If the preaching of John the Baptist’s ministry was marked by the call to repentance, certainly the activity of his ministry was marked by baptism – hence the moniker. As we think about baptism it is easiest to think of it as religious ceremony or rite of passage into church membership. But to limit our reflection to these points means to miss out on critical understanding of baptism, and the corresponding challenge and encouragement it offers the Christian.

The meaning of the Greek word we translate into baptize is to plunge, dip, or submerge. Thus, it is not surprising that Matthew records Jesus “went up from the water (Matt. 3:16”. From 1st century literature outside of scripture the word gives the sense of being drowned or overwhelmed. The Jewish historian Josephus used the word to describe crowds “flooding” the streets of Jerusalem during its siege. This important symbolism accurately reflects Paul’s description of our glorious new life in Christ:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)”

Something to Understand:

The evocative nature of the word baptize serves an important purpose for Christians. The vivid imagery is an outward sign of a radically new inward reality. This is why we encourage taking the step of obedience of baptism, as Christ did, and to do so by full immersion. The act of baptism signifies death to our old way of living and thinking, and a corresponding rebirth to a new life! The ideas of old life, death, cleansing, resurrection, and new life are all wrapped up in this one word: baptize!