Oath And Ordeal Signs Second Article -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 28:1 (Nov 1965)
Article: Oath And Ordeal Signs Second Article
Author: Meredith G. Kline


Oath And Ordeal Signs
Second Article

Meredith G. Kline

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 57-135, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1-78 respectively.}

II. Baptism, Sign of Judgment {from first article}

B. Christian Baptism

One of the links between Christian and Johannine baptism is ‘the baptism which Jesus authorized and his disciples administered during the very period of John’s preaching and baptizing.1 The key to the meaning of that early dominical baptism and to the enigma of its apparently abrupt cessation is to be found in the significance of the role of John and of Jesus as messengers of the covenant lawsuit.2

When Jesus began his public ministry, God’s lawsuit with Israel was in the ultimatum stage. At this point, the judicial function of Jesus coincided with that of john. Jesus’ witness had the effect of confirming John’s witness of final warning to Israel, especially to Israel’s officialdom in the Judean area. And since the meaning of the baptismal rite administered by these messengers of the covenant derived from the official nature of their mission, the import of Jesus’ baptism, though separately conducted, would also be essentially the same as John’s. Thus, as a sign of the covenant lawsuit against Israel, the baptismal rite of Jesus was, like John’s, a symbol of the imminent Judgment ordeal of the people of the Old Covenant.

This interpretation of Jesus’ early baptizing in terms of the concurrent ultimatum mission of John is strikingly confirmed by the evident cessation of that baptism once John was imprisoned. By suffering the voice in the wilderness to

be silenced, the Lord of the covenant concluded the ultimatum stage in his lawsuit against Israel, judging that Israel’s responsible representatives had by now decisively rejected his warning. The profound satisfaction Which the defiant rulers must have registered at John’s imprisonment was, it would seem, the final, intolerable expression of their contempt for the heavenly authority in which John had come to them (cf. Matt. 21:23ff.; Mk. 11:22ff.; Lk. 20:1ff.). Hence, the imprisonment of John was the signal for the departure of Jesus to Galilee. The form of presentation in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew and Mark, is such as to call attention to the fact that it was the imprisonment of John that prompted Jesus to initi...

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