I have a question about baptism. In what way did the baptism of John the Baptizer and the baptism that followed by Jesus' disciples differ, if the second one was not about dedication?
Concerning John the Baptist we are told that he “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying: ‘REPENT, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country around the Jordan made their way out to him, and people were baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins.” To the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him, he said, “YOU offspring of vipers, who has intimated to YOU to flee from the coming wrath? So then produce fruit that befits repentance . . . I, for my part, baptize YOU with water because of YOUR repentance. . .” (Matthew 3:1,2,5-8,11)
In the gospel of Mark we are told that “John the baptizer turned up in the wilderness, preaching baptism [in symbol] of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” And Paul told the synagogue in Antioch that “John, in advance of the entry of that One, had preached publicly to all the people of Israel baptism [in symbol] of repentance.” (Mark 1:4; Acts 13:24, NWT)
Please note that John’s baptism was for repentance of sins, not for the forgiveness of them. There is a difference! Repentance comes before forgiveness. Indeed, without repentance there is no forgiveness. (Luke 13:3,5; 2 Peter 3:9) Jehovah sent John the Baptist to prepare his people for the one—Christ Jesus—who would provide the means for having their sins forgiven. John, as the forerunner, preached the need for repentance, and then made it possible for them to publicly display their repentance by getting baptized by him. (Mark 1:2-4; Acts 13:24) He drew attention to the coming of that one as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus’ shed blood made possible the forgiveness of sins. “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:22; Heb. 9:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24)
After Jesus’ death, baptism was no longer about repentance of sins but also now included forgiveness of them. That is why Peter told the crowd at Pentecost: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins (not simply for repentance), and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.” John’s baptism of repentance was no longer valid after Jesus’ death. Thereafter forgiveness of sins was possible, and that was the message Jesus’ disciples preached. Those who were baptized by John did not need to get re-baptized, a second time, because Jehovah accepted their original baptism for repentance; and now by applying to them the merits of Jesus’ blood he forgave their sins. Simply put, John began baptizing for repentance for forgiveness of sins, and upon his death Jesus fulfilled it when the forgiveness became possible. This, by the way, also proves that the meaning of John’s baptism did not change from repentance to that of a person’s dedication to God, as the Society claims. Otherwise, all who had been baptized by John for their repentance of sins would now need to get baptized a second time, one for a baptism of dedication. If they failed to get re-baptized in symbol of their dedication, then they would not be dedicated, would they?
Since the baptism preached by the apostles was about forgiveness of sins, which made reconciliation with God possible, such ones also received the promised holy spirit. In this way they were “born from water and spirit,” as Jesus had told Nicodemus earlier, but which Nicodemus failed to understand. In fact, the entire Jewish nation needed to be “born of water and spirit” if they wanted to remain God’s covenant people, since the old covenant became obsolete upon the inauguration of the new covenant at Pentecost. (John 3:5; Acts 2:33, 38; 19:3-5; Rom. 5:8-11; Heb. 9:22) Without accepting Jesus’ blood of the new covenant, the Jews could not have their sins forgiven and be reconciled to God. Therefore those who refused to be thus “born again” (having been born the first time at Mt. Sinai under the old covenant) ceased to be God’s covenant people. (Matt. 26:28; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:1-4)
Baptism after Jesus’ death is for repentance and forgiveness of one’s sins. This forgiveness has made it possible to have a clean conscience before Jehovah. Yes, due to our faith in Christ and by our baptism, we are “having had our hearts sprinkled from a wicked conscience and our bodies bathed with clean water.” (Heb. 10:21,22) Nowhere in the Scriptures are baptism and dedication linked together. The Watchtower, May 15, 1952, page 315, under the study article “Dedication for Life in the New World,” acknowledges this:
”Searching through the Christian Greek Scriptures we do not find either the word dedication or the word consecration used to designate this step of giving oneself exclusively to God through Jesus Christ. When reading of the early adopters of Christianity we merely find it said that they believed or exercised faith. The formula that those used who urged people to adopt Christianity was, ‘Repent and be converted,’ or, ‘Repent and turn around.’ Also, ‘Repent and be baptized.’”