John the Dunker (Baptist) must have sounded like a heretic. The priests
and Pharisees had to have been offended to hear him preach
"a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."(Mk1:4) They knew
animal sacrifices were required for forgiveness, yet this wild man
called people to a "baptism of repentance" for forgiveness.
Isaiah prophesied John the Dunker as a voice in the wilderness, preparing "the way of The Lord." He prepared the way by calling for repentance (Mal4:5-6; Mt11:14; Mt17:10-13; Lk3:8-14). He prepared the way by preaching the arrival of God's kingdom (Mt3:2; Lk16:16). He prepared the way by testifying to the Kingship of Jesus (Jn3:28-36). John also prepared the way of the new King by fundamentally changing Israel's approach to forgiveness.
When Jesus told a paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven," the local preachers were aghast (Mk2:7) because only God had authority to forgive sins. One traditional understanding of that incident is to say Jesus forgave sins to prove His deity, yet King Jesus conferred to His ambassadors the authority to forgive sins, saying in John 20:23, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." The King's ambassadors are not God, yet they have kingdom authority to forgive sins.
In a related manner, John the Dunker preached God's kingdom had arrived and that a dunking of repentance now brought forgiveness. "Heresy!" the rabbis must have protested. In Leviticus 17:11 God had clearly stated blood was required to atone for sins. We have only one occasion recorded in which John the Dunker came anywhere close to explaining atonement. He said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," and on the next day, "Behold the Lamb of God." Yet he never explained the lamb, the atonement, guilt, propitiation, or substitution. Lambs were not even the primary sacrifice for sin in Israel. If John the Dunker were trying to clarify the atonement, he might have called Jesus the Bull of God or the Goat of God since those animals were the sin sacrifices (Heb 9:12-10:4).
Like John the Dunker, the ambassadors of King Jesus also commanded new believers to repent and be dunked, promising them forgiveness without explaining to them the atonement, propitiation, justification, transferred guilt, or substitute sacrifice. The King's ambassadors preached, "Jesus is King," occasionally including forgiveness in their preaching. The reader is encouraged to review the book of Acts, taking special note of how they referred to forgiveness.
In Acts chapter five for example, the apostles boldly told the most highly respected preachers of their day that God had exalted Jesus to His right hand "to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." They did not explain the substitutionary work of the cross. They claimed the new King had the authority to grant repentance and grant forgiveness.
KING UNDER EVERY ROCK
A mentor once teased that I see the kingdom under every rock. When I read "Christ" in the New Testament, I see "King and Kingdom" because Christos meant the Psalm 2 King to the New Testament writers and their first audience. When I read "judge" preached to Gentiles in Acts 10 and Acts 17, I see "King and Kingdom" because their Caesar was called the Lord and final judge (Acts 25:11-12) by Gentiles. When I read Savior or salvation in the New Testament, I see "Liberating King" or "kingdom liberation" because that was the original audience's understanding of those words and the almost exclusive New Testament use of those words.
When I read "forgiveness" in the New Testament as a message to outsiders, I again see "King and Kingdom" because the King's ambassadors preached forgiveness as coming in the authority of the new King's name to outsiders, never explaining to outsiders the details of atonement, propitiation, justification, or substitutionary sacrifice. When the ambassadors preached forgiveness to outsiders alongside the gospel of the Kingdom, they declared forgiveness as part of the new King's authority, not as a gospel of atonement.
John the Dunker prepared the way of the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. No longer would a temple be required. No longer would the crowds need to see a slaughtered goat or even need to understand the high cost of sin's sacrifice to be forgiven. They simply needed to understand that a new King had arrived who requires we change directions and be dunked in His name.
First, I want to make it clear I believe the atonement must be taught. When an outsider confesses Jesus as Lord and believes the proof of His Lordship (the resurrection), the outsider is called to repent and be dunked. Believing, repentant, dunked insiders then learn of the King's atonement. In Acts, the apostles told Outsiders Jesus is the Christ, the Lord, and the Judge. In their epistles, the apostles explained the atonement to Insiders.
Second, I want to clarify that I do not believe in redemptive dunking. I request the reader does not jump to that conclusion. Scripture does not say the un-dunked cannot be redeemed, therefore neither do I. I only care to teach what the Bible teaches. I see no need to define what the Bible does not define, but neither will I avoid teaching scripture for fear of how some might categorize me. The King's ambassadors proclaimed a dunking of repentance in the authority of Jesus' name for forgiveness, so I teach it too. And I do so without dividing from those who disagree.
"John's Heresy" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on May 22nd, 2013. All rights are reserved.