Baptism, the Spirit and the Kingdom of God

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1 Baptism, the Spirit and the Kingdom of God By Wayne Conrad Good Shepherd Community Church Dallas, Texas In our efforts to understand the biblical doctrines of baptism, both water baptism and Spirit baptism, the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit we need to return to the banks of the Jordon River where the concept of baptism was introduced by the prophet John the Baptizer. John s call for the people to repent and be dipped in the Jordan and his declaration concerning the Messiah as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit were made in the context of his preaching about the kingdom of God. Here is the account of Matthew: Matt 3:1-12 ESV 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" 4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." John the Apostle was a disciple of the prophet John at first and then joined Jesus at his return from the wilderness temptations. His account follows: John 1:19-34 ESV 19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." 21 And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." 22 So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23 He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" 26 John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' 31 1

2 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.' 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." A review of these descriptions of John s ministry and his own testimony shows clearly that John s ministry was to prepare the people for the arrival of the kingdom of God in the person of the long awaited Messiah. The Messiah (one who has been anointed is the meaning of both the Greek Christ and the Hebrew Messiah) would be the Promised One full of the Spirit who from his immeasurable fullness would baptize others in the Holy Spirit. John announces the imminent rule of God. He declares by quoting Isaiah that Yahweh himself is coming and the way must be prepared. But the way of preparation is in the hearts of people not literal roadways. Malachi is also brought into his preaching. The way of preparation is the way of repentance, a change in one s thinking about God, man and sin that leads to a change in attitude and behavior that in turn will begin to demonstrate God s righteous standards. (see Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-17) According to his own testimony and the subsequent testimony of Jesus (Matt. 21:23ff) John received his commission to baptize as the outward sign of a repentance of heart. Thus one would be a willing subject to the rule of the Messiah. John s good news concerning the kingdom involved an inner cleansing through the forgiveness of sins marked by their submission to his immersing them in the river. Mark 1:4-6 ESV 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. This is the background and biblical foundation for Christian baptism. Jesus himself after his wilderness temptations returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17 ESV) First, John the Baptizer received his call and his baptism rite from heaven. It signified repentance on the part of the person submitting to it in preparation for participation in the kingdom of God. Accompanying the confession of sin and its ritual act of being dipped in the water was the forgiveness of sin. Then, after Jesus own baptism he began to preach the message of repentance and baptized confessors in the water. All of this was in connection with the kingdom of God. The kingdom, anticipated and announced in the gospel narratives, is the reign of God over the people of God on earth in the person of Messiah. Jesus regarded his person, his physical presence in the world, and his deeds of power as the arrival and presence of the kingdom of God. Hear his words concerning the meaning of his casting out of demons. 2

3 Luke 11:20-21 ESV But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Then from a broader view he identifies the kingdom with his person in Luke. Luke 17:20-21 ESV Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." Early in Jesus ministry while he was in Judea a leader of the Jews named Nicodemus came to inquire of Jesus how he might enter the kingdom of God. (John 3) Interestingly Jesus answers the man in terms of rebirth from above and the gift of eternal life through belief in the Son. His statement on born of water and Spirit could reference the baptism of repentance and regeneration by the Spirit. An overview of the gospels references to the kingdom clearly identifies it as a realm in which Jesus rules and to which those who are born from above and therefore trust him belong. (John 3:5, 1:12-13) It can be said that the Holy Spirit creates citizens for the kingdom of God. How crucial the kingdom is to Jesus mission is seen in the exchange he had with Pilate. John 18:33-38 ESV 33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" 35 Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." 37 Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Matthew s gospel narrative certainly focused on Jesus as the King of the Kingdom. Following his resurrection and prior to his ascension Jesus spend forty days teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 ESV 3 To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. During this time he gave his commission to the disciples for the continuing mission. In Matthews account Jesus couches the commission in terms of his kingly authority. Matt 28:18-20 ESV 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Thus baptism is related to the kingdom. It appears as the rite of initiation into the kingdom of God in its present spiritual form. 3

4 Kingdom preaching and gospel preaching are seen as in some sense synonymous or at least overlapping in the Acts narratives. Philips mission in Samaria is described in these terms: Acts 8:12 ESV 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. At the end of the Acts narrative in relating Paul s ministry in Rome Luke gives this summary statement: Acts 28:30-31 ESV 30 He (Paul) lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. With this kingdom understanding it can be observed that water baptism functions as sign of entrance into the kingdom in its present form Through faith in Jesus the Messiah. Because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit we are saved to have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God s dear Son. Col 1:13-14 ESV 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus physically returned to the Father in heaven but his kingdom on earth continues in its present spiritual form because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit conveys the continued presence of Jesus and he is the One who inhabits the people of God. The Spirit s presence in, and with the people of God is the essence of the present reality of the kingdom of God on earth. Thus Paul can write: Rom 14:17 ESV 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer identified the Messiah as the One who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. He did this in answer of questions about his own ministry and baptizing activity. The disciple John who was present records what happened. John 1:25-34 ESV 25 They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" 26 John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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 4

5 baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." What does it mean that Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit? There is much to be said in teaching on this matter. We must begin with Jesus own sayings on the subject. He identifies it with what he calls the Promise of the Father. In further explanation he says it is clothing upon with power. Luke 24:46-49 ESV "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." While staying with his disciples after his resurrection prior to his ascension, Jesus Acts 1:4-9 ESV ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Thus, Jesus brings together the kingdom of God, baptism, the gospel proclamation and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers the witnesses of Christ for proclamation of the kingdom. This is part of what John declares when he calls Jesus the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit. 5

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