God. Instead, we have chosen to boil down the ministry of Jesus to fixing our problem of sin only. We have preached it and taught that so much that people can’t even see why Jesus came once they understand forgivness of sins was already present prior to Jesus Christ. We have a lot of work to do in helping people have a biblical understanding of the message and mission of Jesus Christ and what the Gospel is all about.

21 Responses to John The Baptist’s Baptism Was for the Forgiveness of Sins

  1. charliesohm says:

    You might as well ask, why did Jesus have to die if Moses brought the Law? Or, why did Jesus have to die if the Holy Spirit indwells believers? It’s all part of the package. The Law, the Word, the Cross, the Spirit were all part of the plan from the beginning. We foul up greatly when we assume causality out of chronology.

  2. Matt,

    Consider this:

    Romans 3:23-26 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    The death of Jesus was important in showing that God is just (righteous) in passing over the former sins (i.e., those before the cross). He did that by gracious forbearance, but the penalty for those sins still had to be paid at the cross. Sometimes we are surprised that sins before the cross have been forgiven because of Jesus. Yet, I am more surprised that we, who know of his grace and love, still have our sins forgiven when we sin against such great love and forbearance and do such despite to the Spirit of Grace!

    • mattdabbs says:

      I have always been so curious about God overlooking the sins beforehand. What exactly does that mean because we know he punished people for sin prior to Christ.

  3. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, I’m glad you started this discussion. I am looking forward to the comments that might follow. I have fought a losing battle for a long time trying to get people to see that God could and did forgive people of their sins before the cross. Just read Leviticus 4:13-6:7 and notice how many times the phrase, “and the priest will make atonement for him and he will be forgiven” is used. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that the sins were “rolled forward” or “rolled back” or that Jesus’ death on the cross was effective for people who died several thousand years before Calvary. Your phrase, “The Gospel we have preached is too small when people ask questions like that.” was profound. For generations we have preached that we let the Bible speak for the Bible. And I believe this is one area that we have NOT done so. God forgave sins in the Old Testament when the people obeyed the steps of repentance and contrition that were demanded of them. God forgave the sins at the time of John when the people obeyed the steps of repentance and contrition demanded of them. We do not live in either time period, and the steps of repentance and contrition are plain to us – faith in Christ and obedient submission to his commands, including but not limited to baptism.

    Excellent discussion starter!

  4. Just as every bloody sacrifice offered in obedience to God in the OT is a foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus, the cross validated the faith of those who offered them, even though “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins” any more than our “obedience” can take away sins. When we obey today, we have only done that which we should have done today; our obedience today can do nothing about our sins from yesterday – yet God “overlooks” them. How can a just God overlook sin? Because the price has been paid by His Son and accepted by us through faith. In the same way, the obedience of faith (not mere ritual obedience) in the Old Testament is accepted, even though the “obedience” is insufficient to take away sins because the death of Jesus shows that God is both just and the justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26 – see my comment above).

    All forgiveness ultimately rests on Jesus at the cross.

  5. bobby1968 says:

    I might not have responded to every part of the discussion here but I like to simplify:

    1). ADOPTED (John 1:12)
    “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”
    ——All the sins that we did before we became a Christian (or was adopted by Christ), we were not his children but the devil’s. As a child is adopted in the USA, the new father will not discipline the child for things he did when he had his first father. Therefore, all sins before we became a Christian was not God’s responsibility because we were not his children at that time.

    2). FORGIVE TO BE FORGIVEN (Matthew 6:14-15)
    “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
    ——Enough said on that one.

    3). CONTINUE IN SIN (Galatians 5:19-21)
    “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,[a] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
    —— If we say we are a “Christian” and are still doing these sins and constantly asking for forgiveness, we first need to rededicate our life to Christ.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Good stuff Bobby. The only thing I would say is that there was some difference during Jesus’ ministry than how we became God’s people. They were under the Old Covenant and so in order to be “in” they had to follow the Law, namely by having been circumcised and obey the Sabbath/holy days, and dietary laws. Those were the identifying markers of Judaism. I say all that to address the adoption point. Those John and Jesus were baptizing were already a part of the covenant community. Thoughts?

