The Meaning of Baptism


The spiritual significance of baptism goes beyond any concern with a particular mode. Its true meaning is the identification of the believer with Christ.

Mark 1:4-11


Why was Christ baptized? John the Baptist was proclaiming the necessity of his baptism for the remission of sin. But Christ had no sin and, therefore, He needed no such baptism. The meaning of Christ’s baptism has been obscured by the current emphasis on baptism as the symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of the believer with Christ. The spiritual significance of baptism goes beyond any concern with a particular mode of water baptism. Its true meaning is the identification of the believer with Christ.

The origins of the word baptism precede any concept of immersion in water. Five hundred years before Christ the word immerse was used to describe the process of turning a piece of pink cloth into blue cloth, or yellow cloth into black cloth. In other words, the process of cleaning and dyeing. The dyer was called a “baptist”. In Athens five hundred years before Christ, you would have taken your cloth to Theophilus the Baptist in order to change its appearance and in so doing, its identity. 

In a similar way, there is an identification that takes place in baptism. For the believer, it is an identification into the whole of the work of Jesus Christ. For Christ, His baptism was an identification with humanity. The Lord Jesus Christ was becoming flesh for us.

Mark 1:4 tells us that John came and began to baptize in the desert, proclaiming baptism as the mark of a complete change of heart and of the forgiveness of sins. Now, of course, this could never have been applied to our sinless Saviour, and that is why Matthew records John’s protest at Christ’s request (Matthew 3:14). It seemed to John that the act of baptism would contradict the truth of the word he had just spoken at the leading of the Holy Spirit: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Such a lamb, as every Jew would know, could have no spot of sin in need of cleansing. Every year, when Jewish families would choose a Passover lamb, they had to examine it with great care. If it had the mark of a broken leg, a scratch on its ear, a torn place in the flesh, a wen, or a deformity, it was put aside. They needed a lamb without spot or blemish. This they would take into their home for three days, examine once again, and then kill.


  • How does Jesus’ baptism influence our view of baptism? What does it teach us?
  • What is the uniqueness of Jesus’ baptism as compared to the crowds who were baptized by John the Baptist? 
  • Is baptism only a symbol?


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