THE FORGOTTEN MEANING OF
CHRIST’S & BELIEVER’S BAPTISM
Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki
- THE MEANING OF CHRIST’S BAPTISM
Ellen White: ST June 17, 1889, par. 11
“How often we have read over the description of Christ’s baptism with no thought that there was any particular significance in it for us. But it means everything to us“.
We know Christ’s incarnation and death are everything to us but why also His baptism is so important?
In order to understand this subject correctly we need to find out what was the meaning of baptism at that time.
- John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission (forgiveness) of sins.
- Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
What was the meaning of baptism when Jesus was receiving it from John?
At that time baptism was a symbol of cleansing sinners from their sins.
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary: „Baptism was practised by the Jews as a means of receiving proselytes to Judaism. It had the function of cleansing them from the impurity (of sin).”
If that was the meaning of baptism, no wander, “all went out to John and were all baptized by him, confessing their sins” because, like us, they also were sinners and needed cleansing from sin.
But, was Jesus a sinner? No! Did He need cleansing from sin? No!
So why He was baptized?
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me (sinner)?”
John said to Jesus, “I am a sinner and I need baptism from you but you are sinless, you never sinned and there is no need for you to be baptized!”
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
The Lord said: „You are right John, I have never sinned and I am sinless but even though it is true I still need to be baptised because we must do all the righteousness, we must do everything according to the demands of the law.”
And according to the demands of the law who needed purification from sin?
So why was Jesus baptized?
He was baptized because by taking our representative sinful human nature He became us, He was human kind, our great representative, and it was us in Him that needed cleansing through baptism!
14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death (through death of that same nature) He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.
17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
What happened after Jesus was baptized?
“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
After Jesus came out of water God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Who was that beloved son? Was it only Jesus?
No, it was also you and me, we all were accepted by God in Christ and we were also called the sons and daughters of God in Jesus!
That is why the baptism of Christ is everything to us!!!
It is true that during Christ’s baptism we were cleansed in Jesus rather symbolically because the real cleansing and justification took place on the cross. So, since God always keeps His promises and therefore the cross was guaranteed we can say that our cleansing in Christ’s at His baptism was based on the promise of his shed blood on the cross which took place three years later.
I was looking for the answer to the question about true meaning of Christ’s baptism in different commentaries and everything I could get from them (including the SDA Bible Commentary) was a suggestion that through His baptism Jesus gave us an example to follow.
Fortunately, my curiosity was finally satisfied after I have found the true meaning of Christ’s baptism in the book Desire of Ages:
„John shrank from granting the request of Jesus. How could he, a sinner, baptize the Sinless One? And why should He who needed no repentance submit to a rite that was a confession of guilt to be washed away?
Jesus did not receive baptism as a confession of guilt on His own account. He identified Himself with sinners.
He must bear the burden of our guilt and woe. The Sinless One must feel the shame of sin.
Never before have the angels listened to such a prayer. They are eager to bear to their loved Commander a message of assurance and comfort.
But no; the Father Himself will answer the petition of His Son. Direct from the throne issue the beams of His glory. The heavens are opened, and upon the Saviour’s head descends a dovelike form of purest light. From the open heavens a voice was heard saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’.
The word that was spoken to Jesus at the Jordan, This is My beloved Son, embraces humanity. God spoke to Jesus as our representative…
The Saviour’s glance seems to penetrate heaven as He pours out His soul in prayer. He asks for the witness that God accepts humanity in the person of His Son.
With all our sins and weaknesses, we are not cast aside as worthless. He hath made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).
Notwithstanding that the sins of a guilty world were laid upon Christ, notwithstanding the humiliation of taking upon Himself our fallen nature, the voice from heaven declared Him to be the Son of the Eternal.” (Desire of Ages, pages 110-113)
Well, after reading this passage everything became clear.
The last sentence also suggests that Jesus could represent all of us – sinners, because He took not our sinless human nature but our representative sinful human nature.
So, why our Lord’s baptism is so important to us?
The above statement from Desire of Ages shows that according to the author of this beautiful book Christ’s baptism is everything to us because we were actually baptised with the Lord. Christ’s baptism is so precious to us because we were accepted and cleansed in the Beloved when Jesus was baptised. And God’s words, “This is my beloved Son” embraced the world and all of us because we were in Christ when He was baptised!
Also in other writings Ellen White repeats and confirms the same idea according to which Christ’s baptism was the representative or corporate baptism of all humanity as by accepting our sinful human nature He was qualified to stand as the sinless Head or Representative of our fallen race:
2. THE TRUE MEANING OF OUR BAPTISM
Now, since we know the key reason why Lord Jesus was baptised we also need to find out, what is the meaning of the baptism of those who believe in Christ and accept Him as Saviour? Why we were baptised and what is the meaning of the baptism of a believer?
