“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:38, 39
This is another well know text, one which the professing church has not only erroneously applied to themselves, but has likewise been misinterpreted to suggest that immediately upon the believers confession of faith in Christ they are spirit begotten.
As is the case with most errors involving scriptures, it usually comes down to two specific stumbling points, both of which lead to faulty conclusions, the first of which the most common, failing to fully consider the context, the second not rightly dividing the word of God into its proper times and seasons. It is of up-most importance to always take into consideration both of these points before we make any final decisions on interpretation. Always begin by thoroughly examining the context; at times this may require that we go back more than one chapter. The importance in this is to correctly determine the, who, what, where, and when of the particular scripture(s) in question.
Now in order to properly understand the text at hand we will need to first consider the context from whence it is taken so as to ascertain who exactly the Apostle was addressing here, in turn this will likewise help us to determine the proper time and or season of the event.
“Then Peter said to them…”
If we examine Verse 1 of this chapter we will note that those to whom the Apostle addressed were the devout Jews who were dwelling in Jerusalem at the time. However in Verse 14 the Apostle’s statement, viz. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem” could be implied to include everyone living in the land, which would include the Gentiles living in Jerusalem. This is a possibility; however we believe that the Apostle here was specifically addressing the Jews those who had crucified our Lord (Verse 36).
Verse 39 likewise confirms this, “For the promise (of the High Calling) is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
The latter part of this verse “to all who are afar off” could be interpreted in two different ways; it could be in reference to those Jews living outside of Israel at the time in other countries, or it could be in reference to those “afar off”, (in the symbolic sense) i.e. the Gentiles who presently were excluded from the promises, but who would later be called when the Gospel was opened to them, when Israel’s special time of favor, the seventy weeks of favor spoken of by the prophet Daniel had reached its full end.
Peter’s saying “the Lord our God” likewise confirms that he was addressing the Jews especially, for at the time God had not yet recognized any other nation or people save the nation of Israel, the Jews. (Amos 3:1-3; Ezek 36:28; Psa. 147:19, 20)
As to their being baptized in the name of Christ,
“The Jews were already baptized as a nation into Moses in the sea and in the cloud. (1 Cor 10:1, 2) They already had a standing with God under the Law Covenant, but many of them had transgressed that Covenant-indeed the entire nation came under a special curse on account of the death of Jesus, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” To these, water baptism was held out as a symbol of their cleansing or putting away of these sins or transgressions of the Law, as indicating their return into fellowship with Moses and his Law that thus they might be transferred, with all the faithful of that nation from Moses, the typical head, to Christ, the real Head of the Lord’s faithful. That particular baptism (water baptism) for the remission of sins was commenced by John the Baptist and his disciples, and was continued by Jesus and His disciples, and was applicable to the whole Jewish nation and to NO ONE ELSE.
As an illustration, notice that when the Apostle Paul visited Ephesus he found some believers who seemed to be lacking certain gifts of the Spirit at that time amongst believers. Inquiry developed the fact that they had been baptized with “John’s baptism“-the baptism of repentance and washing away of sins in water. Then the Apostle instructed them more fully (i.e. informed them about the true baptism, a baptism into Christ’s death), assuring them that John’s baptism was all right in its time and place, but that they should (henceforth) be baptized in the name of Jesus-baptized into Christ. Once they were baptized properly they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:1-7) Harvest Gleanings Volume One, Page 600
But what about this part of our text, viz. “Repent, AND be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ (in order) for the remission of sins”.
Is this true are both repentance AND baptism necessary for the remission of sins or is faith alone all that is necessary?
Once again who was the Apostle addressing at the time, was he addressing the Jews or Gentiles?
Since we know according to Heb 9:22 that without shedding of blood (Christ blood) there is no remission of sin, then what specific sin or sins had THEY committed which could be remitted through water baptism?
As was suggested in the Pastor’s statement above those sins which were unique to them alone were their sins against the Law covenant, that and their rejection of the Lord, the Messiah whom they crucified, these sins were symbolically cleansed through water baptism, John’s baptism. That is to say, temporarily their (national) sins were covered by the merit of the Lord’s sacrifice, but for the full blotting out of those sins, they, like others, would have to await until the sin offering was completed and the ransom sacrifice applied to the world in the next age, that is if they did not join the church (the body of Christ) themselves in which case they would fully absolved, justified from these and all sins immediately upon the acceptance of their consecration, and the imputation of the merit of Christ righteousness.
