BAPTISM OF WATER, THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE
In Luke 3:16 and Matthew 3:11 we read, John the Baptist told a large crowd “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This reveals that there are three types of baptism – (i) Water baptism, (ii) Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and (iii) Baptism of fire. This is why many years later, the author of Hebrews lists “baptisms” (plural) as one of the foundational doctrines of the Church of God (Hebrews 6:2).
The word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which means “dip, immerse, submerge, baptize.” In the New Testament, baptism was practiced by John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples, and commanded by Jesus himself (Matthew 28:16-20) as a permanent ritual, or sacrament, that would introduce people into the Christian church. Those who are baptized are considered Christians, whether baptized as infants or as adults. Baptism itself is a ritual of cleansing. As originally practiced, it involved being fully immersed in flowing water such as the Jordan River. In non-religious terms, baptism is a bath. The purpose of a bath physically is to clean the body of dirt and impurities. Spiritually, therefore, baptism represents the cleansing of a person from evil, falsity, and sin. This is the first step in the process of being born again, or spiritual rebirth. That is why baptism is presented in the New Testament as “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38, 13:24, 19:4). Baptism is not about mere physical cleansing; it is a ritual symbolic of the spiritual cleansing of repentance from our sins, and thereby accepting God’s forgiveness, entering into the Christianity, and being born again as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The point of comparison between John the Baptist and the Messiah is in the medium in which or with which the baptism takes place. John immerses his disciples in water, while the Messiah will immerse his followers in the Holy Spirit and fire. Let us try to understand these three types of baptisms and their importance in our lives.
2.0 BAPTISM WITH WATER
John the Baptist was immersing people in the water of the Jordan River. That’s what water baptism literally is: the complete immersion of a human body in water for “the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Immersion in water symbolizes the burial of the “old man” and the forgiving of past sin. John was baptizing in the Jordan River, and probably assisted penitents by either dipping them into the water himself (or perhaps by assisting them to dip themselves). Jesus did not annul this form of water baptism but continued it, having own disciples baptize believers in his name (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 3:22, 26; 4:1-2; Acts 2:38, 41).
The Early Church understood water baptism much as John the Baptist did, representing God’s cleansing and the washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16). It is a baptism of repentance still, since by submitting to Christian baptism, a person either tacitly or explicitly acknowledges his need for cleansing, and therefore his sins that demand forgiveness and cleansing. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told his convicted hearers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), tightly tying repentance to baptism as John the Baptist had done (Luke 3:3).
Baptism with water, then, represents allowing our lives to be cleansed by the truth of Jesus’ teaching. But more specifically, the baptism of water performed by John the Baptist was a baptism of repentance from evil, falsity, and sin in a person’s outward behaviour. When the people being baptized by John asked him what they must do, he told them that they must stop acting wrongly, and start acting rightly: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)
The first baptism, then, baptism by water, represents the cleansing of our outward actions, and our speech, from evil, falsity, and sin. The first step in Christian life and rebirth is to stop speaking falsehoods and lies, and stop doing things that are evil and sinful. This is the “baptism of water for repentance” practiced by John the Baptist and by the disciples of Jesus.
3.0 BAPTISM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
Before this time, when people were baptized by a servant of God, they only were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Beginning on the Day of Pentecost, a new element was added to Christian baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Roughly 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to the apostles and told them that they would soon be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Act 1:5). Jesus’ statement was fulfilled a few days later on the Day of Pentecost when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4, emphasis added throughout). This was the fulfilment of what John the Baptist and Jesus had said would happen. This was the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In the book of John, Chapter 3, the words “born again” come from Jesus Himself when He is explaining to Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, what you need to do to see the kingdom of God: “Jesus replied [to Nicodemus], “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)
A well-known passage in the Old Testament, with which Nicodemus should have been familiar, is Ezekiel 36:25-27. In this passage, the image of cleansing with water is given as symbol of spiritual cleansing: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27) Nicodemus should have picked up on this Old Testament reference in Jesus’ explanation of “born again” and understood that “born again” refers to the water and spirit mentioned in Ezekiel 36. To be born again is to have sin and impurity cleansed from your heart and to receive new spiritual life.
