HOW DID JOHN’S CONVERTS “JUSTIFY GOD?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
How are we to handle Luke 7:29-30? “ And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” What does it mean that they “justified God?” Is not God already righteous? Why did He need these people to “justify” Him? Let us search the Scriptures!
The idea of justification is “declare someone as innocent, righteous, or just.” Some people prefer to use the expression “just as if you never sinned.” This is a common idea of justification. However, there is another sense of “justify,” one that is, “show or prove to be right or reasonable.” This latter sense is how we are to view Luke 7:29-30. Notice again: “ And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” What exactly was God right about?
Notice in the above passage that there is the “sinful crowd” (publicans, tax collectors) in verse 29 and the “religious crowd” (Pharisees and lawyers) in verse 30. You would think that the religious crowd would agree with God, right? Well, the Bible says they did not! You would think that the sinful crowd would disagree with God, right? Well, the Bible says they did not! The rank and file sinners in Israel recognized their sin problem, so they submitted to John’s water baptism. Why? They remembered a prophetic passage written centuries prior!
The Prophet Ezekiel had written in chapter 36 about 600 B.C.: “ For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.  Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”
John’s water baptism was a ceremonial cleansing, an admission of guilt that Israel had broken the Old Covenant, commonly called the Mosaic Law, and followed idols instead of remaining faithful to JEHOVAH God. In stark contrast, the religious figured they were “good enough” and did not have anything to confess. Notice Luke 7:29-30 once more: “ And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
John’s water baptism is known in the Bible as “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” It was the way whereby a believing Jew showed he had a change in mind, agreeing with God and disagreeing with his apostate brethren (nation Israel). Mark 1:4 says: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Luke 3:3 says: “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;….” And Acts 13:24: “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” Finally, Acts 19:4: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
Let it also be understood that water baptism did not cleanse sins any more than the blood of bulls and goats (Hebrews 10:4), but it did function as an outward testimony of the Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah/Christ. Those who refused to participate in John’s water baptism were manifesting their unbelief, their rejection of God’s Word and the arrival of God’s earthly kingdom. Refer back to Luke 7:29-30: “ And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
Water baptism is the means whereby a Jew leaves apostate Israel and becomes a member of “the Little Flock.” Luke 12:31-32 says: “ But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” National Israel will be destroyed during the time of Jacob’s trouble—the seven-year Tribulation—but the true Israel, the Israel of God, will inherit and enter God’s earthly kingdom.
Matthew chapter 21 speaks to the destruction of national (unbelieving) Israel: “ Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?  Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.  And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.”
In light of the above, we should also understand that water baptism saves Israel from the future wrath of God (Second Coming judgment). Notice how John the Baptist made that very clear during his ministry in Matthew chapter 3: “ In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.  Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,  And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
“ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:  And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Moreover, water baptism is a sign of the Davidic Covenant. About 1000 B.C., JEHOVAH God promised King David that one of his descendants would sit upon his throne forever. Second Samuel chapter 7 records God’s words to David: “ And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.  I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:  But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.  And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.”
God’s intention in forming the nation Israel was to make them a “kingdom of priests” as Exodus 19:5-6 says: “ Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” According to Exodus 29:4, one of the events necessary to ordain an Israeli priest into the ministry was to wash him in water: “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.” With respect to God’s earthly kingdom, every believing Jew is to be a priest. John’s water baptism inducted believing Jews into the priesthood (to thereby reach Gentiles with God’s words—for example, see Zechariah 8:20-23).
When a Jew participated in John’s water baptism, that Jew admitted three concepts to be true (that is, agreeing with God’s assessment, proving Him right):
- The nation Israel was made up of sinners, and those sinners needed cleansing from their idolatry (Ezekiel 36:25).
- The nation Israel was made up of apostates, and believing Jews needed to join the Little Flock, the Israel of God, by participating in the water baptism (Luke 7:29-30).
- The nation Israel was to be God’s kingdom of priests, and the Jews needed to wash in water as the first step in qualifying as His priests (Exodus 19:5-6).
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