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What is the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Mark 1:4

Before Jesus started his earthly ministry, the prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament proclaimed that a voice would be calling from the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord.  Malachi, also an Old Testament prophet, made a similar proclamation.

Four hundred to seven hundred years after those prophecies were written that voice was revealed as John the Baptist.  John separated himself from the religious leaders and the temple system and met people in the Judean wilderness by the Jordan river.  He told people to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Those who believed John - and the old Testament prophecies - felt something huge was about to happen and they needed to get ready.  God was coming soon.

They did that by confessing their sins and washing in the waters of the Jordan river.  Confessing their sins cleansed their hearts of all wrong doing.  Being baptized or washed in the water ceremonially showed that confession to the world.

That baptism was to prepare them for Jesus.

This was not the same baptism people do today.  Today we don't have prepared for the coming of the Lord.  He already showed up.  Now we get baptized to show the world that we've accepted Christ, by the confessing of our sins and the cleansing of our sins by his sacrifice on the cross.

John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was pre-Jesus, to prepare for his arrival.

Today's baptism is post-Jesus, recognizing the work he accomplished to cleanse us for our sins.