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John's baptism and ours

Brandon asks, “Why is baptism used before Jesus? I thought baptism signified Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Why would baptism be used by John if that’s what it is for? 

As the question suggests, the two baptisms are closely related but also have important differences.  Think of an engagement ring and a wedding ring.  The engagement ring is a token of the intent/promise to marry, while the wedding ring is a token of the actual marriage.  They both relate to marriage, but in different ways. I think this sums up the difference between John's baptism and ours. Both relate to being in a right relationship with God, but in different ways.

John came to prepare the Jewish nation for the coming of Jesus.  The Old Testament prophet Malachi had spoken of his coming in 3:1 and in 4:5-6 where we read:

5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

In Matthew 17:10-13, Jesus identifies John as “Elijah.”  The angel who speaks to Zechariah (John’s father), does the same thing when he says, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,”(Luke 1:17). 

With this is mind, we can appreciate John’s baptism as a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (Mark 1:4).  Many of the Israelites responded to John’s message calling them to repent and believe in the One coming after him (Acts 19:4).  As a result of their faith, they were baptized to have their sins forgiven.  Of course, at this time baptism had nothing to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus --- it’s purpose was to put Jewish believers in a right relationship with God and ready them for the kingdom of Jesus (Luke 16:16).  Those who rejected John’s baptism rejected God’s purpose for themselves (Luke 7:29-30).    
According to John 1:31, a related purpose of John's baptism was to reveal Jesus to Israel.  John's ministry called the nation to righteousness so although Jesus had no sin and no need for repentance, as an Israelite He embraced God's indictment upon the nation and identified with the redemptive purposes of John's ministry. Thus, He told John His immersion was necessary to "fulfill all righteousness," (Matthew 3:15).
After Jesus ascension, baptism takes on an even deeper, richer meaning.  It continues to be a faith response that God uses to put us in a right relationship with Him (1 Peter 3:21-22), but now it is in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38), connected with His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3ff), with the Spirit being given (Acts 2:38-39). You can see the two baptisms contrasted in Acts 19:1-5.
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