"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:13-15).
We know that John was baptizing people in the river Jordan, but why was he doing it? In other words, what is the purpose of baptism? The scriptures tell us that "he [John] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3). The scriptures also defines baptism as having the power to wash away our sins (Acts 22:16, D&C 39:10). Thus, through baptism, when repentant, we receive a remission of our sins and they are washed away, thereby making us spiritually clean.
If this is so, the question has often been asked, why was Jesus baptized, seeing He was without sin and therefore had nothing to repent of? The frequent answer is that He did it to set the example for us to follow. If that's true, then we would have to say He did it just for show, that it was an unnecessary act and a meaningless ordinance, as it related to Him personally.
However, it was Jesus Himself who explained, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Baptism is not only for the remission of sins, but it is also the requirement needed to enter into God's kingdom. Without partaking of this ordinance, no one can enter therein.. Thus, Jesus needed to be baptized, not because He had committed any sin but because it was an essential requirement necessary for Him to enter into God's kingdom as an exalted being.
John taught baptism for the remission of sins, but apparently didn't understand the higher importance of what he was doing because he originally refused to baptize Jesus. But Jesus understood it's true significance and declared, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." The law requires this ordinance as a prerequisite for becoming exalted, therefore Jesus complied with the demands of the law to fulfill its righteous decree.
Perhaps we can understand this concept better by way of analogy. Let's say that someone emigrates from Russia to the United States. Upon seeing the wealth of this country and experiencing the freedom we have, they have a strong desire to stay here. By taking advantage of the opportunities available, let's say they become prosperous, and even employ others. Because of their love for America and all it has done for them, they give generously of their time and money to their community. And let's say that a war breaks out and, because of their patriotism, they volunteer to fight to protect this country. Yet, if they have not taken a test of citizenship and swore an oath of allegiance, when they die they are not considered an American citizen. As far as the law is concerned, they are still a citizen of the country of Russia.
So it is with baptism. Although it is a simple ceremony, yet, without it, one does not become a citizen of the kingdom of God. A person may do much good and serve the Lord with all their heart, but until they have taken the test and have sworn their allegiance through the ordinance of baptism, when they die, they are not eligible to receive the blessings that comes from being a part of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, baptism is the means whereby we become "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
To be a citizen of any country or kingdom bestows certain rights and privileges upon that person. However, citizenship also carries with it certain duties and obligations. The same holds true for those who become citizens of the kingdom, or household of God.
Before we can fully appreciate what those duties and obligations are, we must first define what the kingdom of God is. When asked by His disciples to teach them to pray, Jesus answered, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10).
The very first thing which Jesus taught us to pray is for our Father's kingdom to come here upon the earth. The very next thing he taught us to pray for is that our Father's commandments, edicts, decrees, and wishes be carried out here on earth just as they are in heaven. To many Christians, the idea of God's kingdom coming to earth has reference to either the millennial reign of Christ or the time after the final resurrection. With such an understanding, they also believe that keeping God's commandments and doing as He wishes will come naturally and easily for them at that time.
By way of contrast, we teach that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God which has already been established here upon the earth. It should first be noted that when we make reference to the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, many times we're actually talking about the same thing. As such, those of other faiths, have a hard time accepting our claims. To them, heaven is a place of magnificent, unearthly beauty. Furthermore, heaven is a place we go to after mortality as a reward for our acceptance of Christ. If a church organization is the kingdom of God, and baptism is the entrance ceremony into that kingdom, that means we are already in heaven the moment we become baptized. But how can that be?
To better understand this concept, let's first look at how an earthly kingdom is set up. In most instances, the king lives in a beautiful palace, and inside that palace is a throne room from which he rules. In describing the throne which Solomon built for himself we read: "Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. And there were six steps to the throne, with a footstool of gold, which were fastened to the throne, and stays on each side of the sitting place, and two lions standing by the stays: And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps. There was not the like made in any kingdom" (2 Chronicles 9:17-19). Surely this must have been an impressive looking throne.
It took Solomon seven years to build the temple, which was one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. Yet it took him thirteen years to build his own palace! We can only imagine how magnificently beautiful it was. We are told that "all the drinking vessels of king Solomon were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold: none were of silver" (2 Chronicles 9:20). Here we see opulent splendor and incredible grandeur. Yet, was this all that Solomon ruled over, or did his kingdom extend beyond the walls of his palace? Of course it included much more than his living quarters. It included stony mountains, dusty plains, fertile valleys and barren wastelands, along with a large number of cities, towns and hamlets. Were all these places as splendid in their beauty as Solomon's palace? Certainly not. Even within the capitol city of Jerusalem there were areas of squalor and filth, yet they still were considered a part of Solomon's kingdom.
Then what defines a kingdom, or, in other words, how are the kingdom's boundaries determined? The answer is simple: A kingdom is composed of all the land which the king owns. Whether he inherits the land, makes treaties to annex it, or wins it by war, whatever he owns becomes part of his kingdom.
Jesus often used the image of a vineyard to illustrate the qualities of heaven, because, in a much smaller way, a vineyard or farm is like a kingdom. There is the master who owns the property on which he raises his crops, and, like a kingdom, he has servants who carry out his instructions. Is the vineyard just as beautiful and clean as the master's home? Not at all. In most instances the master's home is more ornately decorated than the trees and land he owns. Even so, a vineyard can be trimmed, and pruned, and cultivated so that it looks beautiful in its own way.
Suppose there was a master who owned a large vineyard and took pride in keeping it neat and trim. And let's suppose that in one far-off corner of his property some squatters snuck in unawares and set up camp. Since the land doesn't belong to them, they might set about cutting down trees for firewood and shelter, throwing their trash everywhere and generally making a mess of the place. Let's say that a friend of the master came by and saw the mess. He would think to himself, "The master keeps a neat, clean vineyard, but this place is disorderly and wild looking. This cannot be the master's property." Is that a correct conclusion? Of course not. Whether the place is neat or untidy, clean or dirty, it still belongs to the master.
What do you suppose would happen when the master finds out about these squatters? Will he give up his claim to that part of his property? Not at all. He will explain to his friend, "An enemy hath done this to me." Then he will call his servants and command them to go to the far-off corner of his vineyard, evict the squatters, clean up their trash and filth, bind up and fix the broken trees, and restore that part of his vineyard back to the way it once was.
The kingdom of heaven is no different. The city in which God lives is utterly dazzling beyond description. The wall around the city has twelve foundations, each made out of a precious stone. The wall itself is made out of Jasper. There are twelve gates in the wall, each made out of pearl. "The street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass" and the throne room "was a sea of glass like unto crystal" (see Revelation 21:10-23, 4:6). If we want to talk about magnificent unearthly beauty, this is it.
But is this the full extent of the kingdom of heaven? Does God's rule end at the city gates? Of course not! Concerning Jesus Christ, the apostle John wrote, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3). God told Moses that, "worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten."(Moses 1:33). Thus, we know that Jesus created not only this earth but many other innumerable worlds as well. If God created all these worlds, do they not belong to Him? And if they belong to Him, then surely they must be included in His kingdom. Therefore, just because this earth doesn't resemble the sublime grandeur of the city of God, doesn't make it any less a part of the kingdom of heaven.
But the enemy of all righteousness has entered into one far-off part of God's vineyard and set up squatter's rights on it. He has declared himself to be the god of this earth and immediately began trashing the place. He tore down the covenants of God. He spread filth into the minds of its inhabitants. He sowed discord, hatred and greed into the hearts of men. As a result, he has soiled and spoiled the character of men, until they've became rotten and disgusting. And so, Satan has left his garbage everywhere he's been.
Some will say that this earth can't possibly be the kingdom of God because of all the corruption and evil that exists here. But, just because an enemy has done this doesn't make it any less a part of God's kingdom.
What should the Master do then? Should He just disown His polluted property? Not at all! Instead, the king will call his servants and instruct them to go forth into this part of His kingdom, evict the squatter and his band of cohorts, reestablish the covenants God has made, help clean out the trash and filth from people's minds, sow seeds of love, harmony and selflessness in the hearts of men, bind up and fix the broken lives, and help restore the earth back to its paradisiacal glory.
But who are these servants that will do this work? They are those who have become citizens of the kingdom. They are those who have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Master. They have given their pledge and their word of honor to do the will of the Father, on earth, just like it is done in heaven.
As citizens of the kingdom of God we have certain duties, responsibilities, and obligations. What are they? Brigham Young declared, "All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church. They covenant to cease sustaining, upholding and cherishing the kingdom of the Devil and the kingdoms of this world. They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God and no other kingdom. They take a vow of the most solemn kind, before the heavens and earth, and that, too, upon the validity of their own salvation, that they will sustain truth and righteousness instead of wickedness and falsehood, and build up the Kingdom of God, instead of the kingdoms of this world" (JD Vol. 12, page 230).
What is our duty as citizens of the household of God? It is to build up the Lord's kingdom here upon the earth. What the Master expects His servants to do is not an easy task. Satan will fight to keep from being evicted. When we kick him out of one location, he'll move to another. And if we aren't careful, he'll move back into the area we've previously evicted him from. But, as citizens of God's kingdom, we have a sworn duty to work in the Master's vineyard and help Him reclaim that which is rightfully His.
As we strive to purify our families, we take back a small part of the earth and claim it for our King. As we work faithfully in His church, we help others to purify themselves and their families, and a few more small parts of the earth become cleansed and can be claimed for our King. As we share the gospel with others, we give them the opportunity to likewise become pure. As we participate in our community and schools to insure righteous principles are instituted, we help spiritually clean up a little more of the earth by providing Satan less chance to wreak more damage.
Right now the earth worships Satan. Perhaps not consciously or knowingly, but it willingly follows his ways. If Christ were to come and claim the earth today, how many people would be glad to see Him? How many people would actually hail Him as their King and God? How many people would gladly follow His laws? The more people who belong to the kingdom of the Devil, the more people who would reject Christ when He comes.
And what good is a kingdom where the great majority of the people reject their King? Will Jesus be satisfied to have a relatively small group of people greet Him when He returns to claim His property? And what kind of a world will it be that He inherits - a glorious one or a destroyed one? The purpose of building the kingdom of God on the earth is to prepare a world worthy of God's presence. As we sanctify ourselves, we help sanctify the earth on which we live. And the more people who become sanctified, the more the earth itself becomes beautiful and sanctified. And the more people who truly accept Christ as their King and Master, the larger the throng that will adoringly cheer Him upon His arrival.
Baptism is the entrance ceremony into God's kingdom. It's not forced on us and it's not demanded of us. Therefore, when we are baptized, we willingly make a pledge of allegiance to God. When we are baptized we freely take upon ourselves the name of Christ, which means we voluntarily agree to become His servants. As citizens of the Kingdom of God and servants of the Master, He's counting on us to prepare the earth so that when He comes again it can be truly said, "Thy Kingdom has fully come, because thy will is now being done throughout the earth as it is in heaven."