Building up believers and the New Testament church

The Gospel of Baptism

The Introduction of Christ

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' 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. 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" (Matthew 3:13-16).

We are told in the gospels that John was chosen by God to introduce our Lord. I believe that it is significant that he did so in the context of baptism. Baptism was essentially unknown in the Old Testament. There is some mention of partial baptisms (washings) referring to cleansing from disease, but there is no mention of baptism as John used it. It was reserved by God for the introduction of Jesus, and it was done outside of the religious system of that day. The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance, preparing the people to receive Jesus. Thus, when Jesus came to be baptized by John, John did not understand what Jesus was doing. John knew he was not worthy "even to loose His sandal strap." However, at the insistence of Jesus, John baptized Jesus "to fulfill all righteousness."

What was really taking place at this baptism of Jesus? Did Jesus need to be baptized for repentance from sin? We know that is not true. If we look at the whole account with some understanding of the plan of God, I believe we can say that God was foretelling His plan of salvation in a simple yet profound way. First of all, by Jesus submitting to John's baptism, He was declaring that it was of God. This question came up later in the ministry of Christ, so it was obviously a question among the religious leaders. Jesus answered the question here, not just in word but in deed (see Matthew 21:25).

Secondly, when Jesus submitted to the baptism of John, He was identifying with the people and their sin. He had no sin of His own, but by submitting to the baptism of John, He allowed Himself to be identified with sinful people. Was that not what He did completely at Calvary? Thus, the waters of baptism typified the real baptism that Jesus would undergo at Calvary to secure our salvation.

Thirdly, as Jesus came up out of the water, John saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him and remain. Was that not what happened on the day of Pentecost? After the baptism of Jesus at Calvary into death, He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. He received the "gift of promise" from the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit. Thus, at this baptism of Jesus we see the plan of God in prophetic form. Jesus descends into the water (death) and comes out of the water (resurrection). We see the Holy Spirit coming on Him just as the Holy Spirit would descend at Pentecost when Jesus baptized those first believers into the body of Christ.

I believe it is important to notice at this point how John saw baptism. "‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire'" (Matthew 3:11-12). We see a connection between water baptism and Spirit baptism introduced here by John. John was baptizing unto repentance, but in explaining what he was doing, Spirit baptism is foretold and likened to water baptism, but with much deeper spiritual results. In connecting the two baptisms in this way, water baptism represents a beginning way we are to think about Spirit baptism. Starting with John's baptism, it showed a picture of what would take place in reality on the day of Pentecost. We all need a way to think about spiritual realities, and water baptism was given by God to form that initial understanding.

To add the final authentication to all of this, the Father spoke from heaven and gave His approval. "And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Matthew 3:17). Thus, we see the role of all three members of the Godhead, working in unison in God's plan for securing our salvation. We see Jesus laying aside His glory and taking the lowly place to be our Savior, we see the Spirit coming upon Him to lead Him in all things, and we see the Father looking on with approval as He gave His Son for us.

Thus, in a very simple but profound way, I believe that God is giving us a picture of His whole plan of salvation in the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan. The account is recorded in all four of the Gospels, so we can conclude this was a very important event in God's eyes. I believe if we will let this account be the framework in which we view baptism, we can fit all things together properly.