I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear…
John here contrasts himself and his work with Christ and the work of Christ. We cannot but be struck with the humility and the discernment of the Baptist. Thus he reveals himself as true to his mission; he is but the forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord.
I. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE ADMINISTRATORS. John was regarded as the great prophet of his day; yet he considered himself to be infinitely inferior to the coming Christ. Wherein were the great differences between the Baptist and Jesus Christ?
1. In character. John was a holy man, but still a sinner. Christ was faultless, quite pure, and supreme in all goodness. Thus he was and is far above the best of men, as the stars are above the highest mountains; in comparison with the stars the distinction between mountain and plain sinks into insignificance.
2. In power. John was a strong and gifted man, yet how little could he do for the reformation of Israel, for the redemption of the world? He is but the labourer digging out the foundation; Christ is the Master-Builder who raises the great temple.
3. In office. John is the prophet, the messenger of God. Christ is the King. His office is regal, and his honour is the highest.
4. Its nature. John is but a man, though the greatest man of his day; Jesus is the very Son of God. This may not have been known to the Baptist, but an instinctive foreshadowing of the great mystery may have touched him with an awed perception of the wonderful greatness of the Coming One.
II. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SACRAMENTS.
1. The water-baptism. This baptism of John's was a token of repentance. It seemed to express the desire of the penitent to wash away his past sin. It was concerned with his guilt and with the need of cleansing it. But it contained no power for the future. It did not regenerate; it did not quicken the dead soul. Thus it must be recognized that repentance by itself is not enough. The penitent still waits for his renewal.
2. The fire-baptism. It might have been thought that the consuming element of fire was better adapted to the ministration of the terrible prophet of the wilderness, while the gentler purifying water would be suitable for the milder methods of the Son of man. Yet the prophecy of the Baptist was fulfilled. We cannot confine his words to the second advent of Christ in judgment. Christ came in his first appearance with flames to burn the evil out of the hearts of men in the consuming power of the Holy Spirit. For here the fire seems to stand for the Holy Spirit, as it did on the Day of Pentecost, when the Gift came in cloven tongues of fire. When Christ enters the soul he both burns up the old evil and kindles the fire of a new life. All life is fire. Even applied physiologically this idea is true; we only live by burning up our own bodies, and that is why we need food, which is fuel. Christ's baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of that Spirit is the lighting of a fire in a man's heart. Thus it is life. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: