Israel was expecting the long awaited Messiah.
John, son of a the renown priest Zechariah threw off the royal priestly robes, rejected the choicest meats and first fruits set aside for his family, put on rugged clothing and fled to Jordan's wilderness to survive on what he could find to eat.
John baptized with water those who confessed their sins. And this baptism for the forgiveness of sins was, in fact, itself declaring that the great and dreadful day of the Lord had come!
As wonderful as the Baptism of John was for Israel, this baptism was not required, nor could it bestow grace or confer the Holy Spirit upon the baptized. It was a symbol of the forgiveness that was to come. John's baptism did not give the Jew entrance into the New Covenant Kingdom of Heaven. This baptism was making straight the way of the Lord. It was a baptism of preparation.
Then, one day, it happened. John cried out, "Behold! The Lamb of God!" The Anointed One came to him for baptism. John's baptism was coming to an end, as the Kingdom of God had arrived. Here was the King!
And a new baptism began. It was the baptism of Christ.
Though Jesus' baptism was similar to John's in that, after repentance and confession, the water baptism gives us forgiveness of our sins. The Christian is require to be baptized with the Trinitarian formula, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and it is much much more than a symbol. As circumcision was the rite to enter the Hebraic covenant, baptism is the rite that brings one into the Kingdom of Heaven and the New Covenant. (Acts 1: 37-38, Col. 2:9-14)
This new one baptism unites us all in the one Spirit and one Body. In fact, it give us each the fire of the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 4: 5, I Cor. 12: 13, Acts 2:38, Matt. 3:11)
With this baptism we die and are raised with Christ!
[All] baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Rom. 6: 3-5
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands….you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. Col. 2: 11-13
With baptism, we put on Christ and enter His Kingdom, for it is through baptism we are saved! Peter tells us this in his first letter. Paul tells us this in his letter to the Galatians. But most importantly Christ tells us this through the gospels:
Baptism...now saves you. I Peter 3: 21For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3: 27
He who believes and is baptized will be saved. Mark 16: 16.
John's baptism for the washing away of sins was a symbolic cleansing. If Christian baptism is also a symbol then John's baptism should have been sufficient. If one's sins were symbolically cleansed by John what would be the point of a second symbolic cleansing of sins? Yet, those who had been baptized in John had to be rebaptized as Christians. (Acts 11:16; 18:3-6) This is because we are truly reborn, transformed, regenerated when we are baptized into Christ, for it is much more than a cleansing of sin.
Many Christian denominations today claim a person is saved, born-again, when he believes and asks Jesus to come into his heart. Some teach that baptism is an unnecessary, symbolic rite that does not give the transforming power of God. Yet this man-made tradition does not come from scripture.
When these denominations claim that baptism only symbolically washes away our sins, they are, in effect, speaking of John's baptism, not Christ's. For it is only through the baptism that Christ required, that we are truly given grace and the Holy Spirit. It is not a symbol, scriptures record, but a rite of initiation that literally saves us and bring us into His kingdom.
A miraculous experience of Christ coming into our hearts and believing in Him is a wonderful life-changing event, but it does not wash away our sins. An experience does not bury and raise us with Christ. Scripture confirms that only when we die with Christ, are buried and are raised with Him through the rite of baptism, that our sins are literally washed away and we walk in newness of life. It is through baptism that we are born-again.