      Thanks for bringing up Matt 6:14-15. That is often overlooked as well. Jesus really meant that when he said it and didn’t stipulate that was only true after his resurrection.

      • John Watson Smith says:

        Consider that the time we live in is bound by the Gospel from the east and west and north and south. I would say to teachers that wish to make a huge issue out of Johns teaching and baptism – what is your purpose and where are you trying to go?

  6. kyron l. riley says:

    Jesus’ baptism is very different from John’s because He baptizes BELIEVERS with the Holy Spirit.When HE resurrected on the third day,then showed Himself to his disciples,He OPENED up the Hebrew Scriptures to them.Remember,all of His disciples fled from Him when He was crucified,from fear and unbelief in His words.When they received revelation from Him and about Him through Scripture,then they believed,(except Thomas).When Jesus told them to wait on the Holy Spirit to come to them in Jerusalem,that (Pentecost) was His baptism.Through His baptism of the Holy Spirit,we are empowered by God to do miracles,healings and wonders He promised to us through and with His word.That what John the Baptist was talking about when he said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

  7. Although not explicitly stated that the blood of Jesus paid the price of sins committed before his time, I think it is implied. God is fair, and it would be unthinkable that people would be condemned for accidentally living BC!

    Likewise, God it timeless. Father, Son and Spirit existed before the creation of the world. All three knew in advance what would happen. The plan was eternal, that the Son should pay the price. All the prophecies in the OT look forward to this.

    So given that God knew that Jesus would redeem mankind, and is outside of the contraints of time, why on earth should God NOT draw on the credit before the deposit was actually paid (to use a banking analogy)?

    • John Watson Smith says:

      Amen to Lowdhamstation comment. I was taught this in the 50-60s along with the consistency of this concept with the plain and direct statement that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. Consider this idea was presented to the Hebrews – those very familiar with the law of moses and having affection for it. This cannot be dismissed as a proof text but as a theme – God is said to have no pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin.
      I suggest this is a concept that leads one to the idea that God looked forward to the perfect offering for sin before it was accomplished before mankind. Jesus atonement is infinitely superior to anything in the previous history of Man – was promised before the world began and God who cannot lie nor is the author of confusion acted on it for our eternal good.

  8. If God forgave sin even before Jesus walked in Jerusalem, then there would still be plenty of other reasons why he would appear as such, including:

    1) To fulfill the prophecies (from Genesis 3:15 and forward)
    2) To introduce himself on our level (without the thunderbolts)
    3) To lead by example (he isn’t asking us to do anything he wouldn’t do)
    4) To get our attention (did it work?)

    Joh 12:32-33 KJV
    (32) And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
    (33) This he said, signifying what death he should die.

    Per Christ’s statement in John 12:33, even “to get our attention” is sufficient enough reason. Isn’t that the essence of “I will draw all men unto me?”

  9. Gary says:

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!

    Gary
    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/06/the-early-church-fathers-believed-in.html

  10. Hello Steve, I have a question for you from this statement of yours:

    Jesus was required to be baptized in water by John the Baptist in order to fulfill all righteousness. Had Jesus rejected John’s baptism He would have been disqualified as a perfect sacrifice for mankind. Jesus was without sin, however, He still had to do all that God required Him to do

    First, it wouldn’t have been Jesus “rejecting” John’s baptism, because Jesus came to John, not the other way around. So when considering this scenario that you posit, wouldn’t that be more like “If Jesus had neglected John’s baptism… ?”

    Second, (and this is the important part) … how do you figure that if Jesus had neglected John’s baptism then he would have been “disqualified as a perfect sacrifice for mankind?” This goes to the very root of who Jesus was and why he could be uniquely qualified to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

    Let’s consider another scenario: if there had been a different man who had lived without sin and been baptized by John, could he have been sacrificed for the redemption of all mankind? Why or why not?

  11. gary says:

    Can you really trust your English Bible to be God’s true Word?

