“After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John was also baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptised, (This was before John was put in prison).” John 3:22-24.

What was all this baptising about? Who were Jesus and John baptising and why? Were they sprinkling water on people’s heads or were they dunking them under the water?

Baptism, or ritual washing, was an ancient and common practice in Israel. It was carried out in obedience to the Law of Moses for many different reasons. It was also the way of ritual cleansing and initiation into an office e.g., the priesthood, or a movement.

John was a rabbi who had a following of disciples and a “yoke”, an interpretation of the Torah and a lifestyle that he adhered to and placed upon his followers as did Jesus. As he taught about the Messiah, preparing the way for His coming, people wanted to show that they accepted and identified with what John was teaching and the way to do it publicly was through ritual washing.

It would seem that Jesus was initiating His own disciples into Himself and His teaching as well, so that they would become different people while John was baptising people who were willing to change their minds and accept what John was teaching them about the Messiah. The act of washing in running water was symbolic of washing away who they were and giving them a new beginning in a new understanding and way of life according to what their rabbi had taught them.

Were John and Jesus in competition, each drawing a following and initiating their disciples into their teaching and way of life? For a while they were both teaching and baptising, but John in no way acted like a rival. In fact, John, the author of this gospel, records John the Baptist’s purpose, more than once, of pointing people to Jesus. He did not object when some of his disciples left him to follow Jesus.

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.” John 1:35-37.

When his disciples questioned John about Jesus’ popularity, he responded that he was only the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom. His job was to attend to bridegroom and announce His arrival. He concluded, “He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30.

God had a drastic and unusual way of solving this problem. John did not disappear back into the wilderness. He was forcefully removed by Herod who had him thrown in prison at the instigation of his unscrupulous wife, Herodias. Why did God allow that to happen?

I cannot presume to understand all God’s ways, but it seems to me that John’s work was done. It was his task to prepare the way for Messiah, to announce His arrival and to point out who He was to those who heard him. Did he fulfil his calling? Yes, he did. There was no reason for him to continue because he would actually be in Jesus’ way.

His removal seems cruel but we have to ask, “Would it have been better for him to languish in a dungeon for years, never seeing the light of day and living in a hope that was never fulfilled?” It was through God’s mercy that he was taken out suddenly and drastically, leaving Jesus to fulfil His mission without a rival. The people no longer needed John’s message or John’s baptism because the Messiah was among them. John’s work was preparatory and complete.

We cannot always discern the wisdom and ways of the Lord. We know that He is good and always does what is best for us. His ways, Paul said, are “past finding out”. He asks us to trust Him when we cannot see the way ahead.


Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Luella Campbell

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