The Expository Files

The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13-17


Have you ever wondered why Jesus was  baptized?  Have you ever considered that His obedience has lessons for us in it?  Have you ever considered His holy righteousness and  need for "perfection" to bring Christians to perfection? We hope to cover some of these points in  this article.
          We find the accounts of Jesus' baptism in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22. Consider Matthew's account: "Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him. And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'
"To Be Baptized"
          Jesus had a purpose in mind in seeking out John. He wanted to be baptized by him (Matthew 3:13). The Greek word "baptizo"  means "immersion."  John was immersing people in the waters of the Jordan River. He was not sprinkling a little water on them, neither was he pouring water on them. In fact, even today the Greek Orthodox church practices immersion because they, being Greek, know what the word meant. It would not be appropriate to refer to John as "John the sprinkler."
          This is exactly why John chose the location he did to do his work. If he had been "John the Sprinkler" he could have carried some water with him. But because he immersed, he had to work in an area that had enough water. The Bible says, "And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized." (John 3:23). John selected this place "because" of what? Because there was "much water there!"
     We can see implications that immersion was involved from the language used. John was baptizing "in"  the Jordan River (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:0) and this involved going "down into" and  "coming up out of"  the water (Mark 1:10).
Trying to Prevent Baptism
          Often the world tries to prevent people from being baptized, but not usually for the same reasons! (Matthew 3:14). Instead, sometimes a human religious creed/tradition stipulates sprinkling. At other times, relatives/friends are against it. Today, in some nations, it is a crime to teach people to be baptized! But  John's reason was very different!
          John had been baptizing people "for remission of sins"  (Mark 1:4). Before being baptized, the people had been coming and confessing their sins (Mark 1:5; Matthew 3:6).  But Jesus had no sins (Hebrews 4:15). For this reason, John did not think that baptizing Jesus would be appropriate, and suggested a better way would be for Jesus to baptize John.

          Now even today there might be some good reasons not to baptize someone. We should not baptize one who does not believe or repent (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Neither should we baptize a person who is ignorant of it's purpose -  to receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). If one has not reached the maturity to accept the gospel by faith, then he or she should not be baptized (Acts 8:12).           

Permitting Baptism
          "But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he permitted Him.' (Matthew 3:15) All John thought about Jesus' perfect sinlessness was true. But Jesus calls upon John to make this exception because it was "fitting" to do so.

          Here's why:  This Jesus was God in human flesh obeying the commands of John, who was the prophet of God. John's work had been prophesied in the Old Testament (see Matthew 3:3). Jesus had come to do the will of the Father. He said, "I have come to do thy will" (Hebrews. 10:7-8). John was God's prophet, and Jesus would be obedient unto the Father by being baptized by the Father's prophet.
          This is what is meant by "fulfill all righteousness." Jesus intended on doing all that was God's will for Him to do. That is how we "fulfill all righteousness"  today as well. We ought to have the same intention that Jesus did to do the Father's will.

          Just as there is much controversy in the religious world today about baptism, there was in Jesus' world as well. (see Luke 7:29-30.) The people who understood their need as sinners for God's grace accepted John's baptism and God's justification (righteousness). Others, like the Pharisees,  rejected John's  baptism and sought to prevent others from being baptized (see Matthew 21:23-28; 23:13).
    And today as well; just as certainly as rejecting John meant rejecting God; so does rejecting the messages of Scripture concerning baptism today (1 Peter 3:20,21).

Righteousness and Perfection
          Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan (Mark 1:9). Jesus was motivated by His reverence for the Father's will (Hebrews  5:7-9). The word translated "fear" (KJV) or "piety" (NASB) means to possess that careful and watchful reverence which seeks to obey in every circumstance. Like Jesus, we should be careful to obey God in everything.
          The Hebrew writer also says that Jesus was  made "perfect." The word translated "perfect"  means to complete, to initiate, or to qualify. Jesus came to accomplish all that God meant for Him to do, and His baptism was a part of that. Jesus would leave nothing undone that God had appointed. That should be our attitude as well.
Power After Baptism
          "And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him" (Matthew 3:16).   This, too, had been prophesied (see Isaiah. 61:1-2a - quoted as fulfilled in Luke 4:18). The Lord had told John that He would identify His Son in this way (John 1:32-34).
          The Father made it known that He was "well pleased"  with His Son (Matthew 3:17). It is a successful life when it is lived to please God. It was Jesus' purpose, and it ought to be ours as well.
          As Christians, we have been immersed into Christ (Romans 6:3-4). We did not let anything "prevent"  us from being baptized. It is God's command, and we revered Him in keeping it. When we did so, He washed away our sins (Acts 22:16).   It pleased the Father to take away our sins and receive us into His house by His grace


By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 12.1, January  2005