    Have you ever had an evangelical or Reformed Christian say this to you:

    “THAT passage of the Bible, in the original Greek, does NOT mean what the simple, plain reading of the passage seems to say in English.”

    It happens to me all the time in my conversations with Baptists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists on my blog. They state: “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” was mistranslated. “This is my body…this is my blood” is a metaphorical expression, “Baptism does now save us” is figurative speech for what happens to us spiritually when we ask Christ into our hearts.

    What they are basically saying is that unless you speak ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek…you can’t read and really understand the Bible without the help of an educated Churchman!

    This morning I came across an excellent article on this subject, written by Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran pastor. I am going to give the link to his article below. I have copied a couple of his statements here:

    “So here is a question that we all need to ask ourselves when doing this (refusing to accept the simple, plain, English translation of a passage of Scripture): If a verse seems to disprove your theological beliefs, and you translate it in some way that doesn’t fit with any of the dozens of major English translations of the Bible, and that unique translation just happens to fit your own theological biases, could it be that it is in fact you who are in the wrong? Could you be reading your own preconceived theological convictions back into the text?”

    ” I know it can be frustrating when you are constantly told that Scripture can’t be understood unless you learn (an ancient) language or read ancient documents that you don’t have either the time or the energy to study. Honestly, if you have a few good English translations at your side, and you take the time to compare them to one another, you have all the tools you need to understand the meaning of the Bible.

    Link to Pastor Cooper’s original article:

    http://justandsinner.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-wrong-use-of-biblical-languages.html

    • Bill B. says:

      I find this to be an interesting study and have thought about it for a while.
      First, I look at the verse in Mark 1:4 reading carefully, it says that John came baptizing in the wilderness and heralding or proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Luke 3:3 it says again that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I see a very distinct difference in actually doing something and preaching, or heralding, or telling about something. In Acts 19:4-5 Paul says John baptized with a baptism of repentance and in verse 5 they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. If John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, why wasn’t it good enough on its own? 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, meaning for everyone for all time. (When Satan tempted Jesus after He was baptized, he offered Jesus the whole world because it had been given to him. This was all men from the beginning to the end of time, not just the whole world at that particular time in history). Romans 6:4 says that we are buried with Jesus in baptism and raised with Him to a new life, born again, our sins washed away. Unless we are baptized into the name of Jesus, we are not buried with Him or raised with Him or have a new life. John’s baptism was not able to do this. Look at 1 Peter 3:21 as it states that baptism saves us by the resurrection of Christ. I also believe that the baptism of Jesus gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which John’s baptism did not do.
      Regarding the sins before the cross: Hebrews 9:13 says that the sacrifices pruified the flesh (not the heart), in Hebrews 10:4 it says that the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. Therefore I understand that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world I John 2:2, which means everyone’s sin from all time, was paid for (if they accept it!). So in 1 Peter 4:6 it says that Jesus preached to those who had died before the cross so that they might be judged according to men in the flesh. In 1 Peter 3:19 it says that Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison, those who had disobeyed long ago. These verses say to me that Jesus preached the gospel to all those who had died before the time of the cross that that they may have the same opportunity as those of us today. Thanks for your consideration.

  12. Phil says:

    If baptism saves a person then there is no need to believe and there would be passages that only mentioned baptism. If believing saves a person then baptism would not be necessary and there would be passages that only mention believing. There are several passages that only mention believing and do not mention baptism. There aren’t any that mention baptism that don’t also mention believing and repentance. A proof text would require that Jesus announce a person saved but not require baptism or even mention it. We have that text, the thief on the cross was promised salvation apart from any baptism in water. Saints in the Old Testament were saved without baptism, and without circumcision either. When was Abel circumcised? When was Job circumcised or baptised? Sins have always been forgiven based on faith, signs have always followed and not preceded or been joined faith. So what then of the signs? They are required by God, they are signs that He has required of us and we should obey. Obedience always follows faith. Without obedience faith is not shown to be living and such a faith cannot save anyone. You should ask when you may be baptised not if you need to be, such thinking is not evidence of a true faith.

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