A Bible study through John 1-6
John the Baptist was obviously known for his ministry of baptism. Born to Zachariah and Elizabeth as a special gift from God—you can read that story in Luke 1—John was destined for greatness. God had given John a special assignment: prepare the way for the Messiah. It was a mission that John took seriously and successfully fulfilled.
By the time he was thirty, John had a thriving, effective ministry. He had many followers and was seeing revival stir in Israel as he baptized people in the Jordan River. His ministry had such an impact that the religious leaders of the day took notice and began questioning if he was the Messiah or at the very least another prophet. As we saw last time, John adamantly denied any claims to being the Messiah or a prophet and made it clear that his role was to pave the way and point people to the Lamb of God
When Jesus did arrive on the scene, John was the first to recognize Him and declare His identity as the Son of God to the world. As I continue to read this first encounter between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, a few details popped out at me and caused me to stop and ponder the implications.
“And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”
As I was reflecting on this passage, I found it fascinating that John did not recognize Jesus. Remember, John was the child of Zachariah and Elizabeth, direct relatives of Mary the mother of Jesus. He was the one who leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, which prompted Elizabeth to declare blessing upon Mary when she came to visit shortly after becoming pregnant with the Messiah. Yet even this close connection with Jesus and growing up with the story of his birth and stories about his cousin, John still did not recognize the Messiah until God specifically revealed the truth to him.
This reveals the truth that only God can open our eyes to what He’s doing on planet earth. No matter how intuitive, observant, knowledgeable, or discerning we may believe we are, we naturally do not have eyes to see all that God is doing in our midst. John didn’t recognize the Messiah despite years of ministry preparing the way for Him. So may we not fool ourselves into thinking that we know and understand God’s plans, purposes, and actions in our lives and in our world. Only God knows and He reveals His plan to those who are actively serving Him and have an open ear and heart to hear His voice.
Another point that stood out to me from this passage in John 1 was the close relationship John had with God the Father. His relationship was such that God spoke directly to him concerning Jesus. This reveals intimacy and familiarity. Hearing from God was not an unusual experience for John. Notice that John did not express surprise or undue excitement at the fact that God spoke to him regarding Jesus. Rather, John shared his experience matter-of-factly which indicates that he was used to open communication between him and God. God’s voice was not unfamiliar to him. John knew and recognized it, which means that he had experience listening for and conversing with God. Therefore, may we also seek to have such a close relationship with God that hearing His voice is common place and a natural part of our lives as we seek to follow Him.
A third aspect of John 1:32-34 that captured my attention was the difference between John and Jesus’s ministries of baptism. John baptized with water. Jesus came to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Both men came to baptize but with two very different elements which then produce extremely different results.
The Greek word for baptize is baptizo, which literally means “to make whelmed” (Strong’s dictionary). For us, modern Americans, understanding the definition of whelmed is important to fully grasp the meaning of baptize. According to the Encarta Dictionary whelm has two definitions: “cover with water, to engulf or submerge something in water” and “overwhelm, to overpower or overburden somebody with something.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us further insight into this word by defining it as “to turn upside down usually to cover something: over or engulf completely” or “to overcome in thought or feeling.”
So John came to cover with water. His baptism ministry was simply symbolic of what was taking place in the hearts of men. The water itself did not change or overpower the person. However, Jesus came to bring a completely different type of baptism. He came to baptize with the Holy Spirit which brings completely transformation to the one who receives this baptism. It truly is an overwhelming and overpowering experience. The baptism of the Holy Spirit should turn us upside down and empty us so that we may be covered, and completely engulfed by the same Spirit that wants to take up residence in our hearts.
Another way to understand the true concept of what baptize means is how my local church pastor recently explained in his sermon. Baptizo was used in the first century textile industry to refer to the process of submerging a cloth in dye so that when it was pulled up out of the solution it was a completely different color. It was a process that brought transformation. The cloth was completely and totally submerged into the dyeing solution until that solution brought radical change to the material. The cloth came out of the process looking completely different than when it went in.
John’s ministry of water baptism was significant in the fact that it reminded people of an outward posture of repentance, but it was merely a symbol of what God was doing on the inside. However, Jesus came to completely transform and give us new life, and baptism with the Holy Spirit is part of that process. His baptism with the Holy Spirit is not merely symbolic of transformation and life-changing. When we come out on the other side of the process we should look completely different and be changed from the inside out. May we seek and desire this baptism with the Holy Spirit and allow Jesus to completely overwhelm and engulf us with His power each and every day as He shapes us more and more into His image.