John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. When asked who he was, he responded, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). He is mentioned by two Old Testament prophets (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 4:5-6). Jesus highly esteemed John by saying, “Of men born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist …” (Mt. 11:11) and had not the life and work of Jesus so greatly eclipsed that of John, we would likely appreciate him more. John came to prepare a people for the Lord. He is called “the Baptist,” not because he was a member of the “Baptist church” (no such group would exist for another 1,500 years). He was called “the Baptist” because he baptized people. Notice he is never called “a Baptist” — he is always referred to as “John the Baptist.”
The people of John’s day all “held him to be a prophet” (Mt. 21:26) and he had a huge impact on his nation in preparing them for Jesus. He was not only called “the voice,” but was also the embodiment of the prophet Elijah, so called by Malachi (Mal. 4:5-6; Mt. 17:10-13). To prepare his nation for their Messiah, he preached a message of repentance and baptism for remission of sins (Lk. 3:3). Jesus put rulers who questioned Him on the spot when He asked them, “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” (Mt. 21:25). The rulers knew that if were they to answer, “From heaven” Jesus would ask them, “Why did ye not receive it?” If they answered, “From men,” they feared the people because they considered John a prophet. They responded that they did not know. Yet, when they rejected John’s baptism they rejected God’s counsel (Lk. 7:29-30).
John’s baptism was in water (Mt. 3:11; Jn. 3:23). His baptism was in keeping with the meaning of the word (immersion): a going down into and a coming up out of (Mt. 3:16). John’s baptism was for a distinct purpose: “unto the remission of sins” (Lk. 3:3). Jesus was baptized by John although not for the remission of sins since he had no sins to remit. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:15). Jesus, in His personal ministry, followed the same practice of baptizing as did John, making more disciples than he, although He left the actual act of immersing in the hands of His disciples (Jn. 4:1-2).
John’s baptism was God ordained (Lk. 7:30), but temporary. On his second journey, Paul carried Priscilla and Aquila (two disciples he had worked with in Corinth) to Ephesus, leaving them there intending to return (Acts 18:18-21). In his absence a man named Apollos, said to be eloquent in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. He was eloquent, but he was deficient in his knowledge for he “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:24-26). Priscilla and Aquila “took him unto them and expounded to him the way of the Lord more perfectly.” When Paul arrived in Ephesus he found certain disciples and asked them, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, into John’s baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-5). From this example of John’s disciples being rebaptized into the name of Jesus Christ after they had already been baptized into John’s baptism, we see that John’s baptism is no longer to be practiced.
There are similarities and differences between John’s baptism and the baptism of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). Both baptisms were in water (Jn. 1:26; Acts 8:37-38). Both were for remission of sins (Lk. 3:3; Acts 2:38). But the baptism of John looked forward to Jesus’ coming while the baptism of the great commission looks backward to that glorious event. John’s baptism was ordained of God and for the remission of sins, but passed away because it was only intended until Jesus should come.