Baptism and Union with Christ

“Baptism of the Neophytes” by Masaccio, circa 1426-27

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In this series, I have already discussed the baptism of John, the rather unique baptism of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that most people are eager for me to jump ahead and say conclusively whether we should be giving New Covenant baptism to infants. Not yet, my friends! There is a specific reason for my manner of proceeding. Everyone wants to start at that place which is really the end of the theological road. It is better for us to consider other factors before we make a final determination about whether we should dunk or sprinkle…or something else entirely.

There is one place in the Gospel of Luke where Christ talks about baptism in a way that seems rather different from anything else we have discussed. Let’s take a moment to consider His words on that occasion.

I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Luke 12:49-53 (emphasis added)

What did Jesus mean when He said that he had a “baptism to undergo”? He made this comment in the middle of His earthly ministry. That allows us to rule out the possibility that He was talking about the water baptism of John, which He had already received. It also allows us to rule out the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit had already descended on Him visibly in the form of a dove. We can furthermore rule out the possibility that Jesus is talking about a water baptism identical to what Christians receive today, for He never had one. No, I believe that the baptism Christ is describing here is more metaphorical: it is a baptism of suffering. Continue reading