The word baptism is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘baptismós’ meaning ‘dipping’ or ‘dip in liquid’. Different Christian sects interpret the word differently. Roman Catholics believe Baptism gives them the right to the admission to Catholic Church. To most of the Christians the word signifies ’spiritual cleansing’ or simply ‘rebirth’. Most churches baptize infants but some insist on adult baptism.
The word ‘Baptism’ is no where mentioned in Old Testament’. In New Testament it has appeared several times in synoptic gospels. Then, it is mentioned in Acts, Ro 6:4, Eph 4:5, Col 2:12, and 1Pe 3:21.
In New Testament not much is mentioned about Jesus, except his miraculous birth and his discovery by his parents in synagogue while he was 12.
Jesus happens to come across John the Baptist at the age of 30. He was wandering along the river Jordan and he saw John Baptizing people in the river Jordan. He was curious to know what was happening. He stood among the crowd to watch. He too stepped forward so John may baptize him too.
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John was the first person to recognize Jesus and he at once knew who he was. Nevertheless, since he did baptize Jesus and it is written, “Lo, the heavens were open unto him, and he saw the Sprite of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him. And lo a voice was heard from heaven saying, “this is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased”. Immediately after baptism Jesus went away to the desert and there he fasted for 40 days. After his return he gave his first famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’.
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Jesus had revealed the meaning of the word at Matthew 20:22, “But Jesus answered and said, “Ye know not what ye ask”. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
The word ‘Baptism’ simply means sufferings. Christians in receiving baptism as sacraments give their tacit consent to undergo the sufferings Christ underwent. The church fathers who administer Baptism though might not agree to this.
Why there was a need for John to baptize people. While baptizing them he was asking people to repent. After he had baptized them he used to say, “I have baptized you with water, but the one who comes after me would baptize you with fire”.
Carefully ponder over these words and you would know why John was baptizing.
The Jews in Jesus’ times were waiting for a Messiah. Before John several prophets had predicted coming of Messiah. John they considered a prophet of their time. They asked him the age old question, “When would Messiah come?” As every prophet before him had said, “He would come in troubled times”.
Jesus himself had said when you hear of war, famine and earthquakes, think it is time for me to come. John too told them the same thing, “Messiah would come in most suffocating times”. They simply wondered and wanted to know what type of suffocating times it would be. Therefore, John proceeded to explain to them the meaning.
He asked them to step into the water. After they were in waste deep water, he placed his hand on their heads, and gently submerged them in water. He did not release his hold on their head until they gasped for breath. No sooner they were feeling suffocated; he took off his hand and allowed them to emerge out of water to breathe. Then, he used to utter these words, “I have baptized you with water, but the one who comes after me would baptize you with fire”.
All he meant to say was the suffocating conditions you have experienced under water are nothing in comparison to the sufferings you would experience when it is time for Messiah to come.
After Jesus had emerged out of water, it is written, “Heaven’s opened”. It simply means it became clear to Jesus. He knew the exact purpose of his coming for the first time. He went to the desert to fast to prepare himself for greater sufferings he was about to experience on cross.
Once a Christian receives Baptism it does not mean that he has already received the sacrament. His true baptism would come in the body of Christ, only after he is personified in body of Christ as consecrated element to suffer in passions. This would happen only at the end times.