He Baptizes in Spirit

All four gospel accounts apply the passage in the Book of Isaiah to John the Baptist, the messenger who called men to repent “for the remission of sins” in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. The passage identifies John as the forerunner who was expected before the “Day of Yahweh” to summon the faithful - “The voice of one crying, in the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD” - (Isaiah 40:3-5).

Some of John’s activities paralleled aspects of the ministry of Elijah. For example, John was “clothed with camel's hair and a leather belt,” and like Elijah, he also spent time in the “wilderness” - (2 Kings 1:1-8, Malachi 3:1-3, 4:5, Mark 9:12-13, Luke 1:17).

Wilderness - Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

The Greek noun translated as “
repentance” denotes a “change of mind.” The call was for more than just remorse over past misdeeds. The “remission of sins” required a deliberate change of mind and a complete reorientation of life, and remission in Greek and English means to release, discharge, or remit” something.

Elsewhere in Scripture, “remission” is applied to the “discharge” of debt and to “divorce” decrees. Thus, repentance discharges the stain of sin and releases the penitent from its dominion, obligations, and curse.

  • John came baptizing in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judaea and all they of Jerusalem; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, There is coming after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water, but he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.

John summoned the entire nation to repent, and the crowds that heard him included Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests, the religious leaders of Israel. Thus, representatives from all levels of Jewish society heard his call to repent - (Matthew 3:6, John 1:19).

His preaching and actions pointed to the coming Messiah, but it was Jesus who brought the Good News of the Kingdom. John’s baptism prepared hearts for his arrival.

Furthermore, he contrasted himself with this “Coming One” in three ways - MightWorth, and Mode of Baptism. The adjective translated as “mightier” is used to describe Jesus as the “mighty one” who binds the “strong man” - (Mark 3:22-30).

John described himself as being unworthy “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.


In such ways, John portrayed himself as not worthy of being even the lowest slave of this “Coming One.” Even his baptism in water was preparatory, not final. He baptized sinners in water, but the Messiah would “baptize them in the Holy Spirit.”

Rainbow - Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash
[Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash]

The Gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “Last Days,” the “Promise of the Father” and one of the “blessings of Abraham.” It was fundamental to the coming New Covenant - (Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 2:14, Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:26-27).

In the gospel accounts, Jesus did not abandon water baptism, but his baptism added something new and significant, the BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT; therefore, his “baptism” was superior to anything previously experienced.

Thus, John set the stage for the public unveiling of the Messiah and Herald of the Kingdom, the one who would baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit “and fire.”

  • In Spirit and Fire - (At his baptism, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, equipping him for his Messianic mission, the One who baptizes his followers in the Spirit)
  • The Promise of the Spirit - (The Promise of the Spirit is one of the blessings of Abraham promised by God for the nations and the children of the Patriarch)
  • Promise of the Father - (With the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, the blessing for all nations promised to Abraham has commenced)

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