What is special about the baptism of Jesus? Many people throughout the history of the world have been baptized. Before John the Baptist's ministry there was Jewish proselyte baptism and after John there was Christian baptism. Great men have been baptized: The Apostles, Augustine, John Wesley, D. L. Moody, and Charles Spurgeon to name a few. What is unique about Jesus' baptism that sets it apart? The distinguishing incidents of the baptism of Jesus were the voice from heaven and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.1 These events are not only phenomenally unique but theologically vital.
Most of the thirty years of the life of Jesus were spent in a small town called Nazareth. He was the town carpenter. He lived life as men do.2 He ate the fruit of his own labor, he rested after a hard day's work, he hungered, he thirsted, and he suffered the sadness of seeing friends and loved ones pass from life. These years of Jesus were spent in relative privacy and quiet.3 The baptism of Jesus changed that. The baptism of Jesus was Jesus' step into the public spotlight. At the tender age of twelve Jesus already had a conscious knowledge of who he was in relation to God (Luke 2:49). He was fully conscious of his Sonship to God. It is declared in John chapter one that the Word is both God (v. 1) and flesh (v. 14). The Word was both God (v. 1) and Revealer (v. 4-5) of God.
The words of men and women are their method of self-expression.4 The Word of God is the "Divine method of self-expression."5 At a particular point in human history (Galatians 4:4) this Word of God moved from being appreciable by Deity alone to Divine self-expression understandable to human beings.6 This event is called the Incarnation. Philippians 2:5-7 states it well: "Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form." He had a desire to not only reveal God to men and women, but a mission to complete that sought to pick them up and bring them back to God.7 That Word is Jesus, the Son of God, and his mission of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19) started not on earth but before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
Before there was anything "made that was made" the entire Trinity lovingly set Itself to endure the anguish of the sin that would later come with creation. The first act of loving mercy was not at Calvary or at the making of skins to cover Adam and Eve, but in eternity past in God's acceptance of personal pain because of sin. It was the price God would pay for the freedom he gave humans.
Jesus in his earthly life was restricted to live within the realm of humanity.8 Jesus identified himself fully with human limitation.9 And just as importantly, he identified himself with the nation through whom the Messiah would come.10 He identified with them by his circumcision, presentation, assumption of the yoke of the law, and his baptism.11 Jesus was a Jew.
Jesus' baptism was more than a simple baptism. It was the anointing of Jesus as great High Priest.12 Jesus knew his call to be the High Priest (Psalm 110). By the law of Moses no priest could enter upon public duties until he had reached the age of thirty and went through the ceremonial washing and anointing.13 When Jesus therefore quieted John's righteous reluctance to baptize him by saying, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," he was submitting himself as "an act of obedience to the letter and spirit of the law."14 Jesus was about to officially become Priest-the sacrificier for the people. The one who would represent "God before the people and the people before God."15
The personal significance of Jesus' baptism and anointing was not only tied to him becoming High Priest (the sacrificer) but in his voluntary16 acceptance of becoming the sacrifice.17
Jesus knew well the Old Testament teaching concerning the Suffering Servant. He fully comprehended the message of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. He knew they spoke of him. He knew that in order to fulfill his destiny he would have to experience those awful agonies. So when Jesus submitted himself to John's baptism he was submitting himself to the plucked beard, the spital in the face, the public mocking, the naked shame, and the Divine wrath. Jesus was to be both the sacrificer and the sacrifice. The baptism of Jesus was his "first public step in the direction of bearing the sins of the people."18
The baptism scene was not only intimately important to Jesus but to God the Father as well. In the words of the Father, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17), lie much to be grasped. Why was the Father pleased? The Father's declaration of pleasure in His Son can be understood by looking at His statement from two different perspectives--Jesus' present decision19 and Jesus' past life.20
Jesus' present decision to set himself to be the sacrifice with all the painful consequences pleased the Father. As an earthly father would let the world affectionately know of his Son's patriotic decision to serve in the armed forces, which could mean possible death, so the Heavenly Father let the world know with affection His pleasure at the submissive decision of His Son Jesus-which meant certain pain and death.
The writer thinks that Jesus himself heard the Father say, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). The world heard, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). Jesus heard "You", the world heard "This". The Father was telling His Son how proud He was of him, how proud He was of His Son's compassion for his people. The Father was touched with the decision of His Son.
Jesus' earthly life also caused the Father to praise him. For Jesus' present decision to have any significance, his earthly life had to have qualified him as the spotless lamb (Exodus 12:5). Without the sinless past life, the present decision would have been a mockery, an affront to the holiness of God. But God embraced him and did not violate the principle of His eternal holiness.21 The descending of the Spirit, his priestly anointing, was in recognition of his character and disposition.22 "The dove is an apt picture of love."23 The dove will not settle where there is not quietness, purity, peace, gentleness, and harmlessness.24 Jesus was, and is, all these things.
Finally, Jesus' baptism had significance to John the Baptist. It was the event God had appointed to reveal His Messiah to the world (John 1:33). By John's own testimony it was at the baptism scene where it was revealed to him Jesus' Messiahship.25 From that time onward, John pointed people to Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). To John, this event represented the fulfillment of his heart's desire (Matthew 3:3) for the world-the coming of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 3:2).
Jesus' baptism stands as significant in God's reconciling the world to Himself. For without the baptism there would have been no Calvary! No Calvary, no human redemption. No human redemption, no salvation. No salvation, no eternal life. No eternal life, only eternal damnation. The baptism of Jesus was important!
1. William Patton, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Religious Tract Society, no date 63.
2. G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1936) 112.
3. Morgan 120.
4. Morgan 73.
5. Morgan 73. 6. Morgan 73.
7. John MacArthur, Hebrews (Chicago: Moddy, 1983) 103.
8. Morgan 112.
9. Morgan 114.
10. Everett Harrison, A Short Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 72.
11. Harrison 74.
12. Patton 63.
13. Patton 55.
14. Patton 57.
15. MacArthur 94.
16. S. W. Skeffington, The Sinless Sufferer (London: Skeffington and Son, 1885) 18.
17. Skeffington 30.
18. Harrison 74.
19. Harrison 77.
21. Morgan 120-121.
22. Morgan 121.
23. Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (McLean: MacDonald, no date) 127.
24. Spurgeon 127.
25. Harrison 72.
Harrison, Everett. A Short Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
MacArthur, John. Hebrews. Chicago: Moody, 1983.
Morgan, G. Campbell. The Crises of the Christ. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1936. Patton, William. Jesus of Nazareth. London: Religious Tract Society, no date.
Skeffington, S. W. The Sinless Sufferer. London: Skeffington and Son, 1885.
Spurgeon, Charles. Morning and Evening. McLean: MacDonald, no date.