Read: Matthew 3:1-17
In Matthew 3:14, John the Baptist told Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” This is the humble, honest confession of one of the greatest men who ever graced planet earth. In fact, according to the statement of Jesus, up to that time in history there had never been a man born of woman that was greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).
The Character of John the Baptist
John the Baptist was a God-sent man. He was born to Zacharias and Elizabeth and filled with the Spirit while yet in the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15). His mission in life, according to the angel Gabriel, was to be the forerunner of the Messiah.
John, as “the prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76), would minister “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” seeking “to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
Not only was John a great man and a God-sent man, he was a faithful man. When he was grown, we find him boldly declaring God’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). He offered “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).
He was also a humble man. When the Jewish authorities came and asked him if he, John, was the predicted Messiah, he replied, “I am not.” He then described the Messiah’s ministry.
“As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear thoroughly His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16-17).
John the Baptist stirred the hearts of the Jewish people. Great crowds gathered around him to hear his message and many turned to God. In the midst of what the world would call a “successful ministry,”
John shows that he is not self-motivated and egotistical. When he recognized the personal identity of the Messiah, he cried, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Shortly thereafter the crowds began to forsake John and started following Jesus. When some of John’s disciples tried to stir up jealousy and resentment, John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
John was delighted that his followers, who had been so faithful to him, should turn their backs on him and follow Jesus. John’s response demonstrated that not only was he not jealous or resentful of Jesus’ popularity, but he truly had a servant’s heart, for a faithful servant rejoices when his master‘s work prospers!
The Confession of John the Baptist
Yet, when John the Baptist stood in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had come to participate in John’s baptism, this great and godly man bowed his head and confessed to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you” (Matt. 3:14).
No, John was not talking about water baptism. He was not saying that he needed Jesus to baptize him with water for the remission of his sins. Every Gospel writer that mentions the ministry of John the Baptist speaks of him only in glowing terms. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that John himself was not saved. He, without doubt, was a godly man.
However, John the Baptist knew that the Messiah had come into the world to administer a specific kind of baptism, a baptism that did not involve water. God had told John that the person “upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).
Thus John is confessing his need for the type of baptism the Messiah will perform: a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John’s confession is all the more remarkable since the Bible declares that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Evidently, the “filling” with the Holy Spirit that John experienced before his birth, and the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire that Jesus would offer His followers, are different in nature.
The first “filling with the Holy Spirit” that John experienced was an equipping and an anointing by the Holy Spirit for John’s ministry as the forerunner of the Messiah. Such a “filling” with the Holy Spirit was also experienced by his mother Elizabeth, when she was visited by Mary, the mother of Jesus.
At the sound of Mary’s greeting, baby John leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” with the result that she received divine insight into what had transpired when the angel Gabriel told Mary of her role as the Messiah’s mother (Luke 1:39-45).
Such a filling also happened to John’s father, Zacharias, who, at John’s birth, was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “prophesied” (Luke 1:67-79). Evidently, these fillings with the Holy Spirit enabled and equipped the recipients to say and to do what God wanted said and done.
On the other hand, Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit was identified by Luke as being identical to “the promise of the Father” spoken of by the prophet Joel. Luke 24:49 records that Jesus told His disciples, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” This command is also repeated in Acts 1:4-5.
According to Acts 2:1-4:
when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Later in the same day, Peter preached to the crowd of people who had gathered to see what was happening. He explained that Jesus had risen from the dead and had ascended to heaven. Then he said, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
According to Peter, Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. Further, Peter, a few years later at the Jerusalem counsel, added that the baptism of the Spirit that occurred on the day of Pentecost resulted in their hearts being purified by faith (Acts 15:9).
The Confusion People Have About the Baptism of the Holy Spirit
The Book of Acts records four specific events when people received the baptism with the Holy Spirit. It occurred at Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), at Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), and at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). From these four events, we learn the following truths about how to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
The baptism with the Holy Spirit follows no consistent pattern. There were a variety of ways that the believers in the early church received this baptism. Some had dramatic phenomenon like wind and fire accompany their baptism, others did not.
Some are baptized in water before the experience, others are not. Some receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, others do not. Some receive it as the result of the man of God praying for them, others do not. Some first receive teaching about the Holy Spirit before they receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, others do not.
As a result of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, some speak in tongues, others do not. Some prophesy, others do not. If a person seeks to compare the recorded experiences in Acts of people who received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and then asks, “Who is right?” they will learn that all of the descriptions are right because they are telling their personal experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
However, all of them would be wrong if they insisted that every other person’s experience related to being baptized with the Holy Spirit be exactly the same as theirs. The Book of Acts gives us the record of the practices and experiences of the early Church. It is the Epistles that give us the teachings of the early Church, and none of the Epistles stress the way or manner in which one is to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
What we learn from Acts is the purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that it provided the needed power and incentive to be witnesses for Jesus wherever they went (Acts 1:8).
There is one thing that both the Book of Acts and the Epistles make clear: A person cannot be baptized with the Holy Spirit without experiencing change. The baptism with the Holy Spirit resulted in praise. The baptism with the Holy Spirit resulted in heart purity and power; power to witness, power to heal, power to live victorious lives.
The baptism with the Holy Spirit also resulted in unity. It is not just John the Baptist who needed Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. That baptism is needed today. All of God’s children need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.