This is a missionary proof text, used to persuade everyone to get baptized. They used it on me. It worked. I got baptized.
How undeniably essential is baptism as a result of this argument? Does it seem to you that if Christ Himself needed to be baptized that without it it would not be possible for anyone to please God? If Christ needed it, then undoubtedly all of Christ’s inferiors need it as well. The only exception seems to be those children who are not accountable, and for whom Christ’s atonement will be applied because of the justice and mercy applied to such unaccountable young souls. (See Moroni 8: 20-22.) They need no baptism. But all of us do. Without it we have no hope for redemption.
It is indisputable from this verse that baptism is essential. But the question remains “why?” Why would this ordinance be required for residing in God’s presence in the eternal worlds? We know, of course, that all such matters were ordained before the foundation of the world, and cannot be changed now. (D&C 130: 20-21.) But that does not answer the question of “why?”
Have you ever inquired to know why? It is not answered in scripture. It is only implied. Sometimes the best place to look for an answer is to go back to the beginning. Reading the account of Adam’s baptism (who was the first to receive the ordinance in mortality) we find a few things. By the water we keep the commandment. (Moses 6: 60.) The first man was taken by the Spirit and baptized, put under the water and brought forth out of the water again. (Moses 6: 64.) After he had been buried in the water and brought forth again, he was told he had been born again of the Spirit. (Moses 6: 65.) Before any of the ordinance happened, however, Adam was told this: “behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.” (Moses 6: 63.) Did you catch that?
Just before Adam’s baptism the Lord explains to Adam that the reason for “all things” being as they are is “to bear record of me [meaning Christ].” Baptism is designed to bear testimony of Christ. How so? In what way does baptism tell us about Christ?
Christ died, was buried, and on the third day arose from the dead. (D&C 20: 23.) He said He would do that before His crucifixion. (Mark 8: 31; Luke 18: 33.) His disciples did not understand this prophecy. (Luke 18: 34.)
Baptism is a reenactment of Christ’s death and resurrection. Once you have been placed under the water you are cut off from the breath of life. If you remain under the water for too long, you will die. While there, you are only able to survive by holding your breath. You retain the power to live, if you return to the surface soon enough, but your life is dependent upon the one performing the ordinance. They must lift you back to return you to life. Just as Christ needed the power of His Father, we also need the power of the officiator to raise us back to life. It is as if the life of Christ has been beautifully choreographed. Christ was sent to lay down His life and take it up again. That is what He did. As Joseph Smith explained in the King Follett Discourse: “The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, as the Father hath power in himself, even so hath the Son power—to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious—in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do you believe it? If you do not believe it you do not believe the Bible. The scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it. Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”
First we receive an ordinance which shows us the way by symbols. We are shown the way back to redemption and resurrection, but must see it with the eyes of faith, before we behold it as it truly is. (Ether 12: 19.) If we are to rise from the dead and have eternal life in Christ, we must first enact that event through the ordinance which points to the reality of our future rise from the dead.
Ordinances are the preliminary act, designed to bear testimony of the real event. They are not the real thing, but a “type” of the real thing. They must be seen through the eyes of faith (Ether 12: 19) to allow us to gain the faith necessary to obtain the real thing. Before you are resurrected in a whole, complete and glorified fashion you must first voluntarily agree to enact that future event, looking forward in faith to that future day. Before you enter into the Lord’s presence, you must first enact that in the Temple, looking forward in faith to that future day.
All things point to Christ. However, only those who have the faith to see within them the underlying reality with the “eyes of faith” will obtain to the final promises and covenants intended for all of us to obtain.