Baptism is understood to be an action, undertaken by an individual, which is intended to represent that they are entering into a covenant relationship with God. Complete submersion into the baptismal waters symbolizes the grave (for a person who is fully submersed in water cannot remain alive for long — they soon drown). It typifies the death of the sinful nature, and indicates the person’s willingness, nay even desire, for self-ishness to have an end. It speaks to both the transition that is about to happen, and the change of state that is to be made by it.
The transition is going from life (the pre-baptismal condition), to death (symbolized by the submersion), back to life again (represented by the emersion from the watery tomb). The change of state indicates the man or woman is no longer going to be who they used to be, or live in the same manner as they had previously lived.
The pre-baptismal condition, is a life, but it is only a dead life, because it is a life of sin; and although there are many roads which lead to sin, the only road that sin leads to is death. Self-ish-ness literally means “One who is about themself”, indicating a person who only looks after their own interests. Is there a life more lonely or dead than one such as this? This is the life the individual is to die to, leaving their own will behind. The old self lies at rest in the waters, where the transition is made. Coming up out of the water, he or she has now been symbolically raised from the dead and born again into a new life, a living life, a self-less life. As this is the only sustainable life, continuing to walk according to this new state and manner of living is the only path which leads to Eternal life.
But baptism is merely symbolic: it has no power to actually affect a change within the person, in and of itself. In order to walk a new Path, one must have a Guide to show the Way; and in order to be made capable of living in accordance with the will of God, the man or woman must first be granted a new, spiritual nature. This is accomplished by God’s gift of his Holy Spirit, which now is made to dwell within, and grow along with, the newborn child of God — to be his Teacher, Comforter, Counselor, and Friend. Without the power of God’s Spirit to instill a new nature, the only possible outcome of baptism would be a continuation of, and return to, the old, pre-established ways.
The terms of the transaction, or the agreement being made between the two parties could be written up as follows:
I (the individual being baptized), by this action do hereby acknowledge before God:
- That He is absolutely Sovereign. By my entrance into these waters, I signify my willingness and desire to follow and obey your will alone, O Father, as you are my Creator and the Sustainer of my life.
- That prior to entering into this covenant, the life I had lived was one of sin.
- That sin should not and cannot continue to exist; and therefore you are justified in pronouncing the judgment of death as your condemnation of sin.
- That I repent and no longer wish to live in the same sinful ways as I have done previously; but I am powerless to change my nature. Just as no cat can will itself to become a lion, I cannot but be anything other than what I am, unless You, O God, make me into something more.
- That just as I am powerless to change my nature, I cannot atone for my sins by my own virtue — I need a Savior. (For more on this, see the article Why did Jesus have to die?)
- That your only begotten Son was and is that Messiah, who was and is the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for sin.
- That from henceforth I will look to Him for the strength necessary to walk in Your ways and carry out your will and to forsake my own.
God, for His part, promises:
- To forgive all sin by an act of grace, which was supplied by the death of His Son.
- To place His holy spirit within the believer to supply their every need.
- To be faithful, even when we are unfaithful.
- To never leave or forsake you as you attempt to walk the path of righteousness
- An Eternal reward for continued obedience.
Having now discussed the nature of baptism as a covenant existing between God and man, have you ever considered that the earth itself has undergone a baptism, and indeed will do so yet once more? A man’s baptism is undertaken voluntarily; the earth however, was and will be, subjected involuntarily.
The earth’s first baptism was the Flood; which was a baptism by water. It occurred to wash away the corruption from the sins that had taken place in it, and it represented a physical cleansing.
The second will occur at the Lord’s return, and will be a baptism of fire. It will not only wash away corruption — it will completely consume it. It represents a spiritual cleansing — the removal of all that can be corrupted, so that only that which is spiritual and eternal remains. It will be the end of the physical universe.
The baptism by water, as it was the earth’s first, had but one witness — Noah — who both testified of its imminent arrival, and survived the judgment it proclaimed.
The baptism of fire, being the second baptism, has two heralds — known as the two witnesses — who are the two olive trees spoken of in Zec. 4 and in Rev. 11:4. They currently stand in the presence of the Lord; one to His right, and the other to His left. As they have been in the heavens, they have witnessed all that has been transacted below. When they appear, they will be pronouncing the imminent arrival of the Lord, testifying of the Righteousness of the coming Judgment according to all that they have been witness to, and proclaiming the need for repentance; just as Noah had done in his day.
They are Enoch and Elijah, the only two men Scripture records as having been translated; and the purpose of their translation was to serve as the end time witnesses. Enoch is the scribe of the righteous, recording all that is good; and he will be sent to testify of the blessings prepared by God for those who love and obey Him. Elijah is the scribe for the wicked, recording all that has merited Judgment. He will testify to the destruction that awaits all those who hate God and reject His Son. He called down fire from heaven during his time on earth, and Scripture informs he will command it to fall again, upon all who oppose him.