Baptism represents the cleansing of sins.
Baptism is an apparent declaration of an inward conversion. In other words, baptism is an act that happens after a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Baptisms are typically performed in the presence of the church body as a public declaration of faith. So what are the origins of baptism, and who was the first person in the Bible to be baptized?
The origins of baptism.
Christian theologians believe that, although baptism was used by John the Baptist, baptism didn’t start with Christians or with John the Baptist. Jews practiced baptism as an act of purification and the initiation of converts to Judaism before the Messiah’s return. The beginnings of baptism can be found in the book of Leviticus, where the Levite priests were instructed to perform a symbolic cleansing in water after their priestly duties.
Leviticus 16:4 describes the sacred garments one must wear before getting baptized, saying that you must wear a holy linen tunic, linen undergarments, a linen sash, and a linen turban. One must bathe themselves with water or get baptized before putting them on. The Bible also says in Leviticus 16:23-24 that Aaron had to go into the Tent of Meeting and remove his linen garments before entering the Most Holy Place, and he should leave them there. Then, he should bathe himself with water in a holy place and wear his regular garments. Afterward, he’ll come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and for the people to atone for himself and the people.
Although the actions described in the Old Testament passages weren’t explicitly called baptism, it does emphasize how essential and holy ceremonial cleansing is to God. John’s baptism of repentance came after this theory of cleansing, even though the final purification of sin is available through Jesus, and John’s baptism foreshadowed this. The significance of baptism in the New Testament is that, as believers of Christ, we’re baptized through His death and raised to walk in life’s newness. God taught the significance of baptism to the extent that He was baptized by John the Baptist at the beginning of His ministry.
Who was the first person to be baptized in the Bible?
Many believe that John the Baptist was the first person in the Bible to be baptized, but that may not be true. In Matthew 3:4-6, we read that John wore clothes made of camel’s hair with a belt around his waist. People from Jerusalem, Judea and the whole region of the Jordan came to him, confessing their sins, and were baptized by him in the Jordan River. As far as who baptized John the Baptist, the Bible has no record of who baptized him or if he was baptized at all.
The Bible says that John the Baptist was appointed as Jesus’ forerunner. The prophet Malachi and Isaiah predicted that a voice would precede the coming Messiah, and their prophecies were fulfilled with John the Baptist. God sent John the Baptist as a runner to prepare the way in the minds and hearts of the people of Israel for the coming of their Messiah, as detailed in John 1:6-8. He used baptism as how people repent their sins. They had to recognize their sin and needed a Savior to be receptive to Him when He came. It’s possible that John didn’t need to be baptized in his role as baptizer.
John lived in the wilderness before his public ministry in Israel, as explained in Luke 1:80. He wore rough clothing made of camel skins and ate wild honey and locusts. The people of Jerusalem flocked in droves to hear this man preach a message of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. He baptized those who responded to his call for repentance in the Jordan River. The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t see a need for repentance, so they refused to be baptized by John. Unapologetically, John called them out for their hypocrisy. He also warned tax collectors against blackmail and rebuked King Herod for his unlawful and ungodly marriage to his niece Herodias.
John the Baptist paved the path for repentance.
The Bible doesn’t say who baptized John the Baptist, but we know he baptized Jesus. When the Lord came to John to be baptized, John tried to talk Him out of it, insisting that Jesus baptize him. This statement suggests that John hadn’t been baptized, and Jesus insisted that John baptize Him to “fulfill all righteousness,” as explained in Matthew 5:15. For a while after Jesus’ baptism, John continued to point people to Him, and his ministry continued to succeed. After Jesus took center stage, the crowds following him faded, and he was imprisoned and beheaded by Herod.
Today, Christian baptism symbolizes cleansing, repentance, and commitment, but Jesus had a different idea. Christian baptism marks your identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It represents a complete cleansing and commitment that’s a natural response of one who’s been made new. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross thoroughly washes away our sins, and we’re given new life empowered by the Holy Spirit.
With John’s baptism, people repented their sins and were ready to place their faith in Jesus. Like the Old Testament sacrificial system, John’s baptism foretold Jesus’ accomplishments. John made way for Jesus by calling people to recognize their sins and need for salvation. His baptism was a purification ceremony to prepare people’s hearts to receive their Messiah. John may not have been the first person in the Bible to be baptized, but he paved the way for others’ salvation.