“This washing or cleansing of the Jews, preparatory to their acceptance in Christ, would continue (for another 3 ½ years following the crucifixion of Christ or) until “the middle wall of partition” (Eph 2:14) was broken down between the Jews and Gentiles, until the natural branches, those who did not receive fellowship in the Body of Christ, were broken off. From that time since, (water) baptism for the remission of sins, John’s baptism is entirely wrong, according to the Scriptures.
Some still misunderstand this as noted below.
“We note that most Baptists teach that all you must do in order to be saved and have your sins forgiven is to “accept Jesus as your personal Savior“, that baptism is not essential to salvation and not essential for the forgiveness of sins. They claim that they are saved and their sins are forgiven before and without baptism.”
In support of this they quote, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43
What about where Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16)
NOTE: The second text above is spurious and is not found in the oldest Greek MSS, in fact all of the 16th Chapter of Mark, from Verse 9 to the end of the Chapter is spurious, nevertheless we give the following explanation.
“He who believes (at this time, who follows in the Master’s footsteps, fully consecrating themselves) and is baptized (“into Christ death”, the true baptism, sacrificing all their earthly life rights, their humanity) shall be saved (to a special class God is presently calling now during the “acceptable time”); but he who does not believe (and/or who does not fully consecrate, make this sacrifice) will be condemned (Greek katakrino, rejected).” He that believeth shall be chosen, he that believeth not, shall be rejected.”
The great mass of mankind as well as the professing church, the church nominal will be condemned (rejected) as unfit for the service of the Master in this “high calling.” Recall the words of our Lord, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven (the heavenly phase), but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Matt 7:21-23
And what is the will of the Father (concerning believers at this time)?
“This is the will of God even your sanctification (your setting apart, or full consecration to Him and to His will).” 1 Thess 4:3
Understand the Lord’s remarks here were not directed toward the world of non-believers, but specifically directed at the professing church, nominal Christians, it is these for whom he spoke of who would be found “in that day” (the millennial day) saying, “‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And his response, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’” such will not be recognized by the Lord and as such rejected as amongst his Elect, the consecrated saints of God.”
What then are we to make of the following text spoken by Ananias to Paul?
“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)
Once again who is being addressed here Jew or Gentile?
Note that Ananias mentions two things which needed to be done.
First he admonishes Paul to “Arise and be baptized”, Paul a Jew and a Pharisee (who had been sinning against the Law in fervent ignorance) repents and receives John’s baptism for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3), sins against the Law covenant, and for the nations sin in the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, thus putting him back under the covenant and ready for immediate transfer into Christ,
And then, he admonishes Paul to “…wash away your sins (your Adamic sins those sins accountable to the fall, those which are common to all mankind, this by way of) calling on the name of the Lord.”
These sins (Adamic sin) could only be remitted by the blood of Christ, “For this is my blood which is shed for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28)
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Eph. 1:7
Paul was baptized at this point. In the early Church, (water) baptism (the symbol of the true baptism) usually preceded the begetting of the Holy Spirit. With Paul, however, baptism followed the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Here was another exception. With Cornelius also, baptism followed the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48).
And so too with regards to all the Lord’s faithful henceforth, that is those who fully consecrate themselves, first they are baptized into the true baptism, baptized into Christ death (Rom 6:3-5), and then they follow up by acknowledging this through water baptism which is a symbol or picture of this true baptism.
What about the last part of Acts 2:38, about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, following baptism and the remission of sins? Isn’t this what the professing church teaches?
This is where a lot of the confusion comes in, the general assumption held by the professing church is that 1) you confess your sins to Christ asking forgiveness, and 2) you’re baptized in water and 3) following your baptism you receive the Holy Spirit. One, two, three and it’s all over with, you’re a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Of course anyone who has truly study the scriptures especially the Leviticus types knows that there’s much more to it than this. Water baptism is but a symbol of the true baptism, a baptism into Christ death. Only after one has fully submitted themselves to the Lord, fully consecrating themselves and has entered into covenant relationship with the Father, (a “covenant by sacrifice”, Psa 50:5; Rom 12:1) are they begotten of the Holy Spirit.
The vast majority of professed believers have never taken this “second step”, the step of sanctification, having been misled by the “blind guides” they believe they have already done all that is require of them, and that they are assured of a heavenly inheritance. Such having placed far too much confidence in the wisdom of men, the blind guides of Christendom will be sadly disappointed when they awaken in the next age and find themselves amongst those who are to experience a resurrection by judgment that they might be proven worthy of eternal life and a place in the earthly phase of the kingdom.