In Luke 3:3 it talks about John the Baptist preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins but Hebrews 9:22 mentions that the shedding of blood is needed for forgiveness of sins. How was the forgiveness of sins available for John’s baptisms without Jesus dying yet?  Thanks! Any input would be appreciated.


A good question.  Of course, Hebrews 9:22 is true.  Yet Jesus was able to forgive the sin of the man let down through the roof (Luke 5:20).  The most common and most reasonable way to think about this is that forgiveness of willful sin is only available through the blood of Jesus, but that, by the providence of God, that forgiveness can be applied to people who are not saved by faith, repentance and baptism into Christ.  If this were not true, then Moses and Abraham and David would all be lost in their sins.  Revelation 13:8 describes Jesus as “the lamb slain from the foundation of (creation of) the world.”  From God’s perspective, it is as if Jesus has always been slain for our sins.  We as Christians have what no one else has ever had, which is the assurance of salvation and of having the Holy Spirit as “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14).  But, there is plenty of biblical evidence that some folks who were born before Jesus lived will also be with God forever.  The thief on the cross appears to be an example of forgiveness before Jesus’ death.  He was not baptized, obviously, and Jesus had not yet died.  God can and will forgive whoever he chooses to forgive. That is his prerogative.  Yet, Hebrews 9:22 remains a fundamental truth, which is that for anyone to be forgiven of sins, death is requiered as payment, and that payment has already been made.  People who submitted to John’s baptism were, apparently, forgiven.  Did they receive the  Holy Spirit?  Apparently not (Acts 19:1-7).  Were they “saved” as we are? No.  Did they have the assurance we have?  No.  But they were forgiven.  That is what the scripture says.

There is a sense in which this is not really relevant to us.  What God did before Jesus and what God will do for those even today who never even heard of Jesus (a tiny minority today!) is really none of our business and this situation does not apply to us.  We know of Jesus and we can be saved through the blood of Jesus.  “Exceptions” such as the baptism of John are not in place today and do not affect us, so we can afford to keep it simple.  Let’s help people come to faith and repentance. Let’s get them baptized into Christ.  Later on we can explain the interesting “exception” of the baptism of John.

John Oakes

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