The following is from chapter 2 of my book, Captive to the Word of God, a Baptist look at theology and life in the local church. This is the last section on baptism.
The Significance. What does baptism mean? This is the reason we cannot compromise on the previous points, demands the most from our attention, and requires a redeemed mind to properly comprehend. The main reason baptism is given in Scripture is to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said of His baptism I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50) By this, Jesus was not referring to John’s baptism of Him in the Jordan, though that is a type and shadow of the spiritual truth of what Jesus speaks of in Luke 12. The Lord’s true baptism was His punishment on the tree for our sins. This baptism is what caused the Lord of glory to be in great distress. Thinking forward to His punishment on the cross, suffering the spiritual punishment due us for our sins; this is what caused the King of kings to sweat drops of blood in the garden. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did, cursed by God for the sins of others. He laid His life down for us, knowing He would pick it back up again. Death could not contain Him, for Jesus, unlike the priests of Moses’ time, had no sin of His own. He saw beyond the cross to His glorification, knowing His Father was faithful and would vindicate His death by raising Him up to a glory surpassing that which He had from eternity past. His resurrection is what gives us the hope to not grow weary in well doing (1 Cor 15:20-28). When we baptize believers, we read from Romans 6:4, 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. This gives us a picture of what has been done (spiritually) to us, that as the Lord Jesus was put to death and raised up, so were we – spiritually. This is an important truth that we must never forget.
But I hope to open our eyes to the greater meaning of this simple ordinance and pray that we see together what a glorious picture has been given to us by our great and gracious Lord. The Lord’s life, death, and resurrection are the keystones of our faith.
Much support and insight for what follows was drawn from a small book by Baptist Pastor Hal Brunson, titled The Rickety Bridge and the Broken Mirror, a book of parables about baptism.
The baptism in Romans 6:4 gives us the active or present reality of the meaning of Christ’s death, and refers directly to the reality of the first resurrection, when we die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ. But this verse and the act of baptism also point back historically to His death and prophetically forward to the physical resurrection of all the saints when Christ returns to judge all flesh. Baptism is a multifaceted word picture that ought to remind us of far more than the glorious change wrought in the life of the redeemed sinner. One aspect of baptism that baby sprinklers cannot lay claim to is baptism as a picture of submersion into great waters, portraying the great waters of Divine judgment. We do see in Scripture several passages where great waters are graphic symbols of God’s judgment and wrath against sin – which Christ took upon His body as the Lamb sacrificed for our sin. He was submersed into the ocean of God’s wrath on our account, and raised up on the third day. We will look to God’s Word to learn more about this rich teaching on this simple ordinance, graphically presented in four word pictures:
- The flood of Noah.
- The sorrows of David, described as “great waters”.
- Jonah being cast into the sea.
- Jesus’ understanding of His death.
First, the flood as a picture of the death of Christ is portrayed in baptism. The Apostle Peter points to this great flood of the entire earth as a vivid picture of the believer’s baptism as well as a figure or type pointing to the suffering of Christ. In proclaiming (1 Peter 3:18) that Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, Peter then alludes to the flood and how only eight persons were saved in the ark, brought through the great waters of God’s judgment against sin. And Peter goes on in his first letter (3:21) to tell us that baptism corresponds to this – the flood of Noah, the outpouring of God’s wrath in judgment and the only refuge being in the ark which is Christ. Both the great flood and our baptism are types which point to the death of our Lord and His provision for our safety. In 2 Peter 2:6, the flood is listed with another well-known symbol of God’s wrath against sin: Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s wrath against sin is real, it is certain, it is final. We need a Savior, One Who can bear up under this wrath, One Who has no sin of His own to atone for. Not only did Christ provide refuge for the redeemed from God’s wrath, He was buried in God’s judgment as payment for sin – our sin. He is worthy of our praise.
