The Baptism of Jesus
Texts: Matthew 3:13-17; parallels Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34
by Robert J. Young
Historically, the baptism of Jesus has been difficult to understand. It has therefore been the subject of much study, thinking, research. One basic problem is that John's baptism was a baptism of repentance and Jesus did not need to repent. Jesus did not need forgiveness, for he was the very son of God. John's baptism was for sinners, so in this sense it seems not applicable to Jesus.
But something is important here--it is in all four Gospels. Few events are in this category: baptism, feeding of 5000, passion. As we consider the subject of baptism in the Bible--its purpose, meaning, significance--it appears this event in the life of Christ is different, unique in purpose. Christ himself mentions this purpose in Matt. 3:15, to fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean?
We begin our study today from the standpoint of the purposes of baptism, and the question concerning what may be the purposes of Jesus' baptism. Our outline is relative simple: what it is not, what it is, what is its significance.
I. What it is not.
- 1. It was not a baptism for the remission of sins, Heb. 4:15, although this is the obvious significant of Christian baptism, Acts 2:38.
- 2. It was not a baptism to set an example for men under the New Testament to show how they should follow Christ in baptism, for Christ was about 30 years old, with many details not to be followed.
II. What it is. What were the purposes of this baptism?
- 1. It was to fulfill righteousness.
In the Bible, righteousness means keeping God's commands, Ps. 119:172. Christ was sinless and did not need baptism for remission of sins as a New Testament ordinance (as in Acts 2:38 and 22:16). He did not need baptism as a proselyte to be cleansed to join Judaism. He submitted to John's baptism as a command of God. How unlike those who set aside a baptism greater than John's, making it non-essential, an elective, rather than receiving it as it is--a divinely imposed condition of eternal salvation. Christ was saying, "Since this is God's ordinance, I wish to honor it and am delighted to obey the command even though I do not need to."
What a tremendous attitude. I am delighted. When we don't understand the rationale, meaning, what do we say? What do we do? We refuse to obey. Christians who do not attend worship say, I just don't see why it's important. I daresay that a Christian who does not attend worship with the family of God seldom if ever expresses praise, adoration, and worship to God in daily life. We must obey God. We must submit. That is the meaning of our baptism just as it was of Christ's. He was submitting. I will submit to God. This submission climaxed in the giving of his life through Gethsemane, and it must be a part of our life. Crucified with Christ, putting him on the throne of our hearts. I will obey, for it is better than 1000s of sacrifices, 1 Sam. 15:22. Micah 6:8.
- 2. It was an example in a certain way--Jesus was identifying.
Although it was not an example for us under the NT in all its details, it was an example, or perhaps better, an identification. In baptism, Christ identified himself with the search for God, with those he came to save. It was an example especially applicable to the Jews. Interesting, because throughout history the Jews had not submitted to baptism. The Jews knew and used baptism only for proselytes who came into Judaism. It was natural that a sin-stained, polluted proselyte should be baptized, but no Jew ever conceived of self, as a son of Abraham, member of chosen people, assured of God's salvation, as needing salvation. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew conceived of self as a sinner shut out from God. Jesus was declaring to Jews their own sin and need for God. John's baptism was a unique national movement of penitence and a search for God. In that, Christ identified with these fellow Jews' search for God.
The Jews were the original "once saved always saved" people. That concept is a Jewish mentality, principle. It brings an OT concept (a concept was misunderstood and misapplied) and brings it over into NT. Christ came, was baptized, to show error. Is it not ironic that some who profess to follow Jesus fall into same snare today. Jesus' baptism was evidence to the Jews of their need for God, though Christ himself did not need salvation, in fact, was himself God. It was in this sense perhaps a teaching example.
- 3. An identification--Jesus was identified.
We have already said something on this point, in that Jesus' in his baptism identified with humanity. There is another aspect. This was God's declaration of Jesus' identity. Did he understand fully who he was before his baptism? Was the voice from heaven for him or for others? Who heard it? What does the text say?
