He Baptizes in Spirit
All four gospel accounts apply the same passage from the Book of Isaiah to John the Baptist. He summoned all Israel to repent “for the remission of sins” in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. This passage identifies him as the forerunner who was expected before the “Day of Yahweh,” the one who would call the faithful “to prepare the way of the Lord,” and the “Coming One” who baptizes his people in the Holy Spirit.
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Moreover, many of John’s activities parallel aspects of the prophetic ministry of the prophet Elijah - (Malachi 3:1-3, 4:5, Mark 9:12-13, Luke 1:17):
- (Isaiah 40:3-5) – “A voice of one crying, in the desert PREPARE THE WAY OF YAHWEH, make smooth in the waste plain a highway for our God: Let every valley be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low, and the steep ground become level, and the chain of hills a plain: Then will be revealed the glory of Yahweh, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken!” – (Mark 1:4-8).
In the gospels, John’s ministry is associated with the “wilderness” areas in and around the Jordan River valley to the east and north of Jerusalem. There, he proclaimed the “baptism for the remission of sins.”
The Greek noun rendered “repentance” denotes a “change of mind.” The call was for more than just remorse. The “remission of sins” required a deliberate change in the direction of one’s life.
The Greek word rendered “remission” means “to release, discharge, liberate; to remit” something - (Strong’s - #G859). Elsewhere in Scripture, it is applied to the “discharge” of debt and to “divorce” decrees. Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent man or woman from its dominion and obligations.
John summoned the entire nation of Israel to repent. The Gospel of Matthew adds Pharisees and Sadducees to the mix of people who came to hear John, and the Gospel of John also includes “priests and Levites.” Hence, representatives from all levels of Jewish society were addressed by John and called to repent, including the religious leaders from Jerusalem - (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).
The description of him as “clothed with camel hair and a leather belt” echoes the story of Elijah, who also “wore a garment of hair with a girdle of leather” - (2 Kings 1:1-8).
John’s preaching and actions pointed to the coming Messiah, but it was Jesus himself who announced the Good News of the Kingdom. John’s baptism prepared hearts for the arrival of that Kingdom and its King.
Moreover, the Baptist contrasted himself with this “Coming One” in three ways - Might, Worth, and Mode of Baptism. The Greek adjective rendered “mightier” is used later to describe Jesus as the “mighty one” who binds the “strong man,” namely, Satan - (Mark 3:22-30).
As John said of himself, “I am not worthy to unloose the strap of his sandals.” In first-century society, removing another man’s footwear was a menial task normally assigned to slaves and domestic servants.
BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT
In such ways, John portrayed himself as less than worthy of serving even as the lowliest slave in his Kingdom. Even his baptism in water was preparatory, not final. He baptized repentant sinners in water, but the Messiah would “baptize in the Holy Spirit.”
In the Hebrew Bible, the Gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “Last Days,” the prophesied “promise of the Father” and one of the “blessings of Abraham.” It was the cornerstone of the predicted New Covenant - (Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 2:14, Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:26-27).
John declared that the Coming One would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus did not abandon water baptism, but his baptism added something new and significant - The baptism in the Spirit. Thus, his baptism was vastly superior to anything previously experienced, including the baptism or “immersion” in water for repentance administered by John.
With John’s announcement and ministry, the stage was set for the public unveiling of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Herald of the Kingdom, and the one who baptizes his followers in the Holy Spirit.