I'm teaching a three-part series on baptism and have a question. With John's baptism and the disciples baptizing while Jesus was alive, how could these baptisms be for the forgiveness of sins if they were still in the old covenant? I had always heard that John's was a baptism of repentance, but newly discovered it was clearly for forgiveness. I understand that Jesus forgave sins while on earth, but what about the disciples who were baptizing? Was this into Jesus' name, or was it also like John's baptism? Were the Jews saved by the old sacrificial system pointing toward Jesus' death, or by John's baptism, or by the baptism administered by one of Jesus' disciples? Did all Jews have to be baptized by John or the disciples to be saved if they died before Pentecost? -- Joel Peed (Omaha)
Those who had received John's baptism probably were not baptized again. In Acts 19 the Ephesian disciples exclaimed, "We have not even heard there is a Holy Spirit." And yet the Spirit was a clear part of John's message, right? They were heterodox, not saved. Apollos, on the other hand -- Acts 18 -- is not clearly said to have been re-immersed.
Under the old covenant people were truly saved. The point: if your sins were washed away before Pentecost, you didn't need to be saved again. In this case, for the already-saved Jews in Acts 2 (which must have comprised part of the crowd), baptism was for forgiveness of sins (all sins, ultimately, on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ), but in their case especially for future sins, since presumably they stood at that time in a right relationship with God. This group of Jews, the "first fruits," stood in a exceptional situation. Still, the plan for salvation is baptism for forgiveness of sins, for all future generations (Acts 2:39). To answer your final question, Jews could be saved before Pentecost with or without immersion.