The Meaning of Your Baptism
IN THE year 29 C.E., Jesus was baptized, being immersed by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River. Jehovah himself was watching and expressed approval. (Matthew 3:16, 17) Jesus thus set a pattern that all of his disciples would follow. Three and a half years later, Jesus gave these instructions to his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” (Matthew 28:18, 19) Have you been baptized in harmony with what Jesus there directed? If not, are you preparing to do so?
2 In either case, a clear understanding of baptism is important for everyone who wants to serve Jehovah and live in his righteous new world. Questions that deserve answers include these: Does Christian baptism today have the same meaning as that of Jesus’ baptism? What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit”? What is involved in living in accord with what Christian water baptism signifies?
Baptisms Performed by John
3 About six months before Jesus was baptized, John the Baptizer went preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matthew 3:1, 2) People heard what John said and took it to heart. They openly confessed their sins, repented of them, and then came to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. That baptism was for the Jews.—Luke 1:13-16; Acts 13:23, 24.
4 Those Jews were urgently in need of repentance. At Mount Sinai in the year 1513 B.C.E., their forefathers had entered into a national covenant—a formal, solemn agreement—with Jehovah God. But because of their gross sins, they did not live up to their responsibilities under that covenant, so they were condemned by it. By Jesus’ day their situation was critical. “The great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah” foretold by Malachi was near. In 70 C.E., that “day” came when Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem, its temple, and over a million Jews. John the Baptizer, with a zeal for true worship, was sent in advance of that destruction, “to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people.” They needed to repent of their sins against the Mosaic Law covenant and be prepared to accept the Son of God, Jesus, whom Jehovah was sending to them.—Malachi 4:4-6; Luke 1:17; Acts 19:4.
5 Among those who came to John to be baptized was Jesus himself. But why? Knowing that Jesus had no sins to confess, John said: “I am the one needing to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” But Jesus’ baptism was to symbolize something different. So Jesus replied: “Let it be, this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous.” (Matthew 3:13-15) Because Jesus was without sin, his baptism did not symbolize repentance over sin; nor did he need to dedicate himself to God, since he was a member of a nation already dedicated to Jehovah. Rather, his baptism at 30 years of age was unique to him, and it symbolized the presenting of himself to his heavenly Father to do His further will.
6 God’s will for Christ Jesus involved activity in connection with the Kingdom. (Luke 8:1) It also involved the sacrifice of his perfect human life as a ransom and as the basis for a new covenant. (Matthew 20:28; 26:26-28; Hebrews 10:5-10) Jesus took very seriously what his water baptism symbolized. He did not allow his attention to be diverted to other interests. To the end of his earthly life, he stuck to the doing of God’s will, making the preaching of God’s Kingdom his main work.—John 4:34.
Water Baptism of Christian Disciples
7 Jesus’ first disciples were baptized in water by John and then directed to Jesus as prospective members of the Kingdom of heaven. (John 3:25-30) Under Jesus’ direction these disciples also did some baptizing, which had the same significance as John’s baptism. (John 4:1, 2) However, starting with Pentecost 33 C.E., they began to fulfill the commission to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) You will find it very beneficial to review what that means.
8 What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father”? It means accepting his name, office, authority, purpose, and laws. Consider what this involves. (1) Concerning his name, Psalm 83:18 says: “You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (2) Regarding his office, 2 Kings 19:15 states: “O Jehovah . . . , you alone are the true God.” (3) Of his authority, Revelation 4:11 tells us: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.” (4) We must also acknowledge that Jehovah is the Life-Giver, who purposes to save us from sin and death: “Salvation belongs to Jehovah.” (Psalm 3:8; 36:9) (5) We need to accept that Jehovah is the Supreme Law-Giver: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King.” (Isaiah 33:22) Because he is all those things, we are urged: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.”—Matthew 22:37.
9 What does baptism “in the name . . . of the Son” mean? It means recognizing the name, office, and authority of Jesus Christ. His name, Jesus, means “Jehovah Is Salvation.” He derives his office from the fact that he is God’s only-begotten Son, the first of God’s creation. (Matthew 16:16; Colossians 1:15, 16) Of this Son, John 3:16 tells us: “God loved the world [of redeemable mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” Because Jesus died faithful, God resurrected him from the dead and gave him new authority. According to the apostle Paul, God “exalted [Jesus] to a superior position” in the universe, second only to Jehovah. That is why “in the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) This means obeying Jesus’ commandments, which issue from Jehovah himself.—John 15:10.
10 What does it mean to be baptized “in the name . . . of the holy spirit”? It means acknowledging the function and activity of the holy spirit. And what is the holy spirit? It is Jehovah’s active force, with which he accomplishes his purposes. Jesus told his followers: “I will request the Father and he will give you another helper to be with you forever, the spirit of the truth.” (John 14:16, 17) What would this enable them to do? Jesus further told them: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) By means of the holy spirit, Jehovah also inspired the writing of the Bible: “Prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) So we acknowledge the role of the holy spirit when we study the Bible. Another way we acknowledge the holy spirit is by asking Jehovah to help us produce “the fruitage of the spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Galatians 5:22, 23.
11 The first ones to be baptized in harmony with Jesus’ instructions were Jews and Jewish proselytes, beginning in 33 C.E. Shortly thereafter, the privilege of Christian discipleship was extended to the Samaritans. Then, in 36 C.E., the call widened out to include uncircumcised Gentiles. Before being baptized, the Samaritans and Gentiles had to make a personal dedication to Jehovah to serve him as disciples of his Son. This continues to be the significance of Christian water baptism down to our day. Complete immersion in water is a fitting symbol of this personal dedication, as baptism is a symbolic burial. Your going beneath the baptismal waters represents your dying to your former life course. Being raised out of the water symbolizes your being made alive to do God’s will. This “one baptism” applies to all who become true Christians. At baptism they become Christian Witnesses of Jehovah, God’s ordained ministers.—Ephesians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4.
12 Such baptism has great saving value in the eyes of God. For instance, after mentioning Noah’s constructing of the ark, in which he and his family were preserved through the Flood, the apostle Peter wrote: “That which corresponds to this is also now saving you, namely, baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21) The ark was tangible evidence that Noah had faithfully done the work assigned by God. After work on the ark was finished, “the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water.” (2 Peter 3:6) But Noah and his family, “eight souls, were carried safely through the water.”—1 Peter 3:20.
13 Today, those who dedicate themselves to Jehovah on the basis of faith in the resurrected Christ get baptized in symbol of that dedication. They proceed to do God’s will for our day and are saved from the present wicked world. (Galatians 1:3, 4) No longer are they headed for destruction with the present wicked system of things. They are saved from this and are granted a good conscience by God. The apostle John assures God’s servants: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
Living Up to Our Responsibilities
14 It would be a mistake to conclude that baptism is in itself a guarantee of salvation. It has value only if a person has truly dedicated himself to Jehovah through Jesus Christ and thereafter carries out God’s will, being faithful to the end. “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Matthew 24:13.
15 God’s will for Jesus included how he used his life as a human. It was to be laid down in death as a sacrifice. In our case, our bodies are to be presented to God, and we are to carry on a self-sacrificing life by doing God’s will. (Romans 12:1, 2) We would certainly not be doing God’s will if even occasionally we deliberately conducted ourselves like the world around us or if we built our lives around selfish pursuits, giving only token service to God. (1 Peter 4:1-3; 1 John 2:15, 16) When a certain Jew asked what he must do to get everlasting life, Jesus acknowledged the importance of living a morally clean life. But then he pointed to something even more important: the need to be a Christian disciple, a follower of Jesus. That must be the main thing in life. It cannot take second place to material pursuits.—Matthew 19:16-21.
16 It should again be emphasized that God’s will for Jesus included vital activity in connection with God’s Kingdom. Jesus was himself anointed to be King. But while on earth, he also gave a zealous witness concerning the Kingdom. We have a similar witnessing work to do, and we have every reason to engage in it wholeheartedly. By so doing, we demonstrate our appreciation for Jehovah’s sovereignty as well as our love for fellow humans. (Matthew 22:36-40) We also show that we are united with fellow worshipers worldwide, all of whom are Kingdom proclaimers. Together, in global unity, we press on toward the goal of everlasting life in the earthly realm of that Kingdom.
• What similarities and what differences are there between Jesus’ baptism and water baptism today?
• What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit”?
• What is involved in living up to the responsibilities of Christian water baptism?
1. Why should water baptism be of personal interest to each of us?
2. In connection with baptism, what questions need to be answered?
3. To whom was John’s baptism limited?
4. Why did the Jews in the first century urgently need to repent?
5. (a) When Jesus came to be baptized, why did John question this? (b) What was symbolized by Jesus’ baptism?
6. How serious was Jesus about doing God’s will for him?
7. Since Pentecost 33 C.E., what were Christians told to do in connection with baptism?
8. What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father”?
9. What does it mean to be baptized “in the name . . . of the Son”?
10. What does it mean to be baptized “in the name . . . of the holy spirit”?
11. (a) What is the true significance of baptism in our day? (b) How is baptism like dying and being raised up?
12. To what does Christian water baptism correspond, and how?
13. From what is a Christian saved through water baptism?
14. Why is baptism in itself not a guarantee of salvation?
15. (a) What is God’s will today for baptized Christians? (b) How important should Christian discipleship be in our lives?
16. (a) What responsibility do all Christians have in connection with the Kingdom? (b) As illustrated on pages 116 and 117, what are some effective ways in which to do the Kingdom work? (c) Our wholehearted share in the witnessing work gives evidence of what?
[Pictures on page 116, 117]
SOME WAYS TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM
From door to door
On the streets
By returning to visit interested ones
At home Bible studies