The Baptism of Jesus
- Main Text: Matthew 3:1-17
- Accompanying text: Psalm 2:7-8
What this passage means to us
This is a wonderful, exciting passage of Scripture that comforts and re-assures us. It is about how our gracious Lord and Saviour was baptized for us. Jesus, who was sinless, came to earth in order to identify himself with sinners that he might redeem them. Being without sin, he did not need baptism for repentance, but of his own free will he chose to be baptized for us. When we are baptized, it is a participation in the redemptive baptism of Jesus Christ.
The event of Christ’s baptism involves the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. The voice of the Father proclaims the eternal, essential divinity of the Son as Jesus prays to him and rises from the waters of baptism, and the Holy Spirit, who is the living bond of love and unity in the Godhead, descends upon Jesus in “bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21), and the Spirit’s presence remains on him. The dove symbolises the fulfilment of God’s promises, and it suggests ideas of innocence, peace, gentleness and affection. At the end of his gospel account Matthew points also to the involvement of the Father, Son and Spirit whenever a believer is baptised: the risen Christ commands us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19).
John records the redemptive significance of this event by saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”, and he testifies that this man on whom the Spirit came down and remained is “the Son of God” (John 1:29, 34). When the Father announces that he is well pleased with his Son, we can understand that, just as the Son is forever well-pleasing to the Father, so also are those who are found in him. In other words, through Jesus and in Jesus the Father is well-pleased with us, and the sanctifying Spirit has rested on us and remains in us. The Father looks upon us, in whom the Spirit dwells, he sees the redemptive work of Jesus in our life, and he declares of us, we who are now his “saints”, that we are his beloved children “in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). “…in baptism I partake of Christ and his Spirit of sonship” .
Context and story-line
Matthew’s rich imagery comes into play immediately. His depiction of Jesus’ story continues with a barren desert where’s there no water and with his cousin John’s cry for believers to be baptized with water, a baptism of repentance from dried-up legalistic rituals and lifeless forms of religion. “Ritual immersion in water, or baptism, represented a powerful and frequently used religious symbol in ancient Judaism” , and many responded to John the Baptist’s fresh call to confess repentance publicly through baptism in the river Jordan. It seemed something to be seen to do, and even the religious leaders joined in. If a priest wanted to be involved in the services at the Second Temple during the annual festivals of Leviticus 23, even he had to purify himself through immersion in ritual baths. John condemned the religious leaders who sought baptism without repentance, and, when some come to John to seek baptism by him, they leave without it.
John’s baptism was a baptism of preparation for something, or rather someone, greater. His message was similar to that of Isaiah 1:16, “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.” Without Jesus it was incomplete, as was demonstrated later in Paul’s ministry when some who had received only John’s baptism were re-baptized into the Christian faith (see Acts 19:1-5). John realized that Jesus was the Messiah to come, and that he would baptize with the “Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:11). Some commentators see fulfilment of that idea in the Pentecost experience of Acts 2:3 with reference to the tongues like fire; others see the concept of fire as to do with zeal and fervency; and another view is that the “fire” idea is explained by John’s own words when he explains that the unrepentant chaff will be burnt by (thus immersed in) “unquenchable fire” (3:12). Whatever the fire explanation is, the Holy Spirit reference is much clearer. The sacrament of true baptism in one of grace, and the Spirit of sanctification is imparted to the believer. The baptism of Jesus gives new life in the Spirit, and the giftedness to overcome sins with God’s help.
When Jesus comes for baptism, John the Baptist sees it as a sign of the promised Messiah. For the Christian church Jesus’ baptism is the type and first example of baptism of water and of the Spirit. This is the first baptism that signifies the impartation of grace. When John objects that he should be baptized by Jesus, Jesus invites John to participate with him in fulfilling all righteousness by continuing with the baptism. It is Jesus who is the “Righteous One” (1 John 2:1), and it is he who has fulfilled all the messianic prophecies. Luke records that John the Baptist “with many other words…exhorted the people and preached the good news to them” (3:18). That was the good news of the Messiah.
- John 1:29-34
- Mark 1:9-11
- Luke 3:1-18
- Romans 6:1-8
Footnotes and references
- Thomas F Torrance, Incarnation: the Person and Life of Christ , (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008). 93.
- The NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005). 1562.