So I’ve scrapped the post I said I was working on and decided to do something a little more simple. I think this format will provide the opportunity for the best discussion, if in fact, anyone happens to want to discuss Baptism after I’ve said my piece.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is properly defined as the immersion of a person into water. Before John the Baptist had baptized anyone, the Jews had developed the rite of Baptism which could serve one of two purposes. The first was for a ritual cleansing for a Jew before a feast, while the second, and more common purpose, would be as a rite of passage for Gentile converts to Judaism. Deep pools were dug with steps going down into and up out of the pool. The symbolism for new converts was that of crossing through the water into the promised land, just as Israel had crossed the Jordan upon their arrival in Canaan.
When John began to baptize, he was immersing people in the Jordan river, and calling Jews, not to a ritual cleansing, but to a rite of conversion to true ‘Judaism’. When Jesus came to be baptized by John, the symbolism of His act was the same to a larger degree. Jesus is true Israel, and He shows this from the very beginning of His ministry by passing through the Jordan river upon His official arrival in Canaan.
Now we jump ahead three or four years to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before Jesus ascends to the Father, He leaves his disciples with some final instructions.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20 ESV)
Among the last instructions that Jesus gives His disciples is the command to baptize their disciples. But notice also that they are told to baptize them into (‘in’ from the Greek ‘eis’= to or into) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Christian converts are baptized, they are being baptized into Jesus Christ, the True Israel. Jesus assumes identification with the Ark of the Covenant which entered the Jordan before the nation of Israel passed through, He assumes identification with Israel passing through the Jordan, He assumes identification with the Promised Land they were crossing into, and He assumes identification with the Jordan. And when we are baptized we are being baptized into Him.
There is a greater reality than even this identification with Christ. We are further identified with Christ by our baptism by the mode of baptism (immersion).
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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom 6:3-10 ESV)
This is the greater aspect of baptism, it is a testimony that when Christ died, we died with Him, and that when He arose, we arose with Him (and when He ascended we ascended with Him, Eph. 2:4-6).
In short, Baptism is by immersion (Acts 8:38) and is symbolic of our union with Christ (Gal 3:27).
I’ll have to get to the Who, When, Where, and Why in another post.
In the meantime I’m also going to repost an old answer to a question about how I interpret 1 Peter 3:21.
UPDATE: I would also like to point out for Prodigal that I’m going to interact with some of his points in the upcoming post(s), and that I do see a very close link between Baptism and salvation, as is obvious in this post, although I haven’t directly addressed it yet. Also, I would like to point out to Pilgrim that immersion is a very important part of Baptism, for the reasons I have given in this post.