The Baptism of Jesus…
is a well-known passage in the gospels. However, there might be some confusion among some because of the different accounts in the Gospels of Jesus’ baptism. But a closer look and understanding of these accounts will clear up any misunderstanding about the events of Jesus’ Baptism. In this post we will break down and reconcile what may appear as discrepancies. Another question we might ask: why does Jesus need baptizing in the first place. He was the son of God, sinless without any need for repentance. We will also answer that question as we move through the baptism of Jesus. We will start in Luke 3:21 —
Luke 3:21-22 New King James Version (NKJV) **
John Baptizes Jesus
21 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. 22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
** All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Following the baptism of Jesus, Luke records the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. The specific vision Luke records mentions a dove, which has become the symbol of the Holy Spirit. This is a theophany – God appearing in corporeal form – taking the form of His creation
From the parallel accounts in the other gospels, we know that John had been busy as usual baptizing at the Jordan River. When one day, from a distance he caught sight of Jesus approaching. John did not understand who Jesus was until this moment. In the gospel of John, John said he (John the Baptist) did not know Jesus was the Christ until the dove descended upon Jesus. John the Baptist had been told to look for a sign.
Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus provides some additional details…
John Baptizes Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
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 allowed Him.
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. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus travels from His home in the Galilee to find John, seeking to be baptized. John immediately objects to Jesus’ request by saying to Jesus that he (John) had need to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Naturally, we assume that John knew Jesus was the Messiah. And therefore John felt it was inappropriate for him to baptize
Jesus. But in reality, the opposite was actually true. At the moment these two men met in the desert, John did not know Jesus was the Messiah. For if John had known Jesus was the Promised One, he would have been willing to baptize Jesus without question.
To understand this situation properly, we need to consult John’s Gospel where John the Baptist retells the story of this encounter.
The Lamb of God
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He 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.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Notice first that this passage begins with the phrase “the next day.” We’re on the day after John baptized Jesus, and on that day John knows Jesus is the Messiah. How does John say he came to learn of Jesus’ true identity? He says it was because after he baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove and landed on Jesus. But then in verse 31 John adds that he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah before that moment…and he repeats this statement in verse 33. So John did not know Jesus was the Messiah when Jesus came asking for baptism. He only knew after the event took place. The question we need to ask is why was John so determined to convince us that he didn’t know Jesus in advance? Some reasons to ponder:
- Possibly, it’s because it probably seemed suspicious that John names his own cousin as the Messiah
- People might have questioned why John selected a family member to be the Messiah
- To defend his choice, John insists he didn’t know in advance…
- Only after the baptism had completed did the dove appear to confirm Jesus’ true identity
- This was the sign God told John to watch for to know the Messiah
Knowing Christ is sinless naturally leads us to ask the question, why would Jesus need to be baptized? As a matter of fact, we need to review the purpose for baptism as given to us before we can understand what its purpose may have been for Jesus’ ministry. Baptism was done to disciple a believer – not to create a believer. It was and still is symbolic and depicts the cleansing of sin. It also depicts the death of the old man and resurrection into life. In both cases it is a depiction – a picture of something already done in the heart by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the one with the ministry to bring this new life. He gives this new spirit in a believer. He brings an awareness of a forgiveness of sins, the confidence of a believer. He is the one that gives us an awareness and understanding of the Word of God. He is the one who indwells us and empowers us for ministry. We call it being anointed. We use water to picture the salvation experience and we anoint men with oil to picture the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We have these understandings from scripture, but in John’s day, baptism was a new idea. John was called John the Baptist because he introduced the idea of washing in the river to signify repentance. So for John and all who had been exposed to this new ministry of a symbolic washing away sin, there was no other purpose.
Now if John the Baptist was in the dark about Jesus’ true identity, then we can be certain everyone else was too. This fact reinforces for us the true humanity of Christ. He lived an absolutely normal human life, because He was fully human. Therefore, meaning Jesus was not a superhuman or Clark Kent figure who could stop bullets and see through walls. Jesus’ life prior to this moment was unremarkable. He truly was just a man, without anything to suggest He was God and the Creator.
Yet, Jesus was sinless, so apparently a person can live a sinless life without drawing much attention to himself. This would also explain why the Gospels contain so little details of Jesus’ early years. Why record details of a mundane, ordinary life? So John the Baptist didn’t know Jesus was the Messiah until after the baptism happened. He only learned the truth because he saw the sign God foretold of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove after he baptized Jesus. And even if John had thought Jesus might be the Messiah, that would have increased John’s desire to baptize Jesus. After all, God had told John that he would learn the Messiah’s identity by a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
So if John had suspected Jesus was the Messiah, John could only have confirmed his suspicions by going through with the baptism. And also, if John didn’t suspect Jesus was the Messiah, why did he hesitant to baptize Jesus? I think the reason goes back to Jesus’ sinless nature. Remember, John probably knew Jesus well…they were cousins
only 6 months apart in age. They probably grew up playing together from time to time. And so John surely knew his cousin was the last person who needed to repent of a godless, sinful life.
Remember, John was ministering to tax collectors, Roman soldiers and prostitutes, the lowest of the low, performing a baptism of repentance. These people knew they were far from God and they were ashamed of their lives and felt convicted to get right with God. They were repenting, seeking to change their lives and to return to God. But Jesus…Jesus was a blameless, upright man. John knew Jesus to be the one person in the family Who always seemed to do and say the right thing…the loving, selfless person. So of all the people John knew, Jesus was easily the last one who needed to receive his baptism.
NEXT: If Jesus’ baptism wasn’t for repentance, then what did it achieve?
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”