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Why was Jesus baptized?

The account of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist is recorded in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22. The first chapter of John also mentions the context of when Jesus was baptized as told by John the Baptist (John 1:19-34).

It is important to understand the role of John the Baptist leading up to the baptism of Jesus.

A prophecy in Isaiah 40, verse 3, actually refers—in part—to John the Baptist: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A Highway for our God.’”

The religious leadership from Jerusalem sent to John the Baptist wanting to know who he was. John’s response was to quote Isaiah 40:3, saying that he was fulfilling this prophecy. He also said, “‘You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him”’” (John 3:28).

Another dramatic prophecy is given in Malachi 4:5, which states: “‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.’”

While this prophecy incorporates most specifically the time of the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God, it also was applied to John the Baptist—note this exchange between Jesus and some of His disciples:

And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:10-13; also, Mark 9:11-13).

Jesus very specifically identified John as fulfilling the Elijah type role:

“‘For this is he of whom it is written: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Matthew 11:10-15).

Before John’s birth, the angel Gabriel told John’s father, Zacharias, that John would do an Elijah type work:

“‘For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,” and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’” (Luke 1:15-17).

Concerning the work of Elijah, it was to cause the people of Israel to seek God. Elijah fully understood this as he withstood the prophets of Baal:

And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again’” (1 Kings 18:36-38).

Both Elijah and John the Baptist completed the work given to them, but there is also an end-time fulfillment of the Elijah prophecies. We have addressed this in other Q&A’s and sermons, and you can find more information by typing the word “Elijah” in the search option, under “Q&A’s” at www.eternalgod.org

Here is a summary of John’s work and his message:

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Matthew 3:1-10).

John also pointed to Jesus in his preaching:

“‘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).

Also:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water’” (John 1:29-31).

Jesus was first revealed to Israel through being baptized by John:

“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. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17).

The baptism of Jesus by John was different than others baptized by John and his disciples. Following His baptism, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). To be clear, Jesus had the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34-35, Authorized Version) from His conception in Mary’s womb. Even though the Bible does not expressly state this, it is obvious when putting all the Scriptures together. We read that John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit “from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15), and Jesus, as God in the flesh, was more than John (compare again John 1:30). John was not the Light, but he came for a witness, to bear witness of the true Light, Jesus Christ (John 1:6-9). We read that Jesus, as a young child, “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), referring to the wisdom of God as a characteristic of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, it was only through the Holy Spirit dwelling within Him without measure that He, who was fully flesh, was able to live a sinless life, because Jesus said that of Himself, He could do nothing (John 5:30).

When the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove at the time of His baptism, this might have been a sign to John the Baptist of who Jesus was (compare John 1:32-34), but it also was an anointing for the message Jesus would preach, which was different than that of John. Following His temptation by Satan, “…Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew  4:17). The Book of Mark adds this:

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).

Later, when Paul encountered disciples in Ephesus, he asked them:

“… ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:2-6).

By having John the Baptist baptize Him, Jesus set the example for those who would believe in Him. Regarding His baptism, Jesus plainly told John, “‘…Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus showed, by His baptism, that His followers must be baptized too. He left us an example to follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

In addition, it appears that when Jesus was baptized, He received special powers from God to perform miracles (Acts 10:38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…”).  We do not read that Christ performed any miracles before His baptism. The first recorded miracle occurred in Cana, when He turned water into wine. This miracle is referred to as “the beginning of signs” (John 2:11). It followed a little later with His healing of a nobleman’s son, which is described as “the second sign that Jesus did” (John 4:54).

The act of baptism has symbolic meaning—it was in John’s ministry who performed a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11), and it is for Christians, as Paul so eloquently explains:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Romans 6:3-5).

Likewise, the baptism of Jesus was symbolic of His death. He spoke figuratively of baptism in this way:

“But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50; also, Mark 10:38).

Baptism for Jesus had nothing to do with repentance or sin relative to Him. Jesus did not sin at all! (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). He had nothing for which to repent. However, baptism for Christians requires prior repentance, obedience and belief in Christ as our Savior and in the gospel. It pictures the death of Christ as a sacrifice on our behalf (Romans 5:6-11; Hebrews 9:26).

Consider that Jesus used other representations to instruct us. Note what Paul wrote:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist revealed Jesus to Israel, and John testified of Him that He was the Son of God, the Christ. Christ’s baptism pictured the death He would suffer, and it also served as an example for believers—those who would seek the Kingdom of God, for Jesus stated:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Lead Writer: Dave Harris