So far, in the Gospel of Mark…
- Jesus is the victorious emperor
- Jerusalem was spiritually Egypt, and Jesus will rescue His people from the new Egypt.
- Jerusalem was spiritually Babylon, and Jesus will bring his people out of the exile in Jerusalem.
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Where was John the Baptist?
John the Baptist was near the Jordan River, which was the border area of Israel. A good question, as we will see going forward, is “on which side of the border was John?” Thankfully, Scripture doesn’t leave us hanging! John was in the wilderness, outside of Israel.
Don’t miss the point. The man who was “crying out” in the wilderness in preparation for the ministry of Jesus was not a leader in the institutional church. He was not a priest in the temple. Nor was he a rabbi in the synagogue. Remember the theme we saw in the last post? Spiritually, Israel was Egypt and Babylon. Israel was God’s enemy due to her unfaithfulness. John the Baptist was ministering outside of the institutional church.
Just the location of John’s ministry is another indicator of the disobedience of Israel and Jesus’ war with Jerusalem.
What was John doing?
John was in the wilderness near the border river of the Jordan. And he wasn’t twirling his thumbs out there sitting on his butt. No, he was baptizing. The temptation for some people is to think that something new and crazy is happening here. The Old Testament had baptisms throughout, but they were called purification rituals. These purification rituals were given to proselytes and their family upon entrance into the covenant community. Only priests were allowed to do these rituals. Why does this matter?
John was baptizing (purifying) in the wilderness, outside of the land of Israel and the religious institution. This is another sign of Jesus’ warfare against wicked Jerusalem. John (a new leader for God’s people) was baptizing and teaching (roles of a priest) repentance from Jerusalem (the old, broken, and disobedient administrators) to follow the Messiah (Jesus and the Kingdom of God).
Where was John baptizing?
John was baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness. What did it mean? What was happening? When we have a question about a particular portion of the Bible, the best place to look for answers is in other parts of the Bible. The old saying goes, “scripture interprets scripture.”
When trying to understand why something happens in the New Testament, an often neglected option for finding the solution is ignored: looking to the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul himself practiced this method of interpretation. Paul refers to the Exodus as a baptism — God’s people passed through the waters of judgment.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
Paul, in teaching that the Hebrew people’s passing through the Red Sea (Exodus 14) was a baptism, we learn a few things about baptism. Baptism is moving from a negative situation (slavery in Egypt), passing safely through God’s judgment (crossing the sea on dry land), the destruction of our enemies (the Pharoah and his army), and the establishment of His Kingdom.
Through the water to God
Besides the baptisms of John the Baptist and the Exodus, where else can we find baptisms in the Old Testament using the three aspects we learned above? Where else do we see people passing through/by water to get to God?
First, the crossing of the Jordan found in the book of Joshua (chapter 3). The people were going from the wilderness (negative situation), passing through the Jordan on dry ground (passing safely through God’s judgment), into the promised land to conquer the evil inhabitants (the Canaanites).
Second, there was a huge metal bowl called the “bronze ocean” or the “sea of cast metal” (1 Kings 7:23-26). It was filled with water. The priests would come to the temple from the world of pollution (negative situation), symbolically purify himself by washing his hands and feet (passing safely through God’s judgment), and begin to work against the domain of sin and build a kingdom of righteousness (sacrifices for covering sin).
Third, there was the proselyte baptism, which was given to every Gentile who entered into the covenant by faith with their family. They would be circumcised and baptized (purification ceremony). They were leaving their life without promise (bad situation), being purified and separated from their old world symbolically by baptism (passing safely through God’s judgment), set free from the bondage of their old gods (idols), and transferred to a Kingdom of life and promise (Covenant of Grace).
A fourth example would be the baptisms (purifications) that follow after becoming “impure” according to God’s Law. These baptisms would be for the mother and children after the birthing process (Leviticus 12), someone who touches a dead body (Numbers 31:19-20), someone with leprosy (Leviticus 14:1-7), Gentiles who enter into the covenant, as well as others. Those who were either uncircumcised (Isaiah 52:1; 35:8; Acts 10:28), and those who broke any of the cleanliness laws, they were counted as dead. Understanding this fourth point also helps to explain what “baptized for the dead” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:29 means.
What was the baptism of John telling us?
Baptism, as seen in the teaching of Paul and the Old Testament examples, is a movement towards God. Michael Horne writes, “Passing through water means moving closer to where God is and typically involves repentance and abandonment of, or deliverance from, the old in order to attain the new.” (The Victory According To Mark, p. 25). Repentance or deliverance and access to God’s presence is what Biblical baptism represents.
Why was he wearing camel hair?
Short answer: John the Baptist in the new Elijah. We get a visual indication of this since Elijah wore the same clothes. The most convincing reason to believe this is because Jesus refers to John the Baptist as the new Elijah (Luke 1:17). It wasn’t only the clothes John wore that made Jesus say he came “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” It was also John’s actions.
Elijah was a prophet who did ministry mostly in the wilderness, told rulers to repent, performed many works, and met with God. John performed these same tasks. John preached and baptized in the desert, told Herod to repent of his sin, faithfully served God, and met the God-man, Jesus Christ.
Why was he eating locusts?
Throughout the Bible, God sent locusts to punish nations who disobeyed him. He sent them against pagan nations who rebelled against him (Exodus 10), and God promised to bring them against Israel if she went against Him (Deuteronomy 28). Locusts were also considered a clean animal for the Jews to eat (Leviticus 11:22). So, why was the new Elijah (John) eating locusts?
John the Baptist eating locusts tells us that the new clean (righteous) Emperor (Jesus) is going to be dealing with curses. He will curse Israel for its failure in faith and obedience (as seen when Vespasian and Titus invaded Israel, in Revelation 9’s reference to locusts, and in the events leading up to Matthew 24). And God would bless the new Israel of God, the Church (Galatians 6:16). Jesus is both the curse-giver and the curse-remover.
Why was he eating honey?
Honey is a gift of God to His faithful people throughout the whole Bible. It was a sign of His blessings. The Emperor (Jesus) that John the Baptist was preparing the people for, would be dealing with blessings.
John was offering a peace treaty
Why did John call the people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2)? Was John giving a warning? Was he making a demand? What does this have to do with the Gospel (good news of the Emperor)? The ministry and preaching of John the Baptist was an act of obedience to Deuteronomy 20:10-12:
“When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.”
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to establish it (“fulfill it”). Jesus was about to go to spiritual war with Israel, and in order for it to be a “just war,” Israel had the opportunity to surrender to the rightful King. Israel chose not to, and in doing so, Israel chose war.
What does this teach us about Jesus?
- Jesus is going to enter a war with Jerusalem. Jesus is not only the slaughtered lamb for the sins of the world, but He is also the lion-man. The conquering King.
- He will not only bring war against Jerusalem, but he will also rescue those who repent and enter into the New Covenant.
- Jesus will bring curses on those who oppose His kingdom, and blessings on those in His Kingdom
- Jesus’ people will be marked by baptism – moved from “cursed-for-sin” to “blessed-with-forgiveness.”
So what? (Application)
- That if we trust in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, for the forgiveness of our sins, then Jesus has consumed our curse.
- If our curse has been taken away, our normative assumption should be that God would bless us. We are actually commanded to believe that God will bless us with answered prayers (Matthew 18:19; Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; John 14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24).
- Baptism is our gift to remember that we are God’s, and are no longer under the curse, but are alive in the covenant. Remember your baptism when:
- You feel the pressure of unbelieving friends and family questioning your motives, faith, and actions.
- The temptation to get stuck in paralyzing introspection after falling into sin.
- Obeying God will put you in troubles path with human authorities.
- We should not support wars or conflicts that do not extend peace before engagement. To do so would be unlawful.
- A personal application of this could be the Matthew 18 process for dealing with a brother who has sinned against you.
- We should recognize that when an organization, group, or institution is working against Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, we should obey God by not joining in covenants and contracts with them. If we are in contracts and partnership with them, we must part ways. For example:
- Partnerships with someone who lives an openly sinful and lawless life. His life calls for God’s punishment and putting the resources God has given you to steward in that kind of relationship is foolish at best, and sinful at worst.
- Putting yourself under voluntary accreditation or certification from an institution that doesn’t operate under Biblical standards.
- Both of these simple examples would also fall under Jesus command not to “mix yoke.”
- Just because we are Christians (God’s people), we should not doubt that God may visit us with judgment for our rebellion against Him.
- This happened when many times in Israel and the Church’s history.
- When Israel was traveling in the wilderness, many punishments were brought against them for their unbelief and grumbling.
- When Israel did not practice the Jubilee Year 70 times, God sent them into Babylonian captivity.
- God will ignore the prayers of a husband who treats his wife in an unbiblical way (1 Peter 3:7)
- He will not answer prayers when we ask them to fulfill our lusts (James 4:3)
- God does not answer our prayers when we ask without the faith that He will answer them (James 1:6)
- God ignores prayers for continual unrighteous behavior (Isaiah 59:2; John 15:7; 1 Peter 3:12)
- He collectively punishes a nation for their sin, and even individual Christians can be included (Leviticus 26:14–39; Deuteronomy 28:15–68)
- This happened when many times in Israel and the Church’s history.
- Be courageous to challenge rulers, religious institutions and their leaders, and individuals by telling them to repent of their sin, be baptized, and follow King Jesus.
- This can be done in sermons, articles, newspaper entries, videos, podcasts, interviews, letters to representatives, local city council meetings, as well as other forms.
- Participate in non-violent forms of dissent against wicked rulers: taking children out of government school, denying government welfare that is funded by stealing (coercive taxation), etc.
Check out the next installment in the series where we delve into nature of the commission of Christ.
Matt is a husband, father, and an avid reader. He holds a bachelor’s degree from New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy in Applied Christian Studies.