The baptism of John… was it from heaven or of men? Jesus asked this question when he was being questioned by the chief priests and the elders in the temple. They made the decision not to answer because if they said it from God they would be required to be baptized, and if they said it was from man they feared what the people would do. Jesus never gave them the answer. What was the purpose of John’s baptism?
John preached in the wilderness, baptizing anyone that was willing in the Jordan River. John preached and taught the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mar 1:4 KJV)
“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;” (Luk 3:3 KJV)
Some thought that John was the Messiah, but the purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus.
“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mat 3:3 KJV)
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mar 1:3 KJV)
“66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” (Luk 1:66-80 KJV)
One purpose of John’s baptism was to manifest Christ to Israel.
“And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.” (Joh 1:31 KJV)
John’s baptism was part of conversion and repentance under the old covenant. It did not replace Jewish Law, but was supplemental to the Law. It helped make the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant by preparing the people to accept the water baptism of Jesus.
John did not use a specified formula for his baptism. He simply baptized unto repentance.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance:” (Mat 3:11 KJV)
John’s converts responded by confessing their sins and repenting.
“And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mat 3:6 KJV)
“And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mar 1:5 KJV)
Although John’s baptism was unto repentance for the remission of sins, it was a temporary measure that was looking forward to the salvation that Jesus would provide. It simply pointed to future remission of sins that would be provided by the one that came after John, who John was sent to prepare the way for. It was meant to be replaced, like the Jewish Law, by the new covenant. It was a pre-Christian baptism because the Church had not yet started. After the Church began, John’s baptism was no longer necessary, and the new covenant baptism took its place. The disciples of John were re-baptized in the name of Jesus.
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” (Act 19:1-6 KJV)
John’s baptism was most definitely from God. It did not replace the Law, but supplemented the Law. It was designed to help John do what he was sent to do: prepare the way of the Lord.