The messianic prophet Isaiah, who told of the suffering servant who was crushed for our iniquities, brings us back to the flood in describing the covenant of peace the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8) will bring.. This is the promise to all who are called, not a promise to the nation-state of Israel. Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, saves all who have been appointed unto eternal life, from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This redemption is as the waters of Noah to me, says the Lord of Hosts (vs 9). Brunson says:
this points backwards, not merely to the language and theology of the slaughtered and speechless Lamb, but even to the very moment at which God would impute the transgressions of His people to their Savior and His righteousness to them. “This”, God says, “is as the waters of Noah to me” – “this” – His being “despised and rejected of men”; “this is as the waters of Noah – His identity as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”; His “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows”; the Savior “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted … wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastised for our peace, and striped for our healing” – “This is as the waters of Noah to me” – His oppression, His affliction, His slaughtering, His substitutionary imprisonment within the iron bars of injustice, His burial with the wicked in the grave of hell’s billows: “This”, says the Almighty, “is as the waters of Noah to me.8
And who is Noah other than a type for all who have found refuge in Christ? What is the ark other than a type of the everlasting covenant of redemption whereby God’s people rise above the waters of judgment? The flood of Noah is God’s judgment against sin. It portrays the suffering of Christ in payment for sin, securing the redemption of those chosen by God the Father. None but those so chosen and called could enter in the ark; God Himself shut the door to secure Noah and his family in and to keep all others out. None but those chosen were shielded from the wrath of God. The flood of Noah shows us how great the price our redemption, how great the Father’s wrath on sin; how helpless we are to secure that safety.
Briefly, let us talk about the ark, made of earthy things: wood and pitch. Christ, the second person of the Godhead came to us wrapped in earthy things: flesh and blood. The ark and the cross, both made of wood. Both signs of judgment and redemption. The ark covered with pitch, to waterproof it, just as in the day when baby Moses, like Noah, would ride upon dangerous waters in a vessel covered with pitch. This pitch was flammable and used as fuel, used by Isaiah as a metaphor for God’s judgment: For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch (Isaiah 34:8-9). The Hebrew term for pitch, kaphar, is usually translated not as pitch but is overwhelmingly interpreted as to atone, to purge, to reconcile, to forgive, to cover, and to propitiate. Can you see the glorious scene of how grand the picture is painted by the baptism of a child of God? Again, from Brunson: “The captain of our salvation may have gone to the depths for the salvation of His people, but the old ship of Zion rides the waves with linen sails unfurled, impervious to raging winds and roaring waves, speeding safely upon the scarlet billows of judgment to the soul’s desired haven.”9 We get a glimpse of what the Lord Jesus meant when He told the disciples that Moses and the prophets had written about Himself, and how glorious is this glimpse!
That is but a portion of what the great flood of Noah teaches us about baptism, but we must press on and look at what we are taught by the sorrows of David. This man after God’s own heart knew of his own sin and the despair of trusting in any mortal man for reconciliation with Holy God. David and other Psalmists described their deep sorrows as a kind of burial beneath the billows and waves of the Almighty. In Psalm 42:5 & 7 we read, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? In this sorrowful lament with his soul, he describes his afflictions in terms that point to baptism – Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Three images of water: waterfalls, breakers, and waves; all communicate the idea of a cascading waterfall pummeling the poet, with the brutal breakers and waves of an angry ocean violently washing over his head. These terrifying metaphors of his torment and anguish wash over him, drowning him in his sorrows. Carried along by the Spirit of God to write these things, perhaps the Psalmist knew not that he prophesied of the promised Messiah, but his words were given to him by God’s Spirit and anticipate the predestined sufferings and death of Christ as a kind of baptism. The word for deep in the psalm is used as a synonym for sheol, connecting to the death of Christ as a submersion into the deepest waters of the place of the dead. And the water metaphors in this psalm undoubtedly describe the suffering servant of God – As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10) This is widely recognized as prophecy of the Lord’s sword-pierced side and the cruel mockery of those who blasphemed while He hung on the cross.
David’s description of his soul’s suffering in deep water takes us more deeply into the sufferings of Jesus. “Like the high priest of Israel, we pass through the first veil, the holy place of Christ’s impeccable flesh, and gaze upon the physical sufferings of Christ; and then through the second veil into the holy of holies, to the very heart of Christ, where we gaze upon the innermost secrets of the Savior’s suffering soul”10 as He was put under the rod of God’s wrath. In Psalm 18 David wrote about his persecution at the hand of Saul; but the eternal message of redemption contained throughout Scripture portrays here the Savior’s passion, not merely David’s sorrow; death and hell as the persecutor of Christ, not merely Saul’s pursuit of David. The king of Israel describes his trials which have human and divine causes, in terms of sorrow, death, and hell; stark images of his soul’s baptism into the lesser sea of man’s wrath and the greater ocean of God’s wrath. David is immersed in human wrath; Saul’s rage is real. David’s words tell of God’s judgment on sin and care for His people:
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. (Psalm 18:7-17)
Like the pitch on Noah’s ark, God’s judgment here invokes images of fire and water. But as God did not leave David’s soul in torment, neither would He suffer His Holy One to see corruption. Christ was not left buried beneath the sea of God’s wrath and the ocean of His judgment. As David cried out in his distress and called upon the Lord from beneath the deep waters of his sufferings, so also the Savior, as it were, from beneath the burning waters of the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) As deep calls to deep, the Almighty heard the voices of David and David’s seed, and thus He bowed the heavens and came down, riding on a cherub and flying on the wings of the wind; God answered the cry of His Son and sent from above and drew Him out of many waters.
The sorrows of David and other psalmists resonate with all who suffer, but they ultimately point us to the One Who suffered what we deserve, to bring many sons and daughters to glory. The love of God for His elect caused the Son of God, David’s promised seed, to submit to the baptism of His Father’s wrath, so we who are called by His name would be reconciled to our Father and not left to our just deserts.
Let us now look at what we are taught by the casting of Jonah into the sea. This one is specifically called out by the Lord Himself as a type pointing to His death. Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:38-39) Two symbols of Jonah’s experience point to the death of Christ, and to baptism. The terrifying great fish and the deep waters – both of which swallowed up Jonah, and both of which point to baptism by immersion as the proper sign of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Consider what the prophet said from the belly of the fish: Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, [quoting the 18th Psalm] saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” (Jonah 2:1-6) Like David, Jonah testifies not only to his personal experience; he also prophesies of the death of Christ as a kind of submersion into deep waters. Like Jonah, our Lord was swallowed up by the jaws of death, buried in the heart of the earth, at the bottom of death’s sea. As by the decree of God the great fish could not hold Jonah, it was not possible that death should hold the Son of God. So baptism is not only of immersion but also of emersion – a coming out from the deep waters. Thus Jonah and the Son of God were not only submerged into the belly of the fish and the deep waters of death, they also emerged from leviathan’s jaws and the ocean’s depths. How can the sprinkling of a baby rightly convey this message? When the child of God is baptized by immersion, the testimony is not only the vicarious submersion with Christ into His death, but also our emersion from death by virtue of His resurrection.
Finally, we look to what the Lord Jesus understood about His death as an apocalyptic baptism, interpreting Scripture with Scripture. No tradition or imagination of man can bring us the light and truth that God has given us in His Word.
In the short gospel penned by Mark, we have this response from the Lord Jesus to the request from James and John to sit on either side of Him in glory. Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” (Mark 10:38-39). Other than the ten being indignant at these two, what might they have thought about the cup and the baptism? They would soon learn that this cup the Lord spoke of was not the cup of communion nor a water baptism. Jesus had spoken in terms that left his disciples uncertain, but we know from the record of Scripture that what He was speaking about was the cup of wrath and the baptism of death that awaited Him; of which He lamented: I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50) The disciples would be able to drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism vicariously through Him. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did: cursed by God for the sins of others and lay His life down knowing He would pick it back up again. When we take communion, we are not drinking His cup, but we drink in remembrance of what He did – to cut the New Covenant in His blood to reconcile sinners to Holy God. When we are baptized, it is not merely following His example when John baptized Him in the Jordan. Paul asks, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3) And further he tells us, (1 Corinthians 12:13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. We were baptized into Christ’s death, the death He died for us, to break down what separates us from God and one another, to make one people that will bring honor and glory to His name.
Oh, the Savior’s love for His Father and all those He chose to redeem in Christ! Baptism: it’s an ordinance which shows how spiritually dead people have been raised to new life in Christ. But, oh my dear brothers and sisters, it is much, much more than that. I pray you have glimpsed a better, if incomplete, picture of the grand and glorious sacrifice of our Lord and Savior as prophesied and portrayed in various ways as a baptism into God the Father’s judgment. The price He paid and the suffering He took as He drank the cup of wrath due us, summed up the submersion and emersion as one is plunged beneath the waters of baptism and raised up from the deep as was our Savior. Let us never see baptism as the mere sprinkling of water over a little one who knows nothing and fears not the wrath of God, nor see it as only the celebration of a new-born brother in Christ. Let us always remember the One Who was baptized in a way you and I could never survive. Christ paid the price we could not pay. He drank the cup and underwent the baptism that we could not. Every time we see this ordinance, let us think on His sacrifice, His obedience, His submission. And let us be thankful we have a faithful God Who did not allow His Holy One to see corruption – that we would have the firm hope of life eternal. 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 (Romans 6:4). Water baptism is a glorious picture of our Redeemer and a reminder of the spiritual baptism mentioned here, when we were raised up to walk in Christ!