This is a vital point, for we receive a new identity at baptism. We are clearly identified as kingdom persons, passed from darkness to light.
- 4. An anointing as God's prophet.
This baptism of Jesus was unique in purpose and significance in another way. It was not like that John administered to others, not for confession, not for repentance, not like Christian baptism with its remission of sins. But it fulfilled righteousness.
From OT context, as Christ lived and died under old law, it was an appropriate act of ceremonial righteousness as Christ entered his work--prophet, priest, king. Think about Christ as priest. He is declared such in Heb. 3:1. The essence of his redemptive work is in his consecration as a priest. He gave himself for us as part of his service in this office, Heb. 9:24-28. His consecration to the redemptive priesthood is made clear in his baptism.
Here is the tie to the OT priesthood, Heb. 7:11-14 shows Christ was not eligible for priesthood as long as law stood. For Christ to be priest, law had to change, but Christianity is tied to Judaism, and here is an interesting parallel.
In Levitical law, all priests were required to be consecrated about age 30, Num. 4:3, cf. Lk. 3:23. In fulfilling all righteousness, Christ may well have been referring to the righteousness of obedience to Mosaic law. This consecration would be twofold--washing and anointing (Ex. 29:4-7; Lev. 8:6-36).
If Christ were to be a priest, he was washed and then heaven opened and HS anointing came upon him. This is a priestly anointing of the one who was not only priest by divine appointment, but an eternal priest, Ps. 110:4. He was thus divinely consecrated, Acts 4:27, Lk. 4:18; Isa. 61:1; Acts 10:38; Heb. 1:9.
The OT is a type of the NT, Heb. 10:1; 8:5; 9:23,24.... Now note another application. In the NT covenant, all are priests, 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10. What did you have to do under the OT to be a priest--be consecrated. How--a washing and an anointing.
It is the same today under NT. God wants you to be a part of his priesthood, church. You must be consecrated, attitudes must be given over to him. That occurs in ways reflected by the shadow of the OT. You must be washed, you must be anointed, 1 John 2:20; 2 Cor. 1:21. Study this also as it relates to our reception of the HS.
- 5. A confirmation as God's Messiah.
Heaven is opened, God descends. The heavens do not open often in NT. Here and in Acts 7. Now God speaks out of heaven as testimony to Christ. Happens only three times in NT: here, transfiguration, John 12:28-30.
The statement of God here is actually two quotes from OT. First, Ps. 2:7. Every Jew accepted this as a description of the Messiah. Second, Isa. 42:1; part of the description which ends with the suffering servant of Isa. 53.
In the baptism of Jesus came two certainties that would shape his ministry and confirm his sonship with God: the certainty that he was the chosen one of God and the certainty that the way in front of him was the way of the cross.
Not only is there confirmation for Christ, but for all who witness, John 1:32-34. In this moment was set before Christ his task and an awareness of the challenge of fulfilling it. He knew who he was, where he was going.
Something similar must occur in our baptism. We must know clearly who we are, where we are going, to what we have committed ourselves.
Conclusion--What is its significance?
Notice these facts about Jesus' baptism:
These have application in the life of the Christian.
- 1. Afterward he prayed
- 2. He was anointed, received the descending Holy Spirit
- 3. God declared his sonship.
- 1. We as Christians have the right and privilege of prayer, and our baptism confirms this privilege and we must use it.
- 2. It is at baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit, Gal. 4:6; Acts 2:38.
- 3. It is at baptism that we are declared sons, what we were not prior to our baptism. Gal. 3:26ff; John 3:3-5. We are born, Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:19-22.
Baptism was Christ's confirmation, it is also ours. You can become a son or daughter of God, enter Christ, enjoy salvation. No wonder the last words of Jesus were Mark 16:15-16.
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Last updated November 12, 2002.