Vol. 5, No. 6
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Each of the Gospel accounts records the baptism of Jesus, with Matthew providing the most detailed information (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23; John 1:29-34). The baptism of John the Baptist is discussed in the Gospel records as well as the Book of Acts (Matthew 3:6-12; Mark 1:4-8; John 3:23; Acts 10:37; 13:24; 19:3-4). John the Baptist was our Lord's cousin and he was six months older than Jesus was. However, this may have been the first time that Jesus and John had seen each other (John 1:33-34). Jesus was reared in Galilean Nazareth while John the Baptist was reared in Judaea. Yet, since John recognized Jesus as he approached (Matthew 3:14; John 1:29) before the baptism was administered, John saying he did not know Jesus before the baptism, may indicate that he did not publicly acknowledge Jesus as the Christ until that time (John 1:30-34). John's baptism represented a ceremonial washing with which Jesus commenced his ministry as our Prophet, High Priest and King (Acts 3:22-23; Hebrews 7:17-27; Matthew 21:5).
"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him" (Matthew 3:13). Jesus traveled about 65 miles from Galilee to Judaea to be baptized by his cousin John. The baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Apparently, John the Baptist had begun his ministry to prepare the way of the Lord six months before the baptism of Jesus, and both were about 30 years old (Luke 3:23).
"But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14). John resisted the request of Jesus to be baptized. "He was moved to strenuous protest against Jesus' baptism by him."1 "John knew the purpose of his baptism; he knew that all who had been baptized of him needed to be baptized, but he did not recognize in Jesus anything that would lead him to believe that Jesus need to be baptized of him."2 Clearly, Jesus Christ did not need to be baptized for the same reason for which John baptized every other person.
John's baptism involved repentance of sin and immersion in water for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3). Those submitting to John's baptism were penitent sinners (Matthew 3:5-6). John the Baptist acknowledged his frail, sinful humanity by noting that it seemed to him he was the more likely candidate to be baptized by Jesus than the other way around (Matthew 3:14). Obviously, he also recognized the sinlessness of the Son of God incarnate who approached him to be baptized (Hebrews 4:15).
"And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him" (Matthew 3:15). The baptism of Jesus primarily served to anoint him as God's priest (Hebrews 5:5).
Jesus Himself declared the main purpose and meaning of this event in His words "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt 3:15). It was an act of ceremonial righteousness appropriate to His public entrance upon His mission as the Christ, which included His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, especially the second, for the essence of His redemptive work lies in His consecration as a Priest, the Great High Priest. In this office He offered not "the blood of goats and bulls," but Himself to put away sin (Heb 9:13-26). It is this consecration to His redemptive priesthood that comes into clearest view in His baptism in the Jordan. By "fulfilling all righteousness" our Lord meant the righteousness of obedience to the Mosaic law. The Levitical law required all priests to be consecrated when they began to be about thirty years of age (Num 4:3; Luke 3:23). The consecration was twofold-first the washing (baptism), then the anointing (Ex 29:4-7; Lev 8:6-36). When John on the Jordan's bank "washed" (baptized) Jesus, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit came upon Him. This was the priestly anointing of Him who was not only a Priest by divine appointment but an eternal Priest (Ps 110:4) who was thus divinely consecrated for the work of redemption (Matt 3:16; Acts 4:27; 10:38).3
Others in being baptized confessed their sins; Jesus professed "all righteousness." He submitted, as part of the righteousness He undertook to fulfill, to be consecrated to His ministry in His 30th year, the age at which the Levites began their ministry...4
Though Jesus Christ did not need John's baptism to remove sins, our Lord was required to be baptized to obey the commandments of God (Hebrews 5:8-9).
...perfect holiness involves doing all God says to do, without rationalizing. Had Jesus refused or neglected to obey this precept of God, He would have failed, coming short of perfect righteousness.5
Had He not so completely done God's will, His condemnation of the religious leaders (Mt. 21:25) would have had a hollow ring to it. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees are so guilty: even if they were too self-deceived to see their need of repentance and forgiveness, at least they should have humbly submitted to be baptized by John "to fulfill all righteousness!" But, as it was, they doubly "rejected the counsel of God against themselves" (Lk. 7:30).6
The baptism of Jesus, though, strictly speaking, is not an example to be duplicated today. James Burton Coffman observed in his commentary that Jesus was about 30 years old at the time, not an example of acceptable conduct regarding the Great Commission baptism. Further, Jesus had no sins for which to repent when he was baptized, again hardly an example for anyone submitting to the baptism of the Great Commission today.
Jesus was not baptized to give us an example that we should also be baptized. Rather, Jesus was baptized to give us an example of doing whatever God has commanded just because God had said to do it.7
By submitting to the ordinance of baptism, administered by John, Jesus showed himself willing to obey every righteous ordinance (Luke 1:6).
"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). Being baptized in the Jordan River and coming out of the water after baptism implies immersion. Other passages indicate without doubt that Bible baptism is immersion (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). The Greek words for baptism and baptize mean to immerse, dip, plunge or submerse.
The heavens opened and the Father speaking as the Holy Spirit descended marked the anointing of the Christ to his saving ministry as high priest. Luke records that between the baptism of Jesus and the heavens being opened, Jesus prayed publicly (Luke 3:21). All three persons of the Godhead (Trinity) are mentioned in the same breath; though the word "Trinity" does not appear in Scripture, the doctrine is nevertheless taught in the Bible. Likewise, all three persons of the Godhead appear in Matthew's account of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
The Holy Spirit descended "bodily" like a dove. The dove was an ancient symbol of purity and innocence.
(1) The dove was a "clean" creature under the ceremonial laws of the Jews; (2) it was used in their religious sacrifices, two, in fact, being offered upon the presentation of our Lord in the temple (Luke 2:24); (3) it is a monogamous creature! (4) it is a symbol of peace; (5) it is a marvel of gentleness, love, and affection; (6) it is a messenger (the homing pigeon is a dove); and (7) the dove has no gall, suggesting that there is no bitterness in the service of God.8
God the Father made three public announcements that Jesus of Nazareth is his Son. The baptism of Jesus, here, is the first public acknowledgement by God of the deity of Jesus. In addition, at the Transfiguration of Christ the Father acknowledged his Son, adding, "hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5). The apostle Peter mentioned this validation of the Son of God by Father at Jesus' baptism (1 Peter 3:17). The third public acknowledgement of Jesus by the Father occurred as our Lord was dying on the cross (John 12:28-30). These acknowledgements of the Son of God compare to Psalm 2:7 and Hebrews 1:5; 5:5.
Instead of being baptized for the remission of sin, Jesus was baptized to completely obey all of the Old Law under which he lived; our Lord would have been disobedient had he not submitted to John's baptism. The baptism of Jesus Christ marked the beginning of his public ministry. The Father speaking from heaven, the Holy Spirit descending and John the Baptist declaring Jesus to be the Son of God served to anoint Jesus the high priest of the New Testament. Through his baptism, Jesus demonstrated for us the need to obey God without rationalizing away our obligation to do the will of God.
Clearly, Scripture reveals that only the obedient will be saved and that the disobedient will be lost eternally (Hebrews 5:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Baptism for the remission of sins is a command; have you obeyed that command (Acts 2:38; 10:48)? Obedience upon the part of erring Christians takes the form of repentance and prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
1 Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1997.
2 H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co.) 1952, p. 89.
3 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press) 1988.
4 Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1998.
5 The Gospel of Matthew. (Joplin, MO: College Press) 1968.
8 James Burton Coffman, Coffman Bible Study Library. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press) 1989.