When Jesus was preparing His apostles for His return to His Father, He commissioned them to the work He had spent about three years preparing them for. Matthew’s record said, “All authority hath been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Mt. 28:18-19). Mark’s records the following: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16). There had been baptisms in Jesus’ personal ministry (Jn. 4:1-2), but that baptism was like that of John’s: a baptism of preparation for the coming kingdom. The baptism of Jesus’ personal ministry was limited in scope: disciples were to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5-7). When Jesus gave His apostles “the great commission,” it was of universal application: to every creature in every nation. Jesus commanded that men be baptized. Five questions will be examined in this and a following article.
First, what is the element of the baptism of the great commission? In pervious articles it was shown that some were baptized (overwhelmed) in the Holy Spirit. It was also shown that Jesus was baptized (overwhelmed) with suffering and that ultimately the wicked will be baptized (overwhelmed) in a baptism of fire. The element in which men are baptized in the great commission is water. When Philip preached to the eunuch, as they went on their way “they came to a certain water and the eunuch said, see, here is water? What doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). The record continued: “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38; cp. Eph. 5:26; 1 Pet. 3:19-21).
Second, what is the action of this baptism? Is it immersion, sprinkling, or pouring? Cited above is the incident of Philip and the eunuch. In that account the eunuch’s expressed desire was realized when both he and Philip went down into the water and came up from the water (Acts 8:38). And while they were in the water Philip baptized the eunuch. Immersion was certainly implied by that language. Romans 6:3-4 (and Col. 2:12) is even more definitive: “Or, are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.” In every example in which the action involved in baptism is demonstrated, it is always pictured as a burial. And when an inspired writer speaks of the action in baptism, it is always called a “burial.” Never is any action other than a burial (or an overwhelming) pictured. This accords perfectly with the definition of the Greek word baptisma “consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence …” (W.E. Vines, “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”). For many years the story has circulated, purportedly of Abraham Lincoln, in which President Lincoln asked an acquaintance, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does the dog have?” The answer given was “Five.” President Lincoln is reported to have replied, “Wrong. The dog has four legs. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” To our case in point, you can call sprinkling baptism all day long, but it doesn’t make it so. One who has been sprinkled for baptism hasn’t been baptized; he has been sprinkled. Such a one has not obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized and he needs to be immersed immediately.
Third, who may be baptized? At the house of Cornelius Peter exclaimed, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons but in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted to him” (Acts 10:34-35). This is in keeping with the great commission to teach all nations and baptize every creature, and it agrees with God’s promise to Abraham that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). Having said that, there are some persons who are not subjects of baptism. The eunuch asked Philip, “What doth hinder me to be baptized,” and Philip’s response, “If thou believest, thou mayest” (Acts 8:37) implies that had the eunuch not believed he could not have been baptized. A person must believe before he may scripturally be baptized and thus two groups of individuals are excluded. First, an atheist cannot be baptized because he does not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Second, an infant cannot believe and thus cannot be scripturally baptized. The purpose for baptism is connected with the removal of sins and infants have no sins. Contrary to popular belief man does not inherit sins from Adam. Of little children Jesus said, “Except ye turn and become as a little child ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:2; 19:14). No man bears the guilt of Adam’s sin, but all men suffer the consequences of it (Ezek. 18:20).
Thus, no one is a subject of baptism who does not believe. Nor is baptism for those who will not repent (Acts 2:38). Jesus confesses those who confess Him; He denies those who deny Him (Mt. 10:32-33). The sinner must confess, as the eunuch did, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).