Saint John the Baptist

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

John the Baptizer in the Acts of the Apostles

Thus far in this series we have established that from the composition of the Gospel of Mark to that of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke there is a slight transition in how the authors present John the Baptizer. In the Second Gospel he is the forerunner for YHWH who is going to visit his people. He is the one who will introduce God’s anointed, the Messiah. The other two evangelist echo this message while at certain points providing a tad more clarification regarding the identity of John.

As we move to the second volume of Luke’s project on the origin of the Christian movement we see more of the same. Once again, John is prominent early. Before his ascension Jesus tells his disciples that the promised baptism of the Spirit is coming and he contrast this with the water baptism of John (1.5). This is something we saw throughout the Synoptics. John came with a message of repentance symbolized by water baptism–a cleaning ritual. John never claimed to be the one who could baptize with the promised New Covenant Spirit. He said one was coming that would do such a thing and when he baptized Jesus and the Spirit descended upon Jesus anointing him as Messiah it was at that point the distinction between John as forerunner and Jesus as Messiah was firmly established.

When Peter begins to address the other disciples in regards to choosing a replacement for Judas he marks the time of Jesus’ life to which they were to be witnesses as going from John’s baptism of Jesus to Jesus’ ascension into heaven (1.22). Later, when he is preaching to the household of Cornelius he uses John’s baptism as a similar marker immediately noting that Jesus is the one whom “God anointed…with the Holy Spirit and power” (10.37-38; cf. 13.23-24)).  This corresponds with the Synoptics as well. Jesus’ ministry begins as John’s fades away. Jesus is the one who brings the Spirit.

When Peter goes to Jerusalem to tell everyone about the conversion of the Gentiles he reminds his hearers that John came to baptize in water and now it is time for people to be baptized in the Spirit. This is his evidence that Gentiles are equal in the New Covenant with the Jews, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the words of the Lord, how he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ (11.15-16)

For Peter to know that Gentiles could be followers of the risen Messiah just like Jews he had to see them baptized in the Spirit in the same way that the Jews were welcomed into the New Covenant in the beginning (i.e. the Day of Pentecost)! Contrary to contemporary Pentecostal soteriology the reason for this type of outpouring was not to establish the nature of individualized salvific account. Rather, it was so Peter could know who was legitimately being welcomed into the New Covenant of Jesus the Messiah. He did not need to see the Spirit poured out in a dramatic way on all people; he needed to see Samaritans and Gentiles received the Spirit just like the Jews did. If Luke has any so-called doctrine of “initial evidence” it would be the initial evidence that Samaritans and Gentiles are part of the New Covenant on equal footing with the Jews!

Toward the end of his project Luke returns to contrasting John and Jesus by telling stories that indicate that John’s disciples had received insufficient revelation in contrast with those of Jesus. In 18.24-28 we find Apollos mentioned (you may remember Paul referencing him in his first letter to Corinth). Apollos is speaking about Jesus but it seems from a limited perspective that he had received from the message of John (Apollos being a Greek likely did not meet John himself, but maybe his disciples). Priscilla and Aquila take him in to teach him more about Christ.

This story leads right into the story of Paul’s encounter with more of John’s disciples in 19.1-7. In this narrative Paul meets a remnant of John’s disciples. He asks if they have received the Spirit when they believed. When they said they have not heard of the Spirit this likely means they had not heard of the Spirit being given. It is doubtful than disciples of John would have no knowledge of the Spirit.

At this point Paul asks what baptism they have received. They say they have received John’s. Here Luke is contrasting John’s water baptism with the Messiah’s Spirit baptism. John himself had said that the one to come would baptize with the Spirit. Jesus made this claim himself before the ascension. Peter verified the expansion of the Kingdom on the basis that he knew Samaritans and Gentiles were co-equal in the Kingdom because there was no denying they were welcomed into  the New Covenant just like the Jews. Now Luke has Paul telling disciples of John that John’s baptism was great but insufficient. What John had said was coming in the Messiah has now come and so the disciples of John merged allegiances by being baptized in water baptism unto Christ. This change of allegiance is rewarded as soon as Paul prays for them they receive the Spirit with outward signs like speaking in tongues and now the disciples of John know that Jesus is the one John has said would come because they have been “baptized in the Spirit”.

So now that we have explored the Synoptics and Acts it is evident that one of the most important themes that we can find across all four books is that John was the forerunner to the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Luke makes sure to tell his readers that this has happened since Jesus ascended into heaven. Followers of Jesus have the Spirit and therefore Jesus must be the one who John said to follow.