Later the book of Acts reveals that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” takes place after a person is baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins through a ceremony called the laying on of hands. “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14–17)
Moreover, in Acts 11:12 we read another incidence when three men arrived Joppa and asking Peter to go with them to the house of a Gentile, and the Holy Spirit said, “go with them, making no distinction” (Acts 11:12). When Peter arrived at the house, the man told him that “he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household’” (Acts 11:13–14), and as Peter began to speak, “the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15), and as this happened, he remembered “the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:16)
4.0 BAPTISM WITH FIRE
Luke 3: 16 and Matthew 3:11 mention three types of baptism. One is called a baptism of fire. What exactly is the baptism of fire? Some people believe that on the Day of Pentecost, the baptism with fire also took place. This is based on a misunderstanding of Acts 2:3: “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” But notice that these were tongues “as of” fire, not literal fire. The baptism of fire is something totally separate from water baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. Confusion about this has led some people to desire fire to be a part of their baptism. Let’s now discover exactly what it means to be baptized with fire. As we will see, the baptism of fire is something nobody should desire to experience!
We learn the answer by reading the context of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus baptizing “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Right before the statement, he talked about what will ultimately happen to those who don’t “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Notice what John said about those not bearing fruit: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). A few verses later he said, “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). John was warning that fire will be the fate of those who refuse to repent and “bear good fruit” i.e. fruit of the Holy Spirit.
This refers to the final punishment for unrepentant people after Jesus Christ’s return and 1,000-year rule on earth. Revelation 20:15 tells us that unrepentant people will be “cast into the lake of fire.” This is what the baptism of fire is. The baptism of fire is being immersed in the lake of fire. Unlike water baptism, which is immersion in water to “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), the baptism of fire is immersion in fire that results in eternal death (Romans 6:23). This is the “everlasting punishment” that Jesus later referred to (Matthew 25:46).
It is a prophecy of the eschatological separation of the righteous from the unrighteous, and judgment by the Messiah at the end of the age. This fit contemporary expectation of the Messiah, as well as the words “cleanse thoroughly” and “unquenchable fire” contained in the passage. Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:30, 41-42) includes this kind of analogy of separation and final judgment. The baptism with fire will be the destruction of incorrigible sinners who refuse to repent. Some of these people are described in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-27. When Christ returns, he will come in judgment. The first time he came in mercy, but when he returns at the End of the Age it will be with final, terrible judgment.
Since baptism in general represents a cleansing of Christian believers from evil, falsity, and sin, each of these forms of baptism represent a cleansing at a different level of a Christian’s life. The first baptism, then, baptism by water, represents the cleansing of our outward actions, behaviour and our speech, from evil, falsity, and sin. Before this time (Pentecost), when people were baptized by a servant of God, they only were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Beginning on the Day of Pentecost, a new element was added to Christian baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Later the book of Acts reveals that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” takes place after a person is baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins through a ceremony called the laying on of hands.
We see an example of this process in Acts 19. When Paul was in Ephesus, he came across a group of disciples who, he discovered, had not experienced a full Christian baptism. But after they learned the fullness of the gospel, Paul helped them take the next steps:
- First, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). This was water baptism by immersion whereby they accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour and received forgiveness of their sins.
- Second, “Paul … laid hands on them, [and] the Holy Spirit came upon them” (Acts 19:6). This completed the baptism process and provided them the Holy Spirit. This was baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit is the cleansing of our mind, emotion and intellect [soul] from falsity and error. Baptism with fire is the cleansing of our heart [spirit] from evil impulses and desires forever. The Bible shows that those who are destroyed in the lake of fire will be destroyed forever. They will not be cruelly tormented in hell for eternity but will be mercifully destroyed and cease to exist.