This question is a reference to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river by John (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34).
- First, we must remember that water baptism plays no part in our salvation. Salvation is by grace alone through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
- Second, remember that water baptism is an outward profession of what has already taken place inwardly when Jesus saves a sinner and regenerates his soul. It is a public proclamation of salvation.
- Finally, John’s baptism was one of repentance (Matthew 3:10) based on the confession of sins (Matthew 3:6). Jesus had no sins to confess and nothing of which to repent.
So why was Jesus baptized?
Many people say the baptism of Jesus by John was a “picture” of the cross and the salvation that would come. To some extent that does seem to fit.
Symbolically throughout the Bible, water is a picture of the wrath and judgement of God, e.g. the flood (Genesis 7:10, Hebrews 11:7), the Red Sea drowning of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:28, Hebrews 11:29), Jonah going under the waters (Jonah 1, Jonah 2:3), etc.(For more on this read, “What do the 12 stones UNDER the Jordan River mean?”)
On the cross, Jesus took our sins upon Himself. God judged our sins and poured out His wrath upon our Sin-bearer, Jesus. Jesus died, paying the penalty for our sins with His precious and pure blood. He was buried and rose three days later, victoriously conquering death. So, yes, full immersion water baptism does “picture” what Jesus did for us on the cross. But does it really “picture” our salvation? I suggest it does not.
For those who belong to Jesus, we will never experience God’s wrath in judgment for our sins. Jesus paid the price for our sins and took the punishment of wrath that we deserved. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!!!
More Than Just a “Picture” of the Cross?
I believe there was much more taking place when Jesus came to His cousin John at the Jordan River. First, it was an announcement of who Jesus is! John proclaimed, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
John further proclaimed, to all who were present, that Jesus is not only the Lamb of God but also the Son of God (John 1:33-34).
“I did not know Him [Jesus], but He [God] who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Jesus’ Desire to Be Baptized
When Jesus approached John, John did not want to baptize Him. John said, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” (Mat 3:14)
Jesus then told John why He desired to be baptized:
Mat 3:15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he [John] allowed Him.
When Jesus came up out of the water, God confirmed what John had proclaimed about who Jesus is:
Mat 3:16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
Mat 3:17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
A Baptism of Confirmation and Preparation
Remember, the Scriptures are not explicit about the reason why Jesus was baptized, but Jesus’ own words give us some clues.
Jesus said, “permit it to be now.” With that statement, He was saying, allow this to take place, and He was saying it was to take place at that specific time (“now”). He also said, “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So Jesus was fulfilling the righteousness of God at the perfect time and in the perfect way.
I believe the righteousness that Jesus referred to was that of the Levitical priests’ service to God. Just as they were consecrated for service in the Temple, Jesus was consecrated, at this time (“now” – the beginning of His earthly ministry), to preach and teach, and to mediate for man, until His death.
Comparison: The High Priest and the Priest of the Most High God
- Jesus said that He came to minister
Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
- Jesus said this baptism was to take place “now.”
Jesus was 30 years old (Luke 3:23)—the same age at which a priest began to serve (minister) in the Temple (Numbers 4:3, 47). There is no dispute that Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of His earthly ministry at the age of 30.
- Priests were to be washed prior to Temple service. (Leviticus 8:6)
Exo 29:1,4 “This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests… wash them with water.”
Leviticus 8:6 And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water.
The word “wash” means to bathe. This was a purification and consecration that God required before any ministering would be done.
- Following the water bathing (baptism by water into service), priests were clothed and then anointed
Exo 29:5,7 Take the garments and dress Aaron… Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head.
Lev 8:7,10 And he put upon him the coat, and girded him…And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them.
Oil throughout the Bible is representative of God’s power and symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ anointing came in the form of the Holy Spirit descending upon Him (Mat 3:16) and God’s proclamation, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mat 3:17)
Priests ministered the Word of God to the people. Jesus proclaimed God’s truths, ministering to the people—the good news of healing, liberty, sight, and fulfillment of God’s prophecy of a coming Messiah (Luke 4:16-21)
- Priests served as a mediator between God and man. So also did Jesus.
1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.
Jesus Had No Sins
Jesus could not have been fulfilling the righteousness of confession and purification from sin because He was sinless. Rather, Jesus was beginning His 3 ½ year ministry in which He would act as a Priest of God (preaching, healing, interceding, ministering, etc). God’s righteous decree was that all human priests be consecrated to His service. This is the righteousness Jesus was fulfilling — the washing (baptism) in preparation for anointing and receiving God’s power and presence (the Holy Spirit) to do His work.
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John; and with His baptism, Jesus’ ministry began and John’s ministry started coming to an end (John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.).
It was God who anointed Jesus, both with His power (the Holy Spirit) and with His confirmation, ““This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mat 3:17, Acts 10:38)
Beloved Son / Beloved Saviour
Is Jesus your beloved Saviour? In Him are you well satisfied?
Jesus came to minister and to seek and save sinners. Have you received the true baptism — the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Many say Jesus was water baptized to identify with us. That is simply not true. Jesus became a man to live a human life, to experience life as we do, but He never became like us. He never sinned. Nor did He need to identify with us. Just the opposite. Sinners need to come to Jesus and be saved by Him. Then, as a child of God, it is a joy to identify with Him and become like Him.
Jesus went to the cross and the wrath of God, that should have been ours, was poured out on Him. God’s wrath will never be poured out on those who are washed in His blood (Rev 1:5) because Jesus took it upon Himself.
Believers are water baptized to proclaim what Jesus has done for them. He has cleansed us from sin and prepared us to serve Him. Water baptism is a public profession of salvation and should be a preparation to minister God’s Word and to testify Jesus’ love and saving grace.
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