And lo and behold, after careful analysis of the verses dealing with baptism in the light of the Gospel we can easily draw a conclusion that our baptism is also closely linked to the representative aspect of Christ’s ministry as the meaning of baptism points to the great truth about our corporate death in Christ (Romans 6:6, 8; Romans 7:4; 2Corinthians 5:14: Galatians 2:20):
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3-4)
Through our baptism we are supposed to publicly confess that we believe in the great truth of our corporate death with Christ which we accepted and which took place two thousand years ago. When we are baptised into Christ (and not into any denomination) we demonstrate that we accepted the historic truth according to which when Christ died two thousand years ago on the cross then we died with Him as well:
“Knowing this, that our old man (self) was crucified with Him (Greek aorist historic past tense used here leads theologians to the conclusion that Paul was not talking about our dying to sin but about our death with Christ), that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died (in Christ) has been freed (justified) from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6: 6-8).
The last two sentences also prove Paul is not taking about our daily dying to self but our death in Christ (two thousand years ago) as otherwise he would suggest we can be justified from sin and have eternal life because we are dying to self, which idea is a heresy and legalism, of course.
OK, so it is clear that we don’t need to put ourselves into Christ as God already did it long time ago. We know also that we all already died in Christ and we only need to accept it in order to make our salvation effective. And if someone dies what should be the next step? The funeral, of course! And this is exactly what baptism really is. It is the funeral of our old sinful and condemned life (in the form of the representative corporate sinful human nature, including our law of sin and self we are born with) that was crucified in Christ.
For this very reason, because we sinners were already punished and died in Christ (Romans 6: 6-8; 7:4; 8: 1-3), we are also no longer under the condemnation of the law (Romans 7: 6). The law can’t condemn us any more because we were already punished in Christ! (Romans 8: 1-3)
Unfortunately the leaders and pastors in any Christian denomination today either do not seem to understand or are not willing to accept this great truth, and some even dare to openly oppose it. Therefore, those who accept Christ and believe in Him are almost always, in a spiritual sense, “buried alive” through baptism, as they are baptised without any knowledge and acceptance of the truth according to which they already died in Jesus on the cross.
And since burying people who are still physically alive is a great crime for which we would be sentenced and imprisoned for life likewise burying Christians who haven’t yet accepted their death in Christ should be also regarded as a horrible (spiritual) crime!
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This fact is also one of the key causes why we have so many problems in our Churches today: “The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ.” (Manuscript 148, 1897)
If we do not understand and accept that our self already died in Christ (Romans 6:6-8) and that now we are free from condemnation and death (Romans 8:1; Romans 7:6) (justification) we may not experience the new birth and as a result Holy Spirit and Lord Jesus can’t dwell in us to start the process of crucifying the self which still dwells in us (sanctification). By faith we are already free from the condemnation for having the self in us but in reality it still exists in us (and it will until second coming of Jesus) and therefore we need Jesus in us now to give us the victory over this ego every day. But it is possible only when we first accept through faith the historic fact and gift of our death in Christ as it leads to the new birth and “Christ in us the hope of glory”.
ST June 17, 1889, par. 10, 11
“How often we have read over the description of Christ’s baptism with no thought that there was any particular significance in it for us. But it means everything to us.
It means that there can be no excuse for our living in alienation from God. You may seek to excuse yourself for sin because of inherited tendencies, but Christ bore temptations such as you will never be called upon to bear. He suffered as you will never suffer. He knew all your griefs, he has carried your sorrows. He has made it possible for you to be an overcomer.
Do not say it is impossible for you to overcome. Do not say, “It is my nature to do thus and so, and I cannot do otherwise. I have inherited weaknesses that make me powerless before temptation.”
We know you cannot overcome in your own strength; but help has been laid upon One who is mighty to save.
When God gave his only begotten Son, he provided everything essential to your salvation. And “he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
The resources of Heaven are open to us. We should believe this precious truth. And when the enemy comes in like a flood to discourage and to dishearten, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up a standard against him.
When sorrows press you, cling closer to the Mighty One. Instead of faltering and losing faith, praise God that Jesus has died for you. A brother came into meeting at one time and related his difficulties, and trials, and sorrows.
I said to him, “Brother, haven’t you anything to praise God for? has not Jesus died that you might live? Is there any reason that you should be discouraged?”
How does Heaven look upon our doubts and discouragements, when God has given his beloved Son to die on Calvary’s cross, that we might have peace in this life, and everlasting joy in the life to come? How does Heaven regard us when we speak and act as though it were a very difficult path through which God was leading us?
All Heaven was poured out to us in Christ, and he that spared not his own Son will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly”.