THE INAUGURAL PERIOD
The Inaugural Period begins with the ministry of John the Baptist in calling the people of Israel to repentance, and includes the Baptism of Jesus by John, the Temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness, John’s Testimony concerning Jesus, the Calling of the first disciples, and the first Miracle of Jesus at Cana in Galilee.
Next to Jesus Christ, and perhaps to Peter, John the Baptist is the most important person in the Gospels. While the name of Jesus appears some 615 times in the Gospels, Peter occurs about 94 times, and John 85 times. But since John was beheaded early in the Gospel records, and Peter is found throughout, John actually has the numerical superiority. Numbers are not necessarily a criterion of importance, but at least Christ spoke very highly of John’s importance: “But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, and I say unto you much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Lk. 7: 26-28).
Jesus left Nazareth and went to Bethabara to be baptized by John. This was His inauguration into His public ministry. Immediately after this He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by the Devil for forty days, Matthew has Him going immediately to Galilee to Nazareth and Capernaum, as does Mark. Luke has Him going to Galilee and preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. The gospel of John does not mention either the Baptism of Jesus or the Temptation, but he has Him in Galilee finding some of His first disciples, performing the first of His miracles at the wedding in Cana, and then going for a brief stay in Capernaum with His mother and brothers.
1. The Ministry of John the Baptist Including the Baptism of Jesus
(References: Matt. 3:1-17;Mk. 1:1-11; Lk. 3:1-23)
A. The Person of John. We have seen who John was from his birth and parentage. What further does Scripture say about him? The angel told Zacharias he would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. When the disciples came down from the mount of transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, the disciples asked why the scribes say that Elijah must first come and restore all things. Jesus replied, “Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, the Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matt. 17:10-13). Also in Matt. 11:14 Jesus said of John: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come.” Thus, if Israel had received John the Baptist, he would have been the Elijah who was to come. But they did not receive him or Christ, and it appears that there must be one in the future who will fulfill this office to Israel. Many suppose that one of the two witnesses of Rev. 11:3 will be Elijah, although neither of these witnesses is received by Israel, nor do they restore all things.
B. The Baptism of John. John came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Some suppose, because the word baptism first occurs in our English Bibles in connection with John, that John was the first to practice baptism. However, Heb. 9:10 informs us that Judaism had its standing in meats, and drinks, and divers or various baptisms. The Mosaic ceremonial had many baptism rites which had been practiced for 1500 years before John came on the scene. The people did not ask John what baptism meant, but why he was baptizing if he wasn’t the Messiah. But John was a priest and the priests were the ones empowered to practice baptism.
John’s baptism was for the remission or forgiveness of sins. A great deal of confusion arises when water baptism or even the forgiveness of sins is equated with personal salvation. What most students fail to recognize is that Israel as a nation was in covenant relationship with God, a relationship shared by no other nation in history. The covenant made them near to God, whereas the Gentiles were far off. This fact is clearly stated by Paul in Eph. 2:17. Now that Israel has fallen and has been set aside for the duration of this dispensation, there are no people who can claim a nearness to God by nature. All are far off and can only be brought near through the merits of the blood of Christ. But when John came preaching the baptism of repentance Christ had not yet shed His blood and there was a nation that could claim nearness to God. This covenant people had transgressed the covenant and John came to call them back to a place of fellowship with God within the covenant.
Today when we preach the Gospel of salvation, we do not ask people to become readjusted to the covenant by baptism and repentance. We tell people that they are lost, without hope, and without God, and that God has provided a way through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to justify them before God and give them eternal life. This salvation is given as a gift of grace and received through faith apart from our own good works. After we accept this message of salvation our personal lives may still fall short of the standard God has set for us and there is then need for us to repent and to change our mind about our life and to confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness from our Father. This is not an experience of getting saved all over again, but simply a renewal of one who is already saved. Thus there is a vast difference between an unregenerate sinner coming to God by faith and receiving remission of the eternal penalty of sin, and the coming of one who is already saved and keeping his manner of life adjusted to the will of God by admitting his shortcomings and being restored to a place of fellowship and blessing. John’s message of repentance to Israel was in many ways similar to the latter experience. He was not making them God’s people: they were already that by the covenant but was calling them back to fellowship and blessing.
C. The Mode of John’s Baptism. Nothing is said of the actual mode, which could have been sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. That was not the important thing. The important thing is that baptism was for cleansing. All of the many baptisms of the Old Testament were for cleansing. When John was baptizing at Aenon we read that a question arose about purifying or cleansing (John 3:25). Why a question about purifying? Simply because that was the purpose of baptism, to cleanse at the time. What did the Lord tell Saul to do when he was converted?
“Arise, and be baptized, washing away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). What were the Jews supposedly doing when they baptized their couches, their pots and pans (Mk. 7:4)? The meaning is so evident that the translators used the word “wash” to translate baptism. There is a mistaken idea, based on Rom. 6:3,4 that baptism represents a burial. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Romans Paul is talking about the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
D. The Baptism of Jesus. The question John asked, and the question anyone would ask is, “If baptism represents a cleansing from sin, why would Jesus present Himself as a candidate for baptism?” Matthew alone voices tiffs objection by John. John recognized that he was a sinner and needed rather to be baptized by Christ. But Jesus answered him: “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean? Jesus was here being inducted into His office of Prophet, Priest, and King. Under the law when a priest was inducted into office he was first washed with water and then anointed (Ex. 29:4-7). Here Jesus submits to John’s washing and that was followed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Him as a dove, with the accompanying voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The name “Christ” means the anointed One. Christ thus identified Himself with His sinful people in view of that final identification upon the cross, where He took the sinner’s place and thus righteously satisfied the penalty of the law. He was reckoned among the transgressors. He was made sin for us, although He was sinless, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus Christ is the only person who could have thus fulfilled all righteousness. When people say they are following Jesus in baptism, they may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. They might as well speak of following Christ in His death on the Cross. Only He could do this work.
E. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire. John predicted that the Messiah, who would take up where he left off, would baptize the people, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. We know that Christ did baptize His Jewish believers with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost in the Book of Acts. Luke calls this baptism an “enduement with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). This baptism was manifested by outward signs, tongues of fire, speaking with other tongues, the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. We believe that this baptism which Christ performed at Pentecost is an entirely different work from that described by Paul in 1 Cor. 12:13, where the Holy Spirit is said to baptize the believer into the one Body of Christ.
The baptism with fire has not yet taken place. Notice that immediately following the statement about baptizing with fire, John says: “but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable” (Lk. 3:16,17). Therefore we believe the baptism with fire will occur at the second coming of Christ, when He comes in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon them that know not God (2 Th. 1:8). Some believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is just one baptism and that the fire refers to the tongues of fire that appeared at Pentecost.
F. John’s Preaching. John insisted that the people produce works which proved they had repented. Being naturally descended from Abraham was not enough. See Rom. 9:6-13 for Paul’s discussion of relationship to Abraham. Luke gives us some of the answers John gave to different classes who asked what they should do to prove their repentance. The people were not saved by their works. Their works were the result of their repentance. Believers today are not saved by works, but they are saved unto good works (Eph. 2: 10; Tit. 3:8,14).
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)