Long ago, the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, crossing over the river Jordan. A homecoming, a return to Eden. But things did not go well, and eventually they were sent, once more, into exile; before, in time, returning again. So, when John came to prepare a people to welcome the Lord, he had them go back to the start, a column of men, women, and children, walking into the promise from beyond the Jordan.
When asked who he was, John quoted prophets of old, Isaiah and Malachi. He was the messenger sent ahead: the one coming hard on his heels would baptise with fire—a partial quote from Malachi, who said ‘he comes with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.’ The ancient equivalent of the washing machine. If John came wading in water, Jesus came to scrub his people up and down, plunge them in and out and in and out, and beat them against a rock. To scrape away at stubborn stains; repeat; and hang them out to dry. On the longed-for Day of the Lord’s coming, he will put his people in a spin and through the wringer, before he is done with us and we are washed